By Audrey Young

political reporter

The rights of women to kill in wars is being defended by the peace activist and Mauri Pacific MP Rev Ann Batten.

She lashed out at one of her former colleagues, New Zealand First MP and ex-Army man Ron Mark, who said this week that one of society's basic values was that men protect women.

But Ann Batten said he had antiquated sexist attitudes which were well known in the New Zealand First caucus.

"He treated women like second class citizens and often referred to women who worked for New Zealand First as girls and babes.

"Ron is a pleasant enough man but he is a homophobic caveman who does not believe that excluding women from combat on the basis of their gender is sexist.

"Some men in the defence forces will be cheering Ron's stance because he upholds their boys-club only mentality."

Mr Mark said he may have used the term "girl" to describe a secretary but never "babe."

"I have never called a woman in our caucus a babe - ever."

"If Ann can't win a debate or an argument by any other means than suddenly referring to all men who oppose her views as being sexist, she should get out of politics.

"I don't think it is a very Christian sort of response from her."
Mr Mark said society had to confront its own attitudes before sending women into combat.

Boys were brought up to believe they had to look after their sister. And in times of disasters and crisis "it is women and children first."

"That is the way it is."

Men did not like to see women hurt and male soldiers would need special training if women went into combat.

"Let's make sure that we don't have young men compromising their safety for a soldier because she's a woman, where they would not take such a huge risk if it was a man.

"Society doesn't seem to get too upset if a male [pilot] is shot down, captured and tortured.

"I wonder how society would react if a female pilot was shot down, captured, tortured and raped. We need to address those issues."

Ann Batten left New Zealand First in August last year, leaving Jenny Bloxham and Robyn McDonald as the only women MPs in the party.

And Ann Batten led an anti-nuclear women's tour to French Polynesia in 1995.

Woman can now serve in any Air Force position, but are still excluded from operational diving teams in the Navy and front-line combat roles with the Army.

Government policy remains opposed to putting women in the line of fire in any of the three services and the Human Rights Act allows the Chief of Defence Force to pull them out of units which might be sent into combat, without risking prosecution for discrimination.

But the new chief, Air Marshal Adamson, has been reported as being unwilling to do this and the Human Rights Commissioner, Pamela Jefferies, has indicated support for lifting the exemption.