New Zealand may have the worst rate of violence against women in the developed world, says former Prime Minister Helen Clark.
The government needed to recognise that violence against women was a national crisis and make a determined effort to "fix it", Ms Clark said at the National Council of Women conference in Auckland this morning.
She referred to a study by Georgetown University's Institute for Women, Peace and Security in the the United States, that ranked New Zealand 18th in terms of women's peace and security.
"Maybe we've always been the worst, but it hasn't been expressed that starkly to us before," Ms Clark said.
The low ranking was due almost entirely to New Zealand's rates of intimate partner violence.
New Zealand scored particularly badly on intimate partner violence and community safety.
"Men who hit women are really expressing a view, a feeling, that women are inferior to them, and they can do whatever they want," Ms Clark said.
Family violence affects every group n society, she said.
"We all know people from the richest to the poorest who have suffered from this."
Ms Clark spoke at the conference about the United Nation's 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
She said the government needed a formal strategy to adopt the goals, so New Zealand could present its progress to the United Nations.
"We need a strategy here and we need to take it seriously and be prepared to be compared on our performance with other countries."
National Council of Women chief executive Gill Greer said the council was "ecstatic" to have Ms Clark as its new Patron.
"What Helen has done as Prime Minister of New Zealand epitomises what Kate Sheppard thought we could do as women, the way in which we could contribute," Ms Greer said.