Refugee women in New Zealand: Findings and recommendations

Today on International Women’s Day, it seems apt to share this article that I wrote on behalf of our research team for the Women’s Health Action Update, volume 16, Number 43, December 2012. Women’s Health Action is a charitable trust, that works to “provide women with high quality information and education services to enable them to maintain their health and make informed choices about their health care”. Their focus is on health promotion and disease prevention and they are particularly supportive of breastfeeding and screening. Their vision is ‘Well women empowered in a healthy world’.

More than 80 per cent of the world’s refugees are women and their dependent children. Often women of refugee backgrounds [1]are constructed within deficit frames as having high needs. This representation is problematic as it deflects attention from considering broader historical, social, systemic and political factors and the adequacy of resettlement support.

Little is known about the experiences of women who enter New Zealand through the Women at Risk category identified by The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). This category constitutes up to 75 places (10%) of New Zealand’s annual refugee quota of 750. Refugee Services worked with AUT University and the three Strengthening Refugee Voices Groups in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch to undertake a project to examine the resettlement experiences of women who enter New Zealand through this category or become sole heads of households as a consequence of their resettlement experiences. This project was funded by the Lotteries Community Sector Research Fund.

The project was important not only for its findings but also for the research process, which focused on strengths, social justice, community development and transformative research. This transformative agenda aimed to enhance the wellbeing of refugee background women by focussing on the roots of inequality in the structures and processes of society rather than in personal or community pathology (Ledwith, 2011). Within this frame we were committed to constructing refugee women as an asset rather than deploying a deficit model of refugee women as a burden for the receiving society (Butler, 2005).

Focus groups were held in 2009 and 2010 with women who entered New Zealand as refugees under the formal category ‘Women at Risk’ or became women who were sole heads of households once they arrived in New Zealand. Women that took part had lived in New Zealand from between five months to sixteen years.  Lengthy consultations were held with the three Strengthening Refugee Voices groups in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch prior to undertaking data collection, in order to scope and refine the research focus and process. These groups were subsequently contracted to provide services and support.

Key findings

Although support needs are similar to all refugees arriving in New Zealand, there were unique and exacerbated gender issues. Refugee background women experienced a double burden of stress with half the support, especially as they parented on their own. This is despite the tremendous unpaid and voluntary support provided by faith and ethnic community members. Women frequently postponed their own aspirations in order to assure the future of their children. When they were ready to take up further education (including English language classes) or employment, limited assistance was then available (given the focus on early resettlement) leading to women feel disadvantaged.

We have made several recommendations based around several specific themes. More broadly we recommended that:

  • More intensive and longer term instititutional support be made available from agencies such as Refugee Services.
  • Subsidised practical help be made available.
  • Assistance to broaden sources of support and networks is goven.
  • Subsidised English language lessons and childcare are available.
  • That a one stop shop/holistic support from culturally and linguistically skilled refugee community insiders be provided.

Parenting

Raising children in New Zealand brought new stresses. These included concern about the loss of culture, values and language and losing their children to less palatable values including the consumption of alcohol and drugs, gender mixing and loss of respect for elders. Women addressed these issues in a range of ways that included trying different less hierarchical styles of parenting, attempting to spend more time with their children, engaging them in broader supports eg mosque. However, a few women had the experience of losing their children through the intervention of CYFS and felt disempowered in their interactions with CYFS and with schools.

  • Programme for parenting for Refugee women, particularly around issues such as discipline, inter-generational gender issues
  • Programmes for young people.
  • Cultural competence training for CYFS.

Family reunification

Living in New Zealand is difficult for women who are conscious of their own comfort while other family members struggle. However, the cost of bringing family members over is prohibitive and the costs involved in providing support in the form of phone calls and remittances add a burden to already stretched lives of the women. The importance of extended family is highlighted for women on their own and the kinds of help that could be provided by family members. Additional stresses are the requirement that refugee women are able to support their families once they arrive in New Zealand. The process is also made difficult by the lack of transparency in the immigration process.

  • Prioritise the reunification with family for women who are here on their own.
  • Provide financial support to women.
  • Increase transparency of the processes and decisions that are made.

