I’d like to tell you a story about one of my Chinese friends who’s lived in New Zealand since she was very young. She decided that she wanted to swap her English class for Chinese. To say the least, her English teacher did not take it very well. That same day in class, the same teacher said, “A girl left English to do Chinese to get more E credits for med school.” My friend has no intention of being a doctor. The teacher had made assumptions based purely on my friend’s ethnicity. After all, don’t all Chinese students want to be doctors, isn’t that the stereotype? This is only one example, but I could stand up here and give several more examples of incidents similar to this.
Discrimination occurs far too often within society, whether it is just one small comment or a racist fuelled hate crime. One comment may seem harmless but words are very powerful weapons and speaking from personal experience, these comments hurt and they can really affect you long after they’re been made. One comment can completely deplete your self-esteem level and confidence, leaving behind the shell of the person that was there and it takes a long time to get over it and the worst part of it is guilt and anger. Why guilt? Guilt comes from believing that maybe, somehow, you did do something wrong, that you somehow provoked an attack by someone, that you somehow brought it upon yourself. Why anger? Why not? Because of the unfairness of such people that exist within our society and somehow gain satisfaction from demeaning other people.
However, you do thankfully eventually realise that it was not your fault and your only fault is existing and being yourself. You also realise that you have just as much right to be there as someone else and that nobody has the right to judge you and automatically make assumptions about you as a person. It takes a long time for people to realise these truths and many people are constantly living in fear that they will be judged.
However, one positive thing that I have learnt from my experiences is that change can be made. I strongly believe that change starts with you as an individual. We can all play our small part in making the world a much better place. Every single one of us here right now can start by trying to stop judging other people, we don’t know other’s people life stories, we don’t know what they have seen, done or been through. The best thing we can offer, is an open mind and no judgement. Taking these small steps ourselves, we can all change our mindsets, which can lead to an overall change in attitude in society and things such as racism and discrimination will be heard about less and less frequently. When I was 15, I arrived home in tears, after sitting in a bus in front of a woman who was whispering behind me “Go back to where you came from” and other things like that. Now, I would talk to my 15 year old self and using an idea rom Renee Liang’s poem “banana,” I would say to her the next time someone makes a racist comment toward you, remember, “It doesn’t tell them anything about you, but it sure tells you something about them."
“Count our voices, our voices count.”
- Written by Leanne. Another one of the brilliant speeches shared at the Youth March 2017.
Every time you hear someone’s story or read something on the news please do not let that “Why should I care?” whisper dominate you.
“If not us, who? If not now, when?”
That’s why Shakti is here today to make everyone realise that just cause wrong things might not have happened to us, doesn't mean the world is a perfect place for everyone. We are here and I am here to remind people that the reality outside our unconscious world is a harsh one.
Talking about discrimination and violence, we live in a society where people predominantly have a utopic concept of the world. Since an early age, the mentality we grow up is that “good things happen,” “the world is a beautiful place," or maybe "the world is a perfect place.” I am not saying these things are wrong but when one of us has to face the harsh reality like being racially discriminated, being tortured mentally or physically, we tend to think that there is something wrong with us rather than the society. Because everyone told us that world is a perfect place. This mentality prevents many from seeking help and they continue living a miserable life.
This concept needs to be removed.
There are many who don’t even know that they have a right to live life of their choice.
Having the privilege to live in a developed country like New Zealand and despite this if I cannot do something for the underprivileged ones or to fight for what is fundamentally right then that would be a shame for me.
"It's very important if you do step over the line you meet with those who have been offended and talk about it."
- This speech from the Youth March 2017 was written and presented by Muna.
“Our voices count, Count our voices!”
On Sunday the 4th of June, supporters and students from Epsom Girls Grammar, Lynfield College, Papatoetoe High School, Mt Albert Grammar School and Auckland Girls Grammar School gathered at Britomart to lead a peaceful march down Queen Street in order to raise awareness that all forms of violence and discrimination are present and unacceptable in New Zealand society.
