Ethnic migrant media: Weaving ourselves a home

Exploring the role, benefits, challenges & potential of ethnic media in NZ .

Paper presented at the Ethnic Migrant Media Forum, Unitec Institute of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand. Also available as pdf from conference proceedings DeSouza keynote.

Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa, it’s an honour to be invited to speak at this forum where we are gathered to talk about ethnic media and the possibilities it offers for our communities. I wish to acknowledge this magnificent whare whakairo (carved meeting house) ‘Ngākau Māhaki’, built and designed by Dr Lyonel Grant which I think is the most beautiful building in the entire world. Kia ora to matua Hare Paniora for the whaikōrero, whaea Lynda Toki for the karanga and this pōwhiri. I acknowledge Ngāti Whātua as mana whenua of Unitec and Te Noho Kotahitanga marae. I acknowledge the organisers of this forum, Unitec’s Department of Communication Studies and Niche Media & Ethnic Media Information NZ, in particular Associate Professor Evangelia Papoutsaki, Dr Elena Kolesova, Lisa Engledew and Dr Jocelyn Williams and all the participants gathered here today.

As a migrant to Aotearoa and now Australia, there are a few places that I call home. Tamaki makau rau and Unitec specifically would be one of those places. This whenua has been central to my own growth and development. I love these grounds, I walked them when I was a student nurse at Oakley hospital in 1986 and then worked in Building 1 or as it was known then Ward 12 at Carrington Psychiatric Hospital in 1987. I also worked here at Unitec as a nursing lecturer from 1998-2004. I have this beautiful Whaariki (woven mat) made from Harakeke (NZ Flax) grown, dyed and woven at Unitec that has accompanied me for over three house moves since I left Unitec and more recently across the Tasman.

Whaariki from Unitec, gifted to Ruth DeSouza
Whaariki from Unitec, gifted to Ruth DeSouza

It is this being at home that interests me as a migrant. Home is the safe space where I can be myself and where there are other people like me. It’s a place where I can be nurtured and supported, where I can thrive in my similarities and in my differences. Where I can see my norms and values reflected around me. I believe that the media can have a special place in helping us to see ourselves as woven through like this exquisite mat as belonging to something larger than ourselves. I believe that it can contribute to helping us feel at home, through it we can feel embraced and included, we can be part of a conversation that can see us in all our glory. However, too often it is also a site where if we are already marginalised, we can be further marginalised.

Advert in the Australian 2013
Advert in the Australian 2013

Today, I am going to briefly talk about the limitations of mainstream media, review some key functions of ethnic media and conclude with some challenges and opportunities for ethnic media. As you’ll see from my bio, I co-founded the Aotearoa Ethnic Network, an email list and journal in 2006 to provide a communication channel for the growing number of people in the “ethnic” category. I’ve been passionately interested in the role of media practices in intercultural relations in health, and also on the relations between settlers, migrants and indigenous peoples in Aotearoa New Zealand. I have been actively involved in ethnic community issues, governance, research and education in New Zealand and Australia.

This hui is timely, given discussions about: biculturalism and multiculturalism; the Maori media renaissance, the growth of Pacific and Asian owned or run media including radio, newspapers, online media; television, web based news services; the underrepresentation of Maori, Pacific and Ethnic in media and journalism; the growth of blogs through early 2000s and the growth in social media (FB, Twitter) in the last decade. It’s also part of a longer conversation, I’m thinking about the forum we had in 2005 organised by the Auckland City Council and Human Rights Commission after the Danish cartoon fiasco, where I talked about the role of media in terms of “fixing” difference or supporting complexity; the role of media in making society more cohesive or divisive or exclusive and the relevance of New Zealand media relevant in the context of growing diasporic media. In that forum I suggested that there was a need for: ethnic media but also adequate representation in mainstream media; the showing of complex multicultural relationships not just ethnic enclaves and ways for people of ethnic backgrounds to be included in national and international conversations. Me and others have also taken mainstream media to task over representations of Asians (Asian Angst story by Debra Coddington);Paul Brennan’s Islamophobic comments on National Radio and Paul Henry’s comments about then Governor General Anand Satyanand. An editorial in the AEN Journal also examines the role of mainstream media in inter-cultural exchange and promoting inter-cultural awareness and understanding. I also challenged media representations of Maori and Pacific people as evidenced in cartoons by Al Nisbet, which were printed in New Zealand media. More recently, I’ve written with colleagues Nairn, Moewaka Barnes, Rankine,  Borell, and McCreanor about the role and implications of media news practices for those committed to social justice and health equity.