Health system

Women encountered a different health system that at times was difficult to navigate. Many women felt that their health concerns were not taken seriously and that the health system created new problems. In terms of some health beliefs and stigma there was value in having more culturally appropriate services available. The surfeit of refugee background health professionals was a potential resource that was not being used.

  • Train and employ a more ethnically, religiously, and linguistically diverse health workforce at all levels
  • Develop culturally responsive services.
  • Examine the affordability of services.
  • Develop cultural competence of staff working in health services.

Education

The cost and availability of day care for Refugee women on their own is prohibitive in some cases consuming the lion’s share of their income/benefit. Taking up loans in order to finance their own educations is also a problem. This prevents women from achieving their own goals such as learning English, driving or further education, which would assist them in the long term with employment and independence. Women generally considered their own advancement as secondary to their children. If women were resourced financially to gain an education this would assist them to also be a resource for their children. Having long-term support to enter the workforce would also be of benefit.

  • Subsidised day care for women on their own.
  • Mentoring.
  • Scholarships for further education.

Employment

Women were concerned that their children were not getting employed despite tertiary qualifications. Barriers to employment included: ‘lack’ of New Zealand experience, language barriers, their perceived difference (clothing, culture, skin colour) and paucity of appropriate childcare, poor public transport. The impacts of unemployment included losing their dignity, health impacts of taking inappropriate jobs, boredom

  • Subsidised driving lessons, support with transport
  • More work with employers to destigmatise refugee workers
  • Work mentoring/brokering services
  • Support for family members who come into New Zealand through the reunification category to obtain further education

Racism

Refugee women and their families experienced a range of racism related harms that were instititutional and interpersonal taking physical and verbal forms. Their clothes and accent marked them out, and verbal altercations saw stereotypes being invoked particularly around Islamophobia and discourses of war on terror. Women deployed a range of strategies to cope with racism including minimising the racism and helping their children to cope with it.

  • Social marketing campaigns
  • Community education
  • Addressing structural racism
  • National conversation on racism
  • National campaign against racism

The research team hope that this research provides a snapshot of the role and value of various sectors in enabling or constraining the resettlement of refugee background women. This could contribute to better informing theory, practice and policy in order that the self-determination and resilience of refugee background women and their communities is supported.

 


[1] Note that terms like ‘refugee background women’ and ‘communities’ refer to highly diverse groups of people (Butler, 2005). In capturing the experiences of refugee women as sole heads of households, we were mindful of the potential that using a category could imply a “single, essential, transhistorical refugee condition” (Malkki, 1995, p.511).

 

Unsettled in Australia: Reflections on my first Australia/Straya/Invasion day

koala bear

My first stuffed toy as a child in Nairobi was a koala bear and I’ve been besotted with them ever since. So you can imagine that I was captivated by this meme where the koala realises that she’s not a bear but a marsupial. To draw a very long bow, I think her puzzlement captures the experience of so many visibly different migrants in settler societies who believe they are part of a nation and then find that they aren’t, whether it’s because their qualifications aren’t recognised which leads them to be unemployed or under-employed or they begin to realise that their skin colour doesn’t lend them to being neatly absorbed into the imagined community on national days of celebration. So here I am in Australia, not as a nine year old (when my family were looking to migrate from Nairobi) but as an adult in mid-career, here to live and work. Joining a multitude of other New Zealanders (the most common country of birth of Australian residents outside of Australia is the United Kingdom followed by New Zealand, you’ll find other interesting nuggets on cultural diversity on Esther Hougenhout‘s blogpiece) who’ve also crossed the ditch. I’ve visited Australia for conferences and to visit my partner’s family, but it’s been over twenty years since I lived somewhere other than Aotearoa. In my work and community life I’ve carefully considered how migrants engage with settler institutions and their relationships with indigenous communities, but I am having a powerful opportunity to examine my own complicity in forms of oppression (in the context of another settler society) as Harsha Walia so powerfully puts it in a video on anti-oppression, decolonization, and being a responsible ally.