The march was organised by Shakti Youth, a group of young people from Asian, African and Middle Eastern backgrounds passionate about social justice and building towards a violence-free future. To mark Youth Week 2017, the march aimed to promote and celebrate youth voices within the community. The youth behind this event wanted to make a change to end discrimination based on age, gender, ethnicity, religion, class, ability and sexual orientation; to raise awareness on how racial stereotypes and Islamophobia are taking a toll on their everyday lives.
Upon arriving at Aotea square, the students, many from migrant and refugee backgrounds, gave speeches on their experiences within the community. One student, Siddhi, a year 11 student, points out in her speech: “When we state that we are getting bullied or we are not feeling secure in our schools we are told to keep quiet because it is really common. Have they ever thought how these words will affect us? These words makes us support-less, helpless.”
Another student, Leanne, also states: “Discrimination occurs far too often within society, whether it is just one small comment or a racist fuelled hate crime. One comment may seem harmless but words are very powerful weapons.”
The march had support from Green Party MP, Marama Davidson, Labour candidate, Priyanca Radhakrishnan, as well as groups such as Racial Equity Aotearoa and Asians Supporting Tino Rangatiratanga.
One of the students leading the march, Rani, commented: “Seeing the people that are attending this, it makes me realise, yes, there are people that want to stand up for rights.”
With another student, Atia, stating: “It reminded me how much the issues that relate to discrimination and racism are not just faced by us, not just by our school, but by everyone else from the outside. It meant unity.”
Ending on a passage from June’s (year 9 student) speech, she expressed her dreams for the future of New Zealand: “I dream my second home country New Zealand to be a much better place with no discrimination. I know that it will not be solved in one day. I think the fastest way to solve this problem is to show our existence. We have to prove that we have equal lives.”
The students have already made plans for another youth march next year.
Shannyl discusses why feminism is important to her, and some ideas for a better future.
What does feminism mean to you as an individual in New Zealand Society?
Shannyl: To me feminism means being a part of the gender of females having equal rights towards freedom of speech and having equality in society alongside males. It’s about being able to fluctuate our voices and prove our capabilities as women. If I was to define feminism in one sentence I would say it is who I am, what I am, and how I am. Feminism is what makes the gender of females what we are and defines our uniqueness. But to me feminism also equally means addressing issues and achieving long terms solutions to such problems whilst creating a world where women are entitled to the same treatment as men.
Is it more than just equality between men and women? What about race or ethnicity?
Shannyl: Feminism is more then just men and women having equality between each other it’s about being able to share opinions together and interactive positively in our society. In my perspective I feel women and men of all ethnicities should have the right to speak their minds and create a platform for each other to stand upon and fight for equality. It’s about forming togetherness between the different races of our world in today’s day and time. I personally feel equality shouldn’t just exist on the basis of gender but we should fairly have equality in the structures of ethnicity and race. So I definitely agree that equality is more then just gender as we see various topics such as racism, sexism, and discrimination are causing a hierarchy to take place - categorizing people into particular demographics so it is necessary to expand our thoughts on feminism to a greater and complex level.
Why is it important to celebrate youth voices in our community?
Shannyl: Due to the voices of our youth being neglected as we are never taken seriously by adults I feel that due the generation I have been brought up in being more broad minded as well as having an open mind towards current crisis’s and issues taking place globally. It is important as the youth of today’s society we utilize our voices positively because we as a whole can enable our future generations to come together and enable change to occur. I also correspondingly feel that being a part of today’s youth in New Zealand we are the ones who can make our future generations feel extensively comfortable in their own skin and not have to change the way they are due to issues such as discrimination and racism existing based on ethnicity or race.
Do you think this can generate more development opportunities for youths and future generations?
Shannyl: Yes I personally consider utilizing the voices we have in society being a part of youth would effectively allow future generations to have opportunities to equally bring change and inclusiveness into society. It would also allow our youth groups to have a subjective to speak upon and significantly create fairness between women and men of all ethic groups. By us creating awareness we will be able to influence and educate children in a variety of different schooling systems as well to create platforms such as Shakti for their students as this will increase consciousness towards issues such as females not receiving equal rights alongside males in today’s society as well as facing sexism. It will also create awareness to linking issues such as discrimination and bullying towards different races.