Let me start by introducing a fairly binary definition of ethnic media that I am going to use as referring to media created for/by immigrants, ethnic and language minority groups and indigenous groups (Matsaganis et al., 2011). In contrast, media that produces content about and for the mainstream is known as the mainstream media. However, as most of you will know there’s a lot of blurriness and consumers consume both. I also want to preface this talk  by introducing two key words which I am going to use as a lens for this keynote. I believe that these lenses are more important than ever in an era where critique is becoming censured for those in academia and in the context of corporate governance of media. Foucault’s notion of critique which is

“..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” (Foucault, 1988, p.154).

and Stuart Hall’s definition of ideology:

Ideology: “The mental frameworks – the language, concepts, categories, imagery of thought and system of representation – which different classes and social groups deploy in order to make sense of, define, figure out and render intelligible the way society works” (Hall, 1996 p. 26).

 

It’s in the spirit of critique that I want to talk about the mainstream media’s role in co-option and converting audiences into seeing “like the media”. As Augie Fleras observes, media messages reflect and advance dominant discourses which are expertly concealed and normalised so as to appear without bias or perspective. The integrative role of  mainstream media reflects and amplifies the concerns of particular groupings of power so that attention is drawn to norms and values that are considered appropriate within society. In this way attitudes are created and reinforced, opinions and understandings are managed and cultures are constructed and reinvented. The headline below shows the ways in which language is used to create an “other”, the picture out of focus, the beard a stand in for evil and fear, a threat to national security.

Sponsor a jihad
Sponsor a jihad

Thus mainstream media’s main function becomes commercial, selling by pooling groups together for the purposes of advertising and marketing and in so doing must appeal to a large audience. It can’t be too controversial (unless it’s also supporting larger official agendas such as guarding against the insider Islamic threat or deterring the hordes of maritime arrivals through forcibly turning back the boats) and it cannot segment its audiences with any kind of nuance. I think this meme floating around Facebook captures this idea of communicating some kind of national identity and values well.

team australia

Consequently social media, the internet and ethnic media are seen as able to service more specific audiences. In the case of social media, there’s some great opportunities for connecting beyond the nation state:

As the internet surpasses the nation-state limitations and usually the legislative limitations that bind other media, it opens up new possibilities for sustaining diasporic community relations and even for reinventing diasporic relations and communication that were either weak or non- existent in the past (Georgiou 2002: 25).

 

Moving on to ethnic media, I see several functions or imperatives loosely using the typology by Viswanath & Arora (2000): Ethnic media as form of cultural transmission, community booster, sentinel, assimilator, information provider and one lesser mentioned in the literature, as having a professional development function.

The most obvious role of ethnic media is to provide information for the community, events both local and from the homeland are paid attention to. In the break I was talking to a journalist from Radio Torana who is flying to Brisbane for the G20 summit and to cover Modi’s visit to Australia. Through him I found out about the Modi express. For the first time ever, a train service is running under the name of an Indian Prime Minister from Melbourne to Sydney carrying some 200 passengers who are planning to attend Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s public address in Sydney during his visit to Australia, the first by an Indian premier in 28 years (Rajiv Gandhi was the last, he met with Bob Hawke in 1986). The organisers have arranged for music and dance troupes to entertain the passengers along with free Gujarati specialties like ‘Modi Dhokla’ and ‘Modi Fafda’ (Fafda is crunchy snack made from chick pea flour and served with hot fried chillis or chutney and Dhokla is snack item made from a fermented batter of chickpeas accompanied with green chutney and tamarind chutney).

Photo from India2Australia.com
Photo from India2Australia.com

In its role as cultural transmitter, it has a distributive function to publish or broadcast information that is important to the ethnic community, so information about events and celebrations comes to the fore. This in turn sustains and fosters a sense of belonging to an imagined community, that feels coherent, united and connected to a homeland. However, rarely in that role does it also act as a critic of community institutions or powerful groups within that community.

A second role of ethnic media is as a community booster. In this role the media presents the community as doing well, being successful and achieving. The communities served by the media expect that a positive image is reflected both to its own members and outside the community. Typically close links are fostered between local reporters and editors and the community elite. Stories consist of human interest features, profiles of successful members, particularly those that are volunteers or contribute. There many be a reluctance to feature more radical or critical voices or critical stories as these many adversely affect the community image and the commercial imperative.

A third role is the ethnic media as a sentinel or watch dog. There’s very little about this in the literature but in fulfilling this role, the ethnic media produce stories on issues that could affect the rights of communities, crime against immigrants and so on.

A more common function is that of assimilation, where ethnic media play a part in assisting their community members to be more successful; through learning the ropes of the system. Ethnic media coverage then focuses on the role of the community in local politics and fostering positive relations and feelings between that of the ethnic group’s homeland and adopted country.

