Published: March 25, 2020

Although New Zealand has historically been at the forefront of women’s rights, gender inequities across various domains continue to endure – particularly relating to women’s reproductive autonomy.

This was a key message from a Life Course Centre seminar presented this month by Dr Yanshu Huang. Yanshu joined the Life Course Centre at the Institute for Social Research at The University of Queensland this year from New Zealand, where she completed a PhD in social psychology at the University of Auckland and worked as a postdoctoral research fellow at the university’s Public Policy Institute.

Yanshu’s research interests include gender role attitudes, attitudes towards gender equality, support for reproductive autonomy, and longitudinal analyses. In her Life Course Centre seminar, she presented an overview of her research investigating New Zealanders’ perceptions of women’s reproductive autonomy. Specifically, she has examined how the endorsement of sexist attitudes correlates with attitudes towards two areas of women’s reproductive experiences – abortion, and breastfeeding in public.

These analyses were conducted using data from the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study, a national longitudinal panel sample of New Zealand adults. The findings suggest that although attitudes toward gender roles are shifting towards greater egalitarianism, sexism is nonetheless implicated in public support for women’s reproductive autonomy in New Zealand. In a summary of her research findings, Yanshu said there was overwhelming support in New Zealand for public breastfeeding. However, support for abortion in New Zealand was mixed, but generally high, with sexism still related to opposition. She said opposition to women’s reproductive autonomy may still be driven by sexist attitudes, hostility towards women’s bodies and how women choose to negotiate their reproductive choices.