How do you envision the future if your (youth) voices were more present?
Shannyl: I envision that through the future of our youth and the voices we have been privileged with we will be able to create a society where everyone is treated equally and women are correspondingly given respect alongside men. I also hope to see a change in the way people think towards the gender of females, as I would like to see women being equally acknowledged and thought of as capable as men. This being because I have experienced women being judged or questioned for opportunities such as education which I disapprove of as a female should be allowed to equivalently be rewarded with opportunities in high sufficient employment as well as educationally. So I significantly hope for a change in society’s insight and to change how society currently is which is racially discriminative towards a range of ethnicities.
To find out more about the Youth March this Sunday, check out our Facebook event here.
*More information on these statistics can be found here and here.
Lily, 16, from Lynfield College talks about feminism, family violence and the upcoming Youth March. You can follow her on Instagram @feminism.nz here.
What does feminism mean to you as an individual in New Zealand society?
Lily: New Zealand is very socially progressive and our status as the first independent country to grant women's suffrage fills me with a strong sense of patriotism. However, we are not short of flaws despite being very first to combat de jure misogyny and actually achieve said goal. A brief list includes: sanitary products are still being taxed 15% due to it being considered luxury items; abortion accessibility is limited underneath unjust government-enforced restrictions; systematic devaluation of pink collar labour, resulting in the 12.0% gap in median hourly earnings between men and women as of 2016. To me, feminism is about addressing such issues to reach desirable long-term solutions so women are entitled to the same treatment as their male counterparts.
Is it more than just equality between men and women? What about race or ethnicity?
Lily: Definitely. Oppressive systems of power (sexism, racism, classism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia etc.) overlap and are interconnected with one another to maintain a hierarchy which places certain demographics above others. It's absolutely crucial to be inclusive of marginalised communities in one's feminist activism because we have to move from the age when feminism only benefited white women and striven off the deliberate exclusion of women of colour. That only encouraged white women's complicity in the patriarchy and further disadvantaged those without white privilege. Feminism without intersectionality is just white supremacy and we can't be tolerant of that.
Why is it important to celebrate youth voices in our community?
Lily: The voices of today's youth are often disregarded as they are not taken seriously by adults, who primarily go by the notion that young people are less knowledgeable, which is completely baseless, as I've met so many influential teenagers who pushed me to think for myself instead of following the mainstream flow, which is a popular trend in previous generations. By comparison, my generation is so much more open-minded than those before us and with our willingness to challenge matters we don't agree with rather than stew in hateful ignorance, we possess the power to lay the foundation to building an accepting society for all.
Do you think this can generate more development opportunities for youths and future generations?
Lily: Yes! I have a lot of faith in today's youth and our capabilities. I'm sure we all share a desire to improve aspects of society previous generations completely fucked up, therefore giving us no choice but to learn from their mistakes to establish a better future for us all.
What current issues are you hoping for Shakti’s Youth march to raise awareness for?
Lily: The devastating fact that New Zealand has one of the worst rates of family and intimate partner violence in the developed world, which we need to take action towards instead of ignoring its existence in our supposedly perfect society.
How are some ways we get this across to the general public? What roles can the wider community play in this?
Lily: I think we need to start an open dialogue within ourselves because domestic violence is a subject that is often stigmatised. If we continue treating it as a taboo, many others will be discouraged to seek help. Awareness is the very first step.
How do you envision the future if your [youth] voices were more present?
Join Lily and other students from high schools around Auckland on a march to end violence and discrimination. For more information, check out the Facebook event here.
I have always hated the way I was treated differently for been born a girl. I am a 19-year-old Sri Lankan girl. My family moved to New Zealand 7 years ago, and coming from a South-Asian background I was always told how a girl should behave. Recently, after attending a family violence awareness training seminar with Shakti, when I was at a family friend’s house, my father and an uncle started discussing how Sri Lanka family dynamic teaches children respect, and I thought this was the day I can change their mind about gender inequality.