Another crucial function which is rarely articulated in this literature, but has been pivotal to my development is that of the ethnic media as space for professional development. Through engagement in ethnic media, members of ethnic communities develop transferrable skills and the capacity to write, broadcast and present. This one is very personally relevant. Through writing for the Migrant News and Global Indian, I refined my writing skills. Through talking on ethnic radio stations like Samut Sari and Planet FM I developed and refined my own capacity to articulate thoughts and ideas. Being featured in stories on Asia Downunder I realised my own ability to speak on television. These opportunities led to developing the confidence to develop my own online journal, the Aotearoa Ethnic Network Journal and write peer reviewed publications and feature on commercial radio and television.  This would never have happened without the support of those ethnic media pioneers. I acknowledge them all.

However, ethnic media is on rapidly shifting terrain. Increasingly consumers are negotiating the availability of media from their place of origin via the internet. Ethnic media are having to consider their roles and business models in the context of neoliberalism and the withdrawal of the state from cultural funding.

The end of the charter. Picture via Against the Current
The end of the charter. Picture via Against the Current

Recently Television New Zealand the public service broadcaster announced that it intended to outsource production of Māori programmes (Marae, Waka Huia) and Pacific (Fresh and Tagata Pasifika) programmes. A depressing move given the unrelenting negative representations of people in these communities who are socially and culturally marginalised in New Zealand mainstream media (see my blog post on how blame for the disparities in health is attributed to individuals and communities rather than neoliberal and austerity policies). This very manoeuvre was used to outsource Asia Downunder a programme which ran from 1994-2011 for Asians in New Zealand and featured the activities of Asians in New Zealand and New Zealand Asians abroad gutted Asian institutional knowledge and capacity within TVNZ when it was replaced with Neighbourhood. Asia Downunder was a casualty of the loss of the Television New Zealand Charter which was introduced in 2003 by the Labour government and removed in 2011 by the National government on the basis that meeting its public service obligations were a barrier to its commercial obligations. The Charter encouraged TVNZ to show programmes that reflect New Zealand’s identity and provided funding. You can read more about its history and gestation and what has been lost in The End of an Error? The Death of the TVNZ Charter and its implications for broadcasting policy in New Zealand by Peter A. Thompson, Senior Lecturer, Media Studies Programme, Victoria University of Wellington.

In this context, I end with several questions. Given that ethnic media institutions help their audiences to reimage or sustain themselves and their place in the cultural and socio-political milieu of their new home (Gentles-Peart):

  • What is the relationship between ethnic media and the ‘mainstream ideological apparatus of power? (Shi, 2009: 599)
  • What is the relevance of ethnic media in terms of the next generation?
  • What is the relationship between ethnic media and indigenous media?
  • How do ethnic media import or reinforce or critique the power structures of immigrants’ homelands including gender, class and sexuality?
  • Are there opportunities for ethnic media to lobby and advocate for their communities?
  • What opportunities and possibilities are available for inter-ethnic media work?

I look forward to summing up the korero at the end of our forum, to report back to the roopu about the strands we’ve woven together and to enjoying the robust and dynamic discussions that I know are going to happen today. No reira me mihi nui kia koutou katoa ano, tena koutou tena koutou, tena ra koutou katoa.

Update: 12th March 2017: the curated conference proceedings of the Ethnic Migrant Media Forum are now available. Edited by Evangelia Papoutsaki & Elena Kolesova with Laura Stephenson.

 

 

 

 

 

“Kiwi food is okay for Kiwis, but it isn’t okay for us”: Special food in the perinatal period for migrant mothers

I attended the 5th International Conference on Nutrition and Nurture in Infancy and Childhood: Relational, Bio-cultural and Spatial Perspectives from Wednesday, 5 November 2014 – Friday, 7 November 2014.

Those who know me or follow my work will know that I am deeply interested in eating and thinking about food. I’m interested in how food structures our days and our lives,it nourishes and sustains us, reminds us of people, events, history, all in a mouthful.

Birthday cake
A special birthday cake, made for a surfer on his special birthday.

I’ve written elsewhere about how migrants perform identity through food preparation and consumption. I’ve also written about consumptive multiculturalism. I’m also interested in the provision of food in (monocultural) institutional contexts such as health where people are racialised by the foods that they eat and how the processes of hospitalisation strip people of their cultural and social identities and often lead people into being unable to access culturally appropriate food. This presentation brings those ideas together.