992894-australia-word-cloud
From news.com.au
australia-map-aboriginal-nations
Courtesy of Brisbane Murri Action Group

We’ve arrived in time for Australia day which commemorates the 225th anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet in Sydney Cove, New South Wales in 1788, when British sovereignty was also proclaimed over the eastern seaboard of Australia. It’s a day of festivals, concerts, citizenship ceremonies and acknowledgements of the contributions Australians have made with the recipients of honours and Australian of the year announced. Entrepreneur and electrical retailer Dick Smith even got into the jingoistic spirit with his casually racist advertisement for Aussie foodstuffs, beautifully critiqued by Sunili. I’m not sure if the stones that hit both our heads as we were walking along the Nepean highway to look at housing options were an important Australia day cultural tradition for young blokes in fast cars (I’d like to know how their aim was so brilliantly accurate). Nevertheless fervent nationalism is everywhere, cars and houses are adorned with Australian flags and there is an exacerbation in bogan behaviour as comedians Aamer Rahman from Fear of a Brown Planet and Robert Foster/Kenneth Oathcarn observe.

S Peter Davis who made a YouTube video Straya Day, notes that

as January 26 rolls around, you begin to see cars on the road with little Australian flags poking out the windows like a diplomatic cavalcade. In what is usually a pretty tolerant and multicultural nation, this is one day of the year when folks start casting suspicious and slightly disapproving glances toward brown people. Anti-immigrant slogans like “We grew here, you flew here,” and the somewhat more direct “Fuck off we’re full” begin to make the rounds. Understand, it’s the minority of people, and Australia does not hold the patent on racism. But when you combine this with a cocktail of youth, alcohol and barbecue…parts of the country just explode in a shower of beer, singlets and thongs.

Or not as the pictures below reveal.

Beer baby
Via Chalk Hotel’s Facebook page

This day of barbecues and beer is also called Invasion or Survival day. It represents “an undercurrent of division and inequality that belies the happy, egalitarian culture that the day is meant to convey, “a day of mourning for the land that was taken and the ensuing two centuries of social alienation and discrimination” as Robin Tennant-Wood puts it. There are also Survival Day celebrations like the 2013 Share The Spirit Festival featuring Indigenous music, dance and culture. Numerous Invasion day marches have also taken place across Australia.

Grandtheft Australia
Via Idle No More Facebook page

Hip hop artists Reverse Polarities recent release “Invasion Day” acknowledges the historical and continuing injustices faced by Indigenous Australians and pushes for Australians to understand their history rather than being immobilised by guilt (white Australians) or innocence (visibly different new Australians):

Many Australians feel guilt for the actions their white predesessors and claim non- involvement due to being new Australians. We must be active in our understanding of history. The past is not ours to change, but the future can be shaped.

INM Invasion day
Via Idle No More Australia’s Facebook page

Peter Gebhardt a poet, retired County Court judge and former principal asks for accountability and reckoning with the history of genocide “What might an Aboriginal person say of Australia Day? Why should the Aborigines celebrate that day?” He adds:

It was the day that marked the theft of a land (terra nullius), the day that marked the theft and abduction of a people, of a culture, the day that initiated the pathways to the Stolen Children and, to our ultimate shame, the deaths in custody. It is a day that stands as a reminder of massacres. The wind-stench of bodies burned in bonfires hangs heavy upon the nation’s conscience and in the clouds…You can shuttle history, but you cannot shuttle facts. It would be a great Australia Day if it faced honesty, historical facts, abandonment, hypocrisy, shelved superiority and embarked upon an exercise of spiritual empathy rather than religious hubris.

A point supported by Tristan Ewins, who calls for celebration and critique of this national day:

There is a problem, here, in that there is still no formal resolution: comprehensively righting the injustices suffered by indigenous people. Without the closure provided by a just, representative and inclusive Treaty between the modern Australian nation and our indigenous peoples, it is hard to imagine a fully inclusive celebration of the Australian nation. Perhaps in the future – should such a resolution be achieved – then maybe this could become the focus of a new ‘national day’ for all Australians.

The desire for redress and accountability has a long way to go to being realised, but small steps toward reconciliation are evident. This year for the first time both the Aboriginal and Australian flags were simultaneously hoisted on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Aboriginal flag on bridge
Picture: Sam Ruttyn Source: News Limited via new.com.au

Apparently, more than 17,000 people from 145 countries took the citizenship pledge to become Australians on January 26th. Without any sense of irony whatsoever, Tony Abbott Leader of the Opposition told an Australia Day breakfast and citizenship ceremony in Adelaide that change should be welcomed “when it’s in accordance with the customs and traditions of our people” and he added that new citizens were “changing the country for the better”.