My father and the uncle talked about how in Sri Lanka, if we see a family walking down the road, head of the family, the father, walks a bit to the front of the rest of the family. They talked about how this is a sign of protection and that the man is leading and protecting his wife and kids. At meal times, the father or the grandfather gets food first because the wife respect the husband for providing for her. I do not see this as a sign of respect but authority and dominance men hold over women. Respect is not a one-way street, men and women both should respect each other and aimed be equal partners in a relationship. We also do not live in the 80s or 90s anymore. Most women work to support their family due to economic circumstances, which means the so called ‘family dynamic’ has changed. Women should not be obligated to do house work by themselves. Nowadays, men and women both have 9am to 5pm jobs. When they return from work, both partners should take responsibilities and help each other with work around the house.
Ever since I was little, I challenged my mother when she told me I should do certain things because I am a girl. I don’t mind helping my parents or doing a little housework but I am against the fact I should do these things because I am a girl. This bothers me more because I have an older brother who gets no responsibilities around the house just for been born a guy. I was told from a younger age how I should dress, sit, or talk if I ever wanted to get married. Now that we live in New Zealand, for many situations my mother argues, “We are Sri Lankans. Just because we live in NZ, don’t forget about how we do things in our culture”. Normally it is a good thing to hold on to the culture of the country we are from but it is not a valid reason to discriminate based on gender. It is time to change the traditional family dynamic that forces gender labels.
How girls should dress is something that often comes up in our culture. We are told to cover ourselves to stay protected. I tried to explain this to the uncle I was talking to, that girls don’t get sexually assaulted because of what they wear, and if that was the case western countries like New Zealand would have higher rate of rape than a country like Sri Lanka. Instead of telling girls to cover themselves and feel ashamed show their body, why aren’t we teaching boys to treat women with respect? The uncle responded by saying “why would you want to be vulnerable like that?” Women shouldn’t have to feel vulnerable and exposed when they wear comfortable clothes.
I have always challenged my parents when they tell me to be a “girl” and I will continue to do so. Even though my parents are set on their ways and not likely to change, I won’t keep quiet and accept. I am grateful for everything they have done for me, especially bringing me to a country that opened my eyes and can raise my voice to challenge these views of inequalities.
When people ask me what I do in my spare time I tell them that I volunteer for an organisation called Shakti. I also tell them that Shakti provides services and support for Asian, Middle Eastern and African women and their children who have survived domestic violence.
This is usually followed by the comment, “But anyone can go through domestic violence.”
That is true. I usually go on to explain that, yes, anyone can experience domestic violence, but how many shelter and refuges cater towards the culturally specific needs of migrant and refugee women?
To which they respond, “All of them, of course.”
These responses are common and it tells us that many people believe that a one-size fits all approach is adequate when helping migrant and refugee women and their children from Middle Eastern, African and Asian backgrounds who have escaped or are wishing to leave their abuser in a domestic violence situation in Aotearoa. However, the current mainstream refuges are based off a bicultural model, even though Aotearoa is a multicultural country. The one-size fits all approach ignores the different stigmas, values, lifestyles and modes of support and communication that exist in migrant and refugee communities. This is clearly an attitude that was echoed by the Ministry of Social Development when they declined funding for Shakti Wellington Refuge this year, despite the needs analysis that indicated the demand for culturally appropriate services.
There needs to be a Shakti refuge based in Wellington that not only services the Wellington population, but the greater Wellington region including Hutt Valley and New Plymouth. In the 2013 census, 11.4% (33,036) respondents in Wellington identified as being Asian, Middle Eastern, African or Latin American. With such a large migrant population in Wellington, we need a refuge that provides support and advocacy for women who don’t fit under the biculturalism model that is currently in place in mainstream refuges. This need is evident from the fact that Shakti Wellington Refuge serviced over 350 women last year, with over 200 referrals coming from the Police.
These services are not only inappropriate because they do not understand the cultural needs and backgrounds of many migrant and refugee women, but because of stigmas within our own communities. We grow up hearing our parents, our friends, and people in New Zealand’s migrant and refugee communities say things like:
“You may be in New Zealand but you shouldn’t follow New Zealand culture.”