Abstract

Food, its preparation and ingestion, constitutes a source of physical, emotional, spiritual and cultural nourishment. Food structures both daily life and major life transitions, including the transition to parenthood, where food is prepared and consumed that recognises the unique status of the mother. However, the reductive focus of hospitals where efficiency, economy and a focus on nutrients dominate and where birth is viewed as a normal event can mean that there is a mismatch between the cultural and religious dietary needs of migrant mothers with the food that is available from Western instititutional environments. In this paper I outline a research study, which examined the transition to parenthood among new migrant groups in New Zealand. Based on a number of focus groups with mothers and fathers, the data were analysed using a postcolonial feminist lens and drew upon Foucauldian concepts to examine the transition to parenthood. The findings show that Asian new migrant parents construct the postnatal body as vulnerable, requiring specific kinds of foods to facilitate recovery from the trials of pregnancy and delivery and optimize long term recovery from pregnancy. This discourse of risk contrasts with the dominant discourse of birth as normal, and signals the limitations of a universal diet for all postnatal mothers, where consuming the wrong food can pose a threat to good maternal health. Paying attention to what nutrition and nurturing might mean for different cultural groups during the perinatal period can contribute to long term maternal well-being and cultural safety. Health practitioners need to understand the meanings and significance attached to specific foods and eating practices in the perinatal period. I propose that institutional arrangements become responsive to dietary needs and practices by providing facilities and resources to facilitate food preparation.

I’m hoping that the written form of the paper becomes part of an edited book about mothers and food. Fingers crossed, it’s under review at the moment.

‘This child is a planned baby’: skilled migrant fathers and reproductive decision-making

Article first published online: 13 MAY 2014  De Souza, Ruth Noreen Argie. (2014). ‘This child is a planned baby’: skilled migrant fathers and reproductive decision-making. Journal of Advanced Nursing. doi: 10.1111/jan.12448

Risk management and life planning are a feature of contemporary parenting, which enable children to be shaped into responsible citizens, who are successful and do not unduly burden the state (Shirani et al. 2012). This neoliberal project of intensive parenting and parental responsibility (typically gendered as maternal) involves child centredness and detailed knowledge of child development (Hays 1998). Simultaneously, contemporary masculinities are increasingly being situated beyond the traditional Western binary of the active home-caring mother and passive breadwinning father. Following Connell (1995), the plural word masculinities refers to the many definitions and practices of masculinity (See e.g. Archer 2001, Cleaver 2002, Finn & Henwood 2009, Haggis & Schech 2009, Walsh 2011). Broader and more inclusive repertoires of fathering emerge from diverse family practices and formations including queer/homoparental families; cohabitation; new technologies; changing domestic labour arrangements; the changing organization of childcare and growing involvement of fathers; and social policy initiatives including parental leave and family-friendly employment practices (Draper 2003).

These rapid societal changes have ushered in new forms of participatory fathering and family involvement for men in the Western world. However, the pressure to integrate traditional breadwinner and authority figure roles with contemporary demands for involvement in all aspects of the perinatal period has not been matched by reduced work pressures or the provision of active societal support and preparation (Barclay & Lupton 1999). As a result, men often feel isolated, excluded, uninformed and unable to obtain resources and support in the perinatal period placing pressure on relationships, challenging feelings of competence and requiring negotiation of competing demands (Deave & Johnson 2008). Furthermore, men have gender- specific risk factors for perinatal distress including their more limited support networks; dependence on partners for support; additional exposure to financial and work stresses; a more idealized view of pregnancy, childbirth and parent- hood stemming from a lack of exposure to contemporary models of parenting; and lastly being less keen to seek help with emotional problems (Condon et al. 2004). All of these factors are compounded by practitioners and services oriented towards mothers and babies marginalizing fathers (Deave & Johnson 2008, Lohan et al. 2013).

Babies on board: Families in detention

The rather time-worn yellow sign “Baby on Board” seen in the back window of vehicles is meant to encourage safe driving, but also is a public announcement of one’s new status as a parent (It’s also a pun referring to pregnant women commuters in London, as an incitement for commuters to offer their seats to pregnant women). In Australia, when I think of “Babies on Board” there is a poignancy and a deep and overwhelming sadness, because it evokes images of people seeking asylum via boat. The official term is “unauthorised maritime arrivals”, a dehumanising and bureaucratic term rather like the hardline policies of deterrence and detention. Abbott’s cruel “stop-the-boats” strategy ensures that maternity and infancy cannot be the celebrations they are in every culture. Mothers, babies, children and families will encounter the opposite of tender loving care at the hands of the Australian Government who will send them to detention centres in remote locations run by global companies including G4S, Serco and Transfield (See Cathy Alexanders Crikey post for more details). This outsourcing of misery costs the Australian taxpayer a load of money ($2.97 billion has been budgeted by the Federal Government (2013-2014) for detention-related services and offshore asylum seeker management while $19.3 million is  allocated ($65.8 million over four years) for regional solutions).

baby-on-board-2

Consistent with other responses to asylum seekers in western countries, Australia has developed policies of deterrence and detention for boat arrivals without a valid visa. Australia’s Migration Act 1958 requires all “unlawful non-citizens” (people who are not Australian citizens and do not have permission to be in the country) to be detained, until they are granted a visa or leave the country. This detention policy was introduced in 1992 and continues until today. What makes Australia’s response to a legitimate right to seek asylum is the uniquely cruel policy of mandatory, indefinite detention and offshore processing. Without an age exemption it means that detainees can include families and unaccompanied children with processing taking months or years. A range of international literature shows that detention is highly distressing for both adults and children with long-term consequences. The majority of asylum seekers are found to be refugees under the 1951 Convention.