Being a new arrival in Australia myself has been interesting, there are many similarities with New Zealand. The neoliberal multicultural success stories of refugees and migrants loom large both in media and in private conversations. Take Akram Azimi, Young Australian of the Year 2013 who arrived  in Australia 13 years ago from Afghanistan and went from being ‘an ostracised refugee kid with no prospects’ to becoming his school’s head boy. Or diasporic Maori, Frank (name changed) who repeatedly called himself and other Maori “niggers”in front of his car salesman colleagues. He told me that his wife wanted to return home six months into their stint here and he insisted they “tough it out”, he quipped “things are fine if you just work hard”. He’s taught his children important aspects of Te Ao Maori and has disdain for the various groups that have formed stating that “if you want to learn about your culture you should go home to do it”. Rauf Soulio (chair of the Australian Multicultural Council and a judge of the District Court of South Australia) peppers an opinion piece with words and phrases like “enterprise”, “courage and commitment” and talks about people who “strove to build new and prosperous lives”.  Extolling a neoliberal narrative combined with a commitment to reconciliation:

It is one of the hallmarks of our multiculturalism that we work hard to ensure that those who come here have every opportunity to become fully participating members of Australian society, rather than remaining guests or temporary visitors. It doesn’t matter that you don’t have Australian lineage or ancestry when you arrive – as long as you contribute.

Aus-strayer
Illustration: Ben Sanders/The Jacky Winter Group in the Sydney Morning Herald

Yup, I’m here to work and become a “fully participating member” of Australian society, and to that end have also been consuming multiculturalism with relish and delight. I am blissfully happy at being able to access ingredients and cuisines that are difficult to find in Aotearoa. But consumption aside, I do want to find a way to engage ethically with this place. Shakira Hussein‘s incisive critique of Scott Morrison’s speech at the Menzies Centre for Australian Studies in London brilliantly skewers Morrison’s selective consumption of multiculturalism:

Morrison doesn’t spell out which aspects of “diversity” would be considered acceptable under a more balanced post-multicultural regime, but I’m guessing he subscribes to the consensus view that multiculturalism has had a beneficial effect on the Australian diet. (Sharia tribunals? No thanks. Homous and baklava? More, please.) Even those most ardent racists participate in the multiculturalism of consumption. But while enjoying our pizza and laksa, we need to “send a message” that such tolerance “is not a licence for cultural practices that are offensive to the cultural values and laws of Australia and that our respect for diversity does not licence: the primacy of the English language”.

His comments come just in time for Geert Wilder’s visit to Australia next month. See Deborah Kelly’s kit below.

Veiled woman

I was in Sydney almost seven months ago when I caught up with a friend of the family who asked me why I hate white people. I had to explain to him that my work is about critiquing white hegemony and that is a different thing. Critiquing hegemony and racism and advocating for indigenous rights is viewed decidedly un-Australian, as effectively parodied by Don Watson:

We’re pragmatists. It comes with being Australian that we don’t upset ourselves about things of no practical consequence. Of course, for some people the wine’s always corked. You’ll hear them from Ballarat to Bali, running the country down. Fair dinkum, you want to deck the bastards sometimes. But, as I said, we don’t upset ourselves. Poor things, they can’t think of the foundation of the country without thinking of the people it was taken from. They can’t think of dear old decent Arthur Phillip without thinking of the time he sent out men with bags to collect half a dozen Aboriginal heads. Nothing in the manifold benefits of British rule, British institutions, British customs and British capital cheers them up or excites a little gratitude.

Remind them of the nation’s progress, show them how human health and happiness have in general flourished here, and in return you’ll get the vale of tears it has been for the Aborigines, or the grave injustices to women, or the treatment of refugees arriving on boats: as if because some people got the rough end of the pineapple we are all supposed to be abraded by it.