“In our culture, that is not how we do things.”
“Divorce is a Western concept, it is unacceptable in our culture.”
“It is shameful to leave your husband.”
With these kinds of messages persisting in our communities, it makes leaving an abusive relationship an even more daunting task than it already is. There are already so many barriers to stop women from reaching out for help. Racial discrimination and ignorance from New Zealanders is coupled with the potential of facing backlash from your own communities. Finding support shouldn’t be another hurdle for migrant and refugee women to struggle over.
Wellington and its greater region needs a refuge that provides culturally appropriate life-saving services for women in need. Shakti Wellington Refuge provides something that can genuinely help achieve this. Without the refuge in Wellington, the nearest option for women seeking help would be in Shakti refuge in Tauranga, which would be a six hour drive away. If Shakti Wellington Refuge continues to be under-resourced, it means that they cannot provide the support and advocacy to the migrant women who need it.
Of course, the problems won’t end if Shakti Wellington Refuge receives funding. We still have a long way to go in dismantling the racism that prevented the funding in the first place, and in ending gender-based violence so that there isn’t such a high demand for shelters and refuges.
But it is a necessary step in the right direction.
With a crooked grimace I will probably have told you at some point about the relationship i had with a white man twelve years my senior when i was 18, such a disclosure of an experience serving to exemplify much of what’s wrong with white supremacist patriarchy. But I leave out the part about how Koreans responded to this, particularly Korean men who, with scathing eyes and tongues, have the tendency to construe my involvement with white men as the unequivocal proof of my apparent self-loathing, while they endow my brother with words of praise for his popularity with white women who sit at the top of the sexual hierarchy. It’s laughable to see that men of colour actually have the gall to engage in the hilariously ignorant presupposition of their own exemption from perpetuating misogyny. Men of colour, who, under the guise of attacking white supremacy, shame and vilify women of colour who don’t appease their pathetic male entitlement. Trauma for me has come from men of colour too, so the perpetual doubt with which I look on at men is not limited to the white ones. In the struggle against oppression, men of colour do need to be reminded that they are indeed still men.
I am also disheartened by the Korean immigrant families who eagerly approach my North Shore property owning parents, who, to the newly migrated, signify a repository of immigrant tips and pointers with which they hope to find out which schools and neighbourhoods are the good schools and neighourhoods, which we all know is thinly veiled language for less brown. They eagerly seek these answers, asking my parents all of this over the dinner we eat on stolen land. A reminder that white supremacy does not need solely white bodies to continue to rear its ugly head.
The fragmentation of our communities and the challenging fight to work for our own safe spaces points to how much racism and patriarchy undermines us and wants to keep it that way. It’s hard to support each other when the support we receive from outside of our communities can be as fleeting as the brief appearances of politicians who pay lip service without action at our events, scurrying away after an amount of time they’ve deemed acceptable has passed, while we hope for the day they’ll be as invested in our issues as they are in their visibility. Structural racism and sexism becomes underscored by the violence of capitalism’s emphasis on money as the ultimate value form, rendering our groups vulnerable and our services dry of funds which institutions are happy to starve us of. How can we support ourselves and each other within our communities when the capacity for it is forced to be contingent upon the support from the outside which we are not always getting?
I want to remind my friends of colour that we have a lot to address ourselves if we really want to mobilise in our common goal of abolishing white supremacist patriarchy. When all we have in common is not being white men, a commonality situated in a negative space in relation to what we are not, that is fragile grounds for a coherent mode of collectivity. Amidst the array of colours that we are, there is great multiplicity of conditions and being which must be respected which we are not doing all the time. For people outside of our communities, I still believe in solidarity and hope for the numbers to build day by day, as more and more people realise the ugly web that is oppression in all its forms. Connected and entangled and bound up in what seems like a destructive but indestructible mess, but one we all want to destroy. For nobody is free until everybody is free. For all my fellow comrades who will commit to living for the struggle, for whom the emancipation of the marginalised is of paramount importance, I stand with you and implore you all to engage in constant self-reflection as will I, as we work to build inclusive collective solidarity that will fly in the face of the white supremacist patriarchy that is both fragile and pathetic, weakening with every break in which we are those ruptures.