Everyone has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution. Article 14, Universal Declaration of Human Rights (signed by member countries in 1948, including Australia).

The child shall have the right to adequate nutrition, housing, recreation and medical services. Principle 4. United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child. Proclaimed by General Assembly resolution 1386(XIV) of 20 November 1959.

I am horrified that many new babies and new parents will be starting their lives in detention, the latter having already navigated treacherous borders, war strife and dangerous seas but now officialdom to meet the needs of their babies. Most of my professional career has involved supporting new parents. Aside from working on a postnatal ward, I helped to set up a service for women with postnatal depression in Auckland in the mid-nineties, my colleagues and I offered assessment, consultation and therapy to women. Aside from the hundreds of women I met I also heard many stories in the weekly support group I facilitated for depressed women for three years. My Master’s research considered the experiences of new migrant mothers and the challenges of establishing a new life without support and access to cultural rituals. In my PhD research I looked at the “the politics of the womb” and the role of maternity in projects of capitalism, nation building, imperialism and globalisation. See my other blog posts on supporting migrant fathering, ‘good’ motheringpronatalist and antinatalist policies (including Australia’s forcible removal of Aboriginal – and some Torres Strait Islander – children). I’ve also researched and written about the experiences of Refugee women in New Zealand, Korean migrant mothers and the discursive repertoires of Plunket NursesI have spent decades educating organisations and professionals about the needs of new mothers and I developed a brochure about Postnatal depression for the New Zealand Mental Health Foundation with the help of consumer organisations and many new parents and professionals. So you could say I know a little about what new mothers and babies might need to help them thrive.

Parenting and mothering are not easy. The transition is challenging emotionally, physically and socially. That’s why so many cultures have rituals for protecting and nurturing new mothers, whether it’s special foods, attention or ceremonies. The mother has experienced a massive transition requiring time to recoup, hence postpartum rest and loving attentive care are provided to women. Maternity professionals have a unique role in supporting the health and wellbeing of new migrant and refugee families, as they have privileged access to women at a time that is culturally and spiritually important to a woman and her family. However, women’s experiences of maternity services that are designed to meet their needs, can lead them to feel isolated, disrespected and invisible (and that’s when they aren’t in detention). 

Detention centres have been called factories for mental illness. The conditions in immigration detention are not conducive to establishing or maintaining family life, let alone helping families thrive. For asylum seekers who may have experienced torture or trauma, there is a vulnerable to experiencing mental health problems even before they reach countries of resettlement. The conditions of detention are demanding and difficult without the resources and support of family and friends, community and culture, no direct access to services and support. This situation is exacerbated by the unknown length for which people will be detained and to where they might be sent. It is further compounded by the punitive and coercive ways in which people are treated in detention. Existing trauma is only exacerbated while in prolonged detention which has an impact not only on the individuals in a family, but families themselves with the role of parent being undermined. Imagine powerless parents in unpredictable, hostile and degrading surroundings who cannot ensure their children’s safety or comfort. Yes, Australian policies of detention and deterrence are contributing to long term mental ill health for children and their families. Detention facilities have been criticised for the “culture of punishment, humiliating treatment of detainees, including children, and a failure to provide appropriate psychological support for high-risk populations”.

Children in detention

 In all actions concerning children … the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration. UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989)  – Article 3.

.. a child who is seeking refugee status … whether unaccompanied or accompanied … [shall] receive appropriate protection and humanitarian assistance.

UN Convention on the Rights of the Child  (1989) – Article 22 .

 

No child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.

UN Convention on the Rights of the Child  (1989) – Article 37 (b).

 

Children subjected to abuse, torture or armed conflicts should recover in an environment which fosters the health, self-respect and dignity of the child.

UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) Article 39.

Children, accompanied or on their own, account for as up to half of all asylum seekers in the industrialized world. Australia is not the only country to detain children, The United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy also directly contradict The Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which stresses that detention of children should only be a last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time. In Australia up till 1994 there was a 273-day time limit on detention, however, after this time indefinite detention became the norm with no exemptions made for children or unaccompanied minors. A Human Rights Commission National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention in 2001 noted that (CRC)  requires the detention of children to be ‘a measure of last resort’, but Australia’s detention laws make detention of unauthorised arrival children ‘the first, and only, resort’. Mandatory detention overrides the rights and protections of child asylum seekers as enshrined in other international and regional conventions and declarations the European Convention on Human Rights, the Geneva Convention, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. 