Michel Foucault the French philosopher said that the point of “a critique is not a matter of saying that things are not right as they are. It is a matter of pointing out on what kinds of assumptions, what kinds of familiar, unchallenged, unconsidered modes of thought the practices we accept rest”. For me, as an academic with a commitment to social justice, blindly supporting the status quo is not an option. I know that I have a long journey of learning and unlearning ahead of me, without the reassurance of state sanctioned biculturalism or a biculturalism grounded in treasured processes and relationships in Aotearoa that have inflected my adult life. But this grounding from the place I’ve called home for most of my life will be fundamental to examining my complicity in the maintenance of oppression, my understanding of the multicultural project and to forging my own rather than received understandings of indigineity here in Australia. Luckily there are many who’ve already walked this path. Between their wisdom and those of my global intellectual and political community I think I am koalified to undertake this next adventure.

Via Colourfest film festival
Via Colourfest film festival

 

 

 

A fair go? Using liberal principles to support Islamophobia and racism.

I am interested in the issue of fairness. Anyone with siblings might be I would think. Whether it’s about making sure everyone gets an equally sized piece of cake or equal chances to speak, fairness has been a driving force in my life that I might have inherited.  As one of three daughters it was very important to our parents that we were treated fairly. So every birthday and Christmas we got the same kinds of presents, matching housecoats, matching crockery and so on. I kinda like the way I can go to both my sisters’ houses and enjoy drinking from the same cups. But over the years I’ve realised that treating people the same (is universalism) isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be and sometimes we need to treat people differently (particularism) to support them to get their needs met. For example, my parents have a prolific avocado tree and out of all my sisters I like avocados the most (hint hint), therefore is it fair that we all get the same number of them? This issue has resonance in health too, treating everyone the same can result in differential outcomes and sometimes you need to treat people differently to get the same outcome-for example for different population groups to have a long life different strategies might be needed. Which brings me to the issue that’s driving this blog post. How can we ensure that what we do is fair? and how do we define what fairness is? How might discourses invoking equality reinforce inequity and oppression?

The backlash against KONY 2012 did something useful. It made people think twice before re-posting items on their newsfeed and drew attention to the ways in which activism through social media can go horribly wrong. Joshua Foust says KONY 2012 accentuated the challenges “of enthusiastic support for someone who seems to be doing the right thing without really investigating whether their methods are the best, and privileging the easy and fun over the constructive”. In the case of the social media whirl around Russian punk band Pussy Riot, Foust’s criticism is that a serious concern about the erosion of political freedoms and civil liberties has been converted into a celebration of feminist punk music and art, detracting from the brutality and mistreatment being meted by Putin’s government to Russian activists or political prisoners.

It’s been a lousy few weeks for women in the west. The Julian Assange saga, Republican Todd Akin’s stupidity and comments that women can’t get pregnant from rape and more. But even more grump inducing has been the appearance on my Facebook feed of more white saviour complex campaigns, this time run by white feminists. Feminism is supposedly about building a fairer and more just society for women, but these campaigns only reinforce the limitations of western feminisms for engaging with axes of oppression such as ethnicity, racialisation and social class. This isn’t my only beef with western feminisms, the others are that they have a decidedly liberal tone with a focus on individual rights and also the frequency with which feminist discourses are co-opted for neoliberal ends. For example, the way in which western feminisms have legitimated expansionist neoliberalism, think Muslim women needing to be rescued from the Taleban by the Enlightened West in Afghanistan.

This hero/martyr narrative in this annoying image from Feminists United is illustrative of a hierarchy that pits western women against non-Western women.

The advert represents a white woman as a hero, both educated and modern and able to freely exercise choice and control over her own body. In contrast, the ‘non Western woman’ is represented as oppressed by her culture, other women and tradition, all of which impinge on her sexuality. The comments on this image included:”Indeed, a horrific practice that comes from satan’s kingdom of darkness and needs to end; ” and “In Africa 3000 girls every day!!!”. Thankfully commentators also pointed out the racist and imperial assumptions of this advert. The comments recentre Western feminisms rather than expose the limitations of Western epistemological frameworks for making sense of women’s experiences outside the West. Given my own health background, I’m conscious of the ways in which FGM/C is constructed as a health issue. The image implicitly reifies the superiority of Western medicine for having the values most emblematic of Western civilisation such as enlightenment, benevolence and humanitarianism. We’ll just ignore the collusion of Christian missionary medicine and biomedicine in the advancement of colonialism and imperialism.