Last Friday, Shakti and partner organisations hosted an event to mark International Women's Day at Mt Albert War Memorial Hall. It was a lively event, with a shared brunch, speeches, panel discussions amongst researchers and politicians and the launch of “Break Free,” a handbook for migrant and refugee youth experiencing family violence.
The resource, which is the first of its kind, provides practical information on topics such as housing, jobs, study, relationships and immigration to help migrant and refugee youth navigate through the challenges in life after breaking free from family violence. The handbook covers culturally specific examples of unacceptable behaviours and practices so that youth can recognise the signs of an abusive relationship. It also includes personal anecdotes and supportive messages shared by migrant and refugee youth.
“There is a clear lack of support and culturally specific resources available for migrant and refugee youth who try to rebuild their lives after experiencing family violence in Aotearoa/ New Zealand. We hope this resource will provide practical knowledge as well as support,” said Mengzhu, who presented the handbook with a speech at the launch.
“Even though we specifically focus on the experiences of migrant and refugee youth, there is no doubt that family violence happens across cultures. However, there are specific experiences, issues and practices that need attention in immigrant communities, such as intergenerational cultural conflicts, forced marriage, and what has been called ‘honour-based’ violence. This handbook covers in more detail what this looks like,” continued Mengzhu.
The handbook is available for purchase through Shakti here, and it is free for young people who access Shakti’s services.
Mainstream feminism overlooks issues faced by women who are also affected by their race, wealth, sexuality and disabilities. This leads to the exclusion of women from marginalised backgrounds from feminist spaces, discussions and strategies.
Emma Watson, Taylor Swift, Tina Fey. These names are well-known amongst young feminists today. When they discuss feminism, they talk about fighting for equal rights for women, for more representation in media for women and to get rid of the wage gap. What they neglect to mention is how these issues, and more broadly, sexism, affect different women differently. Mainstream feminism overlooks issues faced by women who are also affected by their race, wealth, sexuality and disabilities. This leads to the exclusion of women from marginalised backgrounds from feminist spaces, discussions and strategies.
In response to mainstream feminism, black feminists in the United States wrote about how for black women, racism and sexism did not operate separately, rather they reinforce one another. The term intersectionality was then coined in 1989 by Kimberlé Crenshaw to describe this theory. Although intersectionality began as framework for understanding how womanhood could be racialised for black women, this theory has been useful for understanding how oppression affects women differently, based on the various facets of their identity.
In Aotearoa New Zealand, statistics reveal that 1 in 3 women experience physical and/or sexual violence from a partner in their lifetime and that disabled women are twice as likely to be victims of violence compared to other women. These statistics highlight that domestic violence is a gendered issue, however, it is clearly more complicated than that.
These socially constructed categories of women, and the category of women itself, exist to undermine and disempower women in different ways and are all embedded in capitalism. In order to address the higher rates of violence experienced by disabled women it is imperative that we look into how ableism and sexism reinforce one another, and how these oppressions can be further complicated when disability intersects with gender, race, sexuality and class.
Our current mainstream systems for victims of domestic violence cater primarily towards Pākehā women, with very limited resources and in turn, support for indigenous women, migrant women of colour, LGBTQI women, disabled women and economically disadvantaged women. This can be seen with the recent Ministry of Social Development decision to decline funding to Shakti Wellington Refuge. This can lead to marginalised groups receiving support that is either inadequate or leads to further violence.
Intersectional feminism is a useful lens to analyse the oppressions that affect marginalised groups and it is a powerful tool when used in conjunction with other theories. Mainstream feminism as it stands is not intersectional, but it does need to be. Intersectionality is crucial to create solidarity and understanding amongst us so that we can better support each other as we try to dismantle the oppressive capitalist patriarchal systems around us. As a wise woman once wrote, “My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit!”