Source: Department of Immigration and Citizenship, 13 September 2013. Adapted by the Australian Human Rights Commission.
Source: Department of Immigration and Citizenship, 13 September 2013. Adapted by the Australian Human Rights Commission.

The Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) statistics (2014) show that:

  • 1106 children are held in Australia’s secure immigration detention facilities,
  • 356 on Christmas Island and 177 of the children in Nauru
  • 1579 are detained in the community under residence determinations.
  • 1816 children live in the community on Bridging Visas (their parents have no work rights and limited access to Government support).

Research shows that even “brief” detention is detrimental to children. Prior to 2008, all children seeking asylum In Australia were faced with mandatory detention for an average of two years. In a summary of the impacts on children’s physical and mental health, Kronick, Rousseau, & Cleveland (2011) noted all manner of behvioural problems including disruptive conduct, nighttime bedwetting, separation anxiety, sleep disturbance, nightmares and impaired cognitive development. More severe symptoms includied mutism, stereotypic behaviours, and refusal to eat and drink. Mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression, self harm and suicidal ideation were common. Younger children experienced developmental delays, attachment and behavioural problems Parents self-reported a decrease in the capacity to parent while in detention, and detention can trigger memories of previous trauma, humiliation and hopelessness. United Kingdom research has also found behavioural difficulties, developmental delay, weight loss, difficulty breast-feeding in infants, food refusal and loss of previously obtained developmental milestones. The neurodevelopmental vulnerability of infants means that they are highly sensitive to their socio-cultural environments. The Australian Human Rights Commission is conducting an inquiry into children in immigration detention. You can read powerful testimonials from children themselves, educators and health professionals including this account from Paediatrician Karen Zwi who visited Christmas Island:

Babies are unable to crawl because the ground is so rough and the only playground is unusable during the day due to the extreme heat.New mothers are forced to queue up for strictly rationed nappies, baby wipes and powdered milk, with staff telling them constantly they will never be resettled in Australia.

Parenting in detention

Changes to the Migration Act since July 19, 2013 mean that pregnant asylum seekers in offshore detention (classed as “unauthorised maritime arrivals”) can be removed offshore. Recently babies have been sent from Darwin to Nauru and Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young plans to introduce a bill banning the removal of Australian-born babies to offshore detention centres to Parliament in May. She says:

‘‘We are, by incarcerating these newborn babies, creating the next damaged generation . . . we know the damage the detention of children has (on them),’’ she said. ‘‘If we allow this to continue, we are knowingly destroying them,’’ she said. ‘‘I don’t think that’s a political issue, it’s a moral issue.’’

(Note that Section 21(8) of the Australian Citizenship Act makes clear that a baby, born in Australia, who is stateless, is eligible to apply for Australian citizenship).

Louise Newman (see reference below) has worked extensively with women asylum seekers and notes that they have unique health and mental health needs related to pregnancy and delivery which can be exacerbated by limited antenatal care or screening. Their histories can include sexual trauma and abuse and perinatal loss. Receiving perinatal “care” in a detention facility means that professionals are balancing competing priorities and subject to varying forms of regulation and administration which put complex demands on their time. There may be ambiguity about how to respond to the needs of pregnant or postpartum women who they might be ill-equipped or resourced to support as reports have indicated.

In a detention context, women are isolated from their cultural traditions and supports and sometimes physical isolation begins weeks prior to delivery. This cultural isolation compounded with a lack of access to interpreters during delivery can increased fear and distress and is implicated in the high rates of postnatal depression and anxiety and attachment difficulties with infants seen in women in detention. Newman notes that research in the United Kingdom would resonate with women’s experiences and clinician observations in Australia. Where women expressed high levels of of distress and reported poor care. The context also impacted on their capacity to parent with women feeling isolated, incompetent, ashamed and guilty for delivering a baby in detention. Consequently, a highly anticipated, magnificent, sacred and profound time in a woman and her family’s life becomes one that is painful. In a powerful article describing his visit to Christmas Island, acting for some 26 babies born in detention Jacob Varghese notes how cruel asylum seeker policy is for new parents:

…what it is like being a new parent in a remote prison, with no control over your circumstances, every daily routine determined for you by guards and bureaucrats.

 

How the Australian government reports on conditions in detention differs from the reality. In an article for Crikey, Caroline de Costa, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and Director of the Clinical School at James Cook University School of Medicine, Cairns Campus in North Queensland notes:

We were told that there is 24/7 access to a nursing triage service, with a doctor on call, for asylum seekers (male and female, adults and children) in all three camps.  We were also told that there are regular playgroups and ‘Mums and Bubs’ sessions held in all three camps for pregnant women and new mothers. Meeting individual asylum seekers, in the visitors’ rooms of all three facilities, in the two days following our formal visit, we heard stories quite different from the official accounts. We observed in many parts of the camps that asylum seekers including children and women are routinely listed, dealt with and addressed by the numbers given to them on arrival by boat in Australia, rather than by their names.