One of my intellectual and political concerns is with the ways in which certain practices and subjectivities are privileged through liberal feminist discourses that actually replicate the colonising impacts of heteropatriarchy (even though feminism was developed to critique it). These liberal feminist discourses construct femininity within particular norms such as being liberated that are within normative modes of middle class white behaviour. Racialised “oppressed” women are constituted as a threat to the liberal and neoliberal projects of self regulation and improvement which in turn reinforce the centrality of a white world view

The comments on the second set of images that popped up on my feed were also disturbing, viewing Muslim women as victims of their male partners. The comments framed the woman as unagentic and Muslim males as dominating and unable to control their sexual drives. The inability to recognise sexism and misogyny closer to home in the context of Todd Akin talking about “legitimate rape” were interestingly absent. This ‘fighting sexism with racism’as Sherene Razack (1995) calls it fills me with dismay, especially when differences are framed as a civilisational clash between western liberal values of equality and individualism versus the patriarchal, hierarchical and communal values of the ‘other’.

As Arundhati Roy articulates in a pointed essay:

Western-liberal feminism (by virtue of its being the most funded brand) [has become], the standard-bearer of what constitutes feminism. The battles as usual, have been played out on women’s bodies, extruding Botox at one end and Burkhas at the other. (And then there are those who suffer the double-whammy, Botox and the Burkha.) When, as happened recently in France, an attempt is made to coerce women out of the burkha rather than creating a situation in which a woman can choose what she wishes to do, it’s not about liberating her, but about unclothing her. It becomes an act of humiliation and cultural imperialism. Coercing a woman out of her burkha is as bad as coercing her into one. It’s not about the burkha. It’s about the coercion. Viewing gender in this way, shorn of social, political and economic context, makes it an issue of identity, a battle of props and costumes. It’s what allowed the US Government to use western feminist liberal groups as moral cover when it invaded Afghanistan in 2001. Afghan women were (and are) in terrible trouble under the Taliban. But dropping daisy-cutters on them was not going to solve the problem.

These coercive aspects reeking of cultural imperialism and humiliation have been close to home this week in Aotearoa with the furore over the decision by Lower Hutt’s Dowse Art Museum to ban men from seeing a video work by Qatari-American Sophia Al-Maria. The video Cinderazahd: For your eyes only was filmed in a woman only section of her grandmother’s home in Doha and shows Muslim women preparing for a relative’s wedding without their veils. Al-Maria requested that it only be shown to women and children in keeping with the belief that male strangers should not see their faces. However, this ban on mail viewers has resulted in complaints of gender discrimination to the Human Rights Commission.

The Dominion Post argues:

The real issue is that the Dowse is a ratepayer-funded organisation. As such, it should not be using the public purse to stage exhibits from which some ratepayers are excluded. The sum involved in this case – $6000 for the complete exhibition of 17 artists – is small, but the principle is important.

Clearly, the conflict between Al-Maria offering a work that can be seen only by women and the gallery’s duty to ensure equal access to all those who contribute towards funding it cannot be reconciled. That being the case, the Dowse should withdraw the video from the exhibition and Al-Maria should find a private gallery in which to show it.

Luckily there’s been some great responses from the blogosphere. Especially from QOT who says:

There’s a lot of argument going down around the fact that the Dowse is publicly-funded, is this discrimination, do we owe it to the poor oppressed brown women to tear away their autonomy because they’re too stupid to know they’re oppressed … yeah, guess where I fall on that one.

QOT checks our Human Rights legislation and notes that it is not unlawful to discriminate on the ground of religious belief (within particular circumstances). QOT acidly remarks that this legislation is what enables Catholics to ban women from the priesthood, but who’s complaining? If the primary complainant was a male student taking a third-year compulsory Art History paper where half the final exam marks were based on the film this would then disadvantage the males in the class. But is not being able to see that exhibit going to disadvantage the complainant really? Wise words also from Gaayathri, pointing out how important it is for those who are marginalised to be able to create and have access to safe spaces. Gaayathri cynically notes how the incident smacks of using Islamic women’s rights as a political football and if we indeed gave a damn then listening to their wishes would be a great start, and even better respecting the boundaries that have been set for the viewing of the work.

Contemporary racism is covert and subtle, a response to the social taboo against the open expression of racist sentiments. It is also more likely to be denied by majority group members.What I find most interesting about the Dowse drama is how the parameters of cultural consumption can only be set by the dominant culture. Whether it’s invoking the white saviour discourse or railing against so-called Islamic oppression, it’s the dominant white settler culture who decides how much culture is palatable and in what form. Setting boundaries results in the range of devastating comments that you can see on the interweb and it shows me that the veneer of civility is wafer thin. Kiwis can indeed hold negative views of particular groups in tandem with liberal principles of equality, tolerance, fairness and justice and just as quickly invoke these liberal values of fairness and equity in the service of  Islamophobia and racism. Our attitudes and beliefs in New Zealand haven’t been tested in the same way Australians have. They are forever in the spotlight about asylum seekers, but what it does make me think is that we should not be too complacent in New Zealand about the moral high ground. In all of this, what I am most grateful for is that like KONY 2012, these frustrating and painful incidents provide an opportunity to consider more deeply questions of freedom and liberation and more importantly to find out who our allies are.

Refugee women on their own in New Zealand: Uncommon courage

Recently the report  “Doing it for ourselves and our children: Refugee women on their own in New Zealand” was launched in Auckland, New Zealand. The project was jointly undertaken by AUT University and Refugee Services New Zealand with the support, guidance and practical assistance of the three Strengthening Refugee Voices groups in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. It was an honour for me to write the report.

The purpose of this project was to examine the resettlement experiences of women who entered New Zealand through the category of Women at Risk (identified by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). This category constitutes up to 75 places (10%) of New Zealand’s annual refugee quota of 750 applicants) or who became sole heads of households as a consequence of their resettlement experiences. The terms ‘refugee women’ and ‘communities’ refer to highly diverse groups of people  and in this report we don’t assume a “single, essential, transhistorical refugee condition” (Malkki, 1995, p.511).

A focus on strengths and principles of social justice, community development and capacity building were central to this investigation. Specifically, we had a transformative agenda, which was to enhance the wellbeing of refugee women by focussing on the roots of inequality in the structures and processes of society rather than in personal or community pathology. Within this frame, we were committed to constructing refugee women as assets rather than deploying as replicating deficit models where refugee women are represented as burdens for the receiving society.

You can read the whole report on the Refugee Services website 

 

 

Contributing to Islamophobia on New Zealand radio?

This afternoon I made a complaint about the quality of public broadcasting on Radio New Zealand’s ‘Afternoons with Jim Mora’ on Thursday 25th October 2011.

The broadcast can be heard at: http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/afternoons/audio/2501142/the-panel-with-tony-doe-and-john-bishop-part-1.asx

The offending comments can be heard here: http://soundcloud.com/hinemoana-1/terrorist-barbie
I’ve pasted my letter below:

To whom it may concern

I am a long-term fan of Radio New Zealand and the National Programme, having appeared as a guest on programmes such as the Asian report, Afternoons with Jim Mora and Saturdays with Kim Hill.

I write this as an academic who is actively involved in community affairs and committed to being part of an equitable, flourishing and humane society for all of its members. Consequently, I am committed to critiquing the institutions that purport to represent the needs and aspirations of their diverse constituents.  Hence this considered decision to make a formal complaint about the quality of public broadcasting on Radio NZ’s Afternoons with Jim Mora on Thursday 25th October 2011.

Around 4pm on the 25th, the host and a panellist were having a discussion about the release of the new Barbie doll – a collector’s edition being produced by toy company Mattel and in so doing made remarks about the Muslim community that I believe breach Broadcasting standards. During the discussion, John Bishop (a panellist) suggested that Mattel could market the doll to Muslims. However, he then added  ‘why can’t we have a Terrorist Barbie?’ The host Paul Brennan responded by saying ‘Suicide Bomber Barbie….she could come with a little belt.’ Meaning that the belt could be made of explosives. ‘Why not?’ said Mr Bishop, implying that a product like ‘Terrorist Barbie’ would sell well to Muslims and then names like “terrorist Barbie” and “suicide bomber Barbie” were suggested.