Caroline de Costa also “unequivocally” states that neither Manus nor Nauru are suitable places for the detention of very young babies and their families. She suggests that:

the greatest and most pervasive risk is to the mental health of children and their families. The fact of ongoing uncertain detention is bad enough; adding to it with an extremely isolated hot and crowded environment with few diversions within the detention facility and none outside is demonstrably contributing to very high levels of psychiatric presentations among asylum seekers, well documented by many of my colleagues in recent weeks. My own observations of recent mothers I met in Darwin is of a high level of postnatal depression that is continuing on well past the postnatal period…

The Australian Immigration Minister’s (Scott Morrison) office says:

the Government’s policy is to transfer illegal boat arrivals to offshore processing centres and families are transferred to Nauru. The statement says creating exemptions for offshore processing will only create dangerous incentives for people smugglers to fill boats with women and children.

Cartoon by Oslo Davis Source: Museum Victoria
Cartoon by Oslo Davis
Source: Museum Victoria

So what can we do?

The good news is that there is plenty of resistance both professionally, in the community and among refugee advocacy organisations. DASSAN (Darwin Asylum Seekers Support and Advocacy Network) believe that families should not be detained and babies should not be born into detention. They advocate for policy change but have also been providing practical help and support including: making welcome packs for new babies; sewing gifts: and collecting clothes for babies and women in detention on Christmas Island. They observe:

At a time when families should be focused on preparing for the joy of welcoming new life, they are instead dealing with the trauma of having fled from their home, the great anxiety of being told they will be sent to Nauru or Manus Island, and the daily despair of being kept locked up.

(Note, if you’d like to support their work there are details on the DASSAN site). Chilout (Children out of immigration detention) have worked tirelessly to lobby for children aged from zero to eighteen. I recommend reading their Factsheet and accessing the extensive range of resources and reports on their website.

The use of prolonged detention for pregnant women and mothers with young children inflicts physical and psychological harm disproportionate to the policy aim of immigration control and should be stopped immediately .

 

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) made a passionate plea on World  Refugee Day for the Australian Government to end the mandatory detention of children and adolescents seeking asylum in Australia and in offshore centres. Their Position Statement Towards better health for refugee children and young people in Australia and New Zealand advocates for the abolition of  Australian legislation that allows children to be housed in detention centres and they propose that the Australian Government  immediately place detained children in the community with their families where they can be provided with appropriate health and social support. There is a Paediatrics & Child Health advocacy campaign for health and well-being of children in detention/refugees which was launched on 7 June 2013. Information and template letters addressed to Government Ministers can be used to advocate for health of children in detention. These are just a few of the national and local responses to mothers, children and families in detention.
There is also a National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention 2014: Discussion Paper. The the Australian Human Rights Commission (HRC) is investigating the ways in which life in immigration detention affects the health, well-being and development of children and inviting people previously detained as children in closed immigration detention and assessing the current circumstances and responses of children to immigration detention. A follow up to their report ten years ago A last resort? the report of the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention (National Inquiry). After the National Inquiry positive developments including the removal of children from high security Immigration Detention Centres, the creation of the Community Detention system and the use of bridging visas for asylum seekers who arrive by boat. However, there are still around 1,000 children in closed immigration detention, a higher number than the last inquiry, and the Commission’s monitoring work reveals that key concerns remain. Their aim is to discover if there have been any changes in the ten years since the last investigation, and whether Australia is meeting its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). You can read the inquiry discussion paper and make a submission that addresses the inquiry terms of reference. This inquiry is focused on closed detention facilities (not community) and the impact of detention on children under 18 years. You can also read about their work on alternatives to closed detention The last words really belong to Murray Watt who in an article Why is an Australian baby locked up in detention? says:

 

It’s not fair that children – or anyone for that matter – should be locked up for years on end, without any consideration of their claims to protection.   It’s not fair that the conditions in offshore detention camps, overseen by our own government, are dangerous, inhumane and deliberately designed to break people’s spirit.   And it’s not fair that Australia – ranked by the IMF as the 10th richest country in the world – should pass our refugee “problem” on to countries that are far poorer and less safe than many of the countries from which refugees come in the first place.   Australia can do better than this. Over our history, we have led the world in protecting others in distress, and in improving the rights and living conditions of our citizens and those across the world. We should live up to our history.