I believe that these comments made by a broadcaster who is viewed as authoritative and authentic, contributes to the portrayal and representation of Islam that are racist and anti-Islamic/Islamophobic and breach the following standards:

Standard 1: Good Taste and Decency: Broadcasters should observe standards of good taste and decency.

1a Broadcasters will take into account current norms of good taste and decency, bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs and the wider context of the broadcast e.g. time of day, target audience.

Conflating the ‘Muslim world’ with ‘terrorists and suicide bombers’ reflects a lack of taste and decency toward the community that Radio New Zealand purports to be serving- including Muslims. While the Broadcasting Standards Authority has previously stated (e.g. Decision 2008-080 & 2008-087) that standards relating to good taste and decency are primarily aimed at broadcasts that contain sexual material, nudity, violence or coarse language. The Authority has also said it ‘will consider the standard in relation to any broadcast that portrays or discusses material in a way that is likely to cause offence or distress’. (Practice Note: Good Taste and Decency (BSA, November 2006). Thus the comments made on the show offend and distress a significant number of viewers breaching Standard 1.

Standard 5: Accuracy

The suggestion that there may be a market for terrorist and suicide Barbies among Muslims overlooks the social, ethnic or cultural diversity of the global Islamic community and attribute to all Muslims the negative characteristics fundamental to Islamophobia. These include conflating the Muslim faith with terrorism and suicide bombers and inferring that Islam and Muslims are backward; inherently separate and ‘other’ to the West and Western values. The comments influence the beliefs and attitudes of listeners, which then has an influence on their behaviour and attitudes towards Muslims (which Muslim listeners might also internalise). In a recent UK report (Pointing the Finger) four common stereotypes about Muslims are invoked that are pertinent here. These are: all Muslims are the same, all Muslims are under the influence of religious teachings, all of them are lower than other people in moral, human, cultural and political terms and ‘all of them are considered a threat’.  It is disappointing that these racist anti-Islamic views, which could be expected from right-wingers, are present in our media.

Standard 6 Fairness

Broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.

The comments made during the discussion denigrated Muslims as a group (in a very homogenous and one-dimensional stereotypical way that suggested that Islam is without any internal differentiation or opinion) and promoted and reinforced discrimination against them by conflating the Muslim faith with terrorism and suicide bombers.

I have recently completed research about Refugee mothers in New Zealand who were despairing about the Islamophobia and anti-Muslim racism their children were experiencing-in the form of both verbal and physical abuse. They reported interpersonal racism that is “racism in interactions between individuals either within their institutional roles or as private individuals” (Ziersch, et al., 2011, p.1046).  They also reported more insidious Instititutional racism that is “practices, policies or processes that are experienced in everyday life, and maintain and reproduce avoidable and unfair inequalities across ethnic/racial groups” (Ziersch, et al., 2011, p.1046) specifically in terms of their access to employment.

Given that the wider community depend and receive their knowledge of visibly different ‘others’ through the media, often in the absence of direct experience with those ‘others’. I believe that a state broadcaster funded by Government and taxpayers needs to ensure that the media represent those communities who are already marginalised (in this case by the events of 9/11) are treated with care and decency

Standard 7: Discrimination and Denigration

Broadcasters should not encourage discrimination against, or denigration of, any section of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, occupational status, or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religion, culture or political belief.

Conflating the Muslim faith with terrorism and suicide bombers does not assist understanding and co-existence. The statements and the inference behind them encouraged discrimination against Muslim New Zealanders with Islam and Muslims represented as being the ‘other’ to ‘New Zealanders’ thereby reinforcing the ‘them’ and ‘us’ dualism. The comments were neither funny nor satirical.

Standard 8: Responsible Programming

Broadcasters should ensure that programme information and content is socially responsible.

It is not socially responsible to suggest, that a religious minority are killers on the basis of their faith. The broadcast did not provide balanced factual information and entertainment was made at the expense of an already vulnerable group. In New Zealand after 9/11 we had incidents of violence directed both toward Muslim women because they wore the hijab and toward places of worship.

I look forward to a response from Radio New Zealand on this matter.

Sincerely

Ruth DeSouza