References

  • Kronick, Rachel, Rousseau, Cécile, & Cleveland, Janet. (2011). Mandatory detention of refugee children: A public health issue? Paediatrics & child health, 16(8), e65.
  • Mares, Newman, Dudley, & Gale, (2002). Seeking Refuge, Losing Hope: Parents and Children in Immigration Detention. Australasian Psychiatry, 10(2), 91-96. doi: 10.1046/j.1440-1665.2002.00414.x)
  • Newman, Louise K, & Steel, Zachary. (2008). The child asylum seeker: psychological and developmental impact of immigration detention. Child and adolescent psychiatric clinics of North America, 17(3), 665-683.

Enhancing the role of fathers

First published in Viewpoint, March 2014 Issue of the Kai Tiaki: Nursing New Zealand.

March 2014 Midwives at work
March 2014 Midwives at work

Reference as: DeSouza, Ruth. (2014). Enhancing the role of fathers. Kai Tiaki: Nursing New Zealand, 20(2), 26-27 (download 3.2 MB pdf DeSouza Migrant Dads).

Mkono mmoja haulei mwana. A single hand cannot nurse a child. Kiswahili proverb

I spent the first ten years of my life in Tanzania and Kenya where this Kiswahili proverb comes from. My father played a prominent part in childcare and the raising of three daughters. We migrated twice, first to Kenya and then to New Zealand. As migrants we only had our nuclear family to fall back on and my father took a central role in raising us while my mother studied. His philosophy was that that everything that needed to be done to keep the household going was a labour of love that we should all expect to contribute freely and lovingly to. This idea of pulling together and being self-sufficient reminds me of another Kiswahili phrase Harambee which means to pull together. Jomo Kenyatta was the first president of Kenya and this catch phrase that he popularized can also be seen on the Kenyan flag. Which brings me to the purpose of this article, which is to talk about pulling together around a family, especially one that has migrated and in particular pulling “in” fathers during the transition to parenthood.

Including fathers in care

It is not possible to address the needs of women, infants and children in heterosexual families without addressing the needs of a child’s father (Buckelew, Pierrie, & Chabra, 2006). Pregnancy and childbirth are pivotal periods where individuals can grow as they adjust to the transition (Montigny & Lacharite, 2004).The perinatal period is a critical developmental touch point where health professionals can have a profound influence in assisting fathers and mothers in their transition. Often interventions focus on the mother and serve to increase her developing expertise, which subsequently tends to increase parental conflict (Montigny & Lacharite, 2004). Health professionals can have a significant role in fostering interactions between both partners (Montigny & Lacharite, 2004).

Most immigration studies focus on the negative consequences of immigration for families and for parenting. For example, immigration is perceived predominantly in the literature as a source of stress and a risk factor for families and children. Engaging women in groups or developing couples’ groups that would also serve the needs of new fathers could educate participants and provide support and information. Supporting the whole migrant family is critical, particularly when often a key motivation for migration is to provide a better life for children (DeSouza 2005; Roer-Strier et al 2005). Families can provide a buffer and the strength and safety to cope with what might seem an unfamiliar, and at times hostile, receiving community (Roer-Strier et al 2005).

Parenthood, combined with recent migration, can lead to a process of extended change and adaptation in all domains of a parent’s life. These changes can include adjusting to a new home, social environment, language, culture, place of work and profession. Often, economic, social and familial support systems are lost or changed. Under such circumstances, parents’ physical and psychological health, self-image, ability to withstand stress and anxiety levels may all be challenged (Roer-Strier, Strier, Este, Shimoni, & Clark, 2005). For new migrant families, support needs are critically important and in the absence of usual support networks, partners and husbands play an important role in providing care and support that would normally be received from mothers, family and peers. Systems need to be ‘father-friendly’ as husbands are the key support for migrant women who have often left behind friends and family.

So, what can be done to reorient services so that they are more father-friendly? Fatherhood is changing, influenced by diverse family practices and formations, which challenge the male breadwinner-female home carer division of labour. The shift from being a breadwinner and authority figure to being involved in all aspects of the perinatal period has become an expectation in the Western world (Deave & Johnson, 2008). Fathers play a crucial role in the couple’s relationship and the father-infant relationship and they contribute to individual and family well-being (Goodman, 2005). where men are required to provide practical and emotional support to mothers and children However, Barclay and Lupton (1999) suggest that active societal support and preparation are not readily available to men despite the expectation that men will fill the gaps that were previously filled by neighbours and women relatives.

Health and social services and nurses who work in them often fail to engage fathers successfully and can even pose a barrier to their engagement (Williams, Hewison, Wildman, & Roskell, 2013). The ‘new involved father’ benchmark (Lupton & Barclay, 1997a) requires that fathers participate in antenatal classes, labour and delivery. In the absence of social networks, family and peers groups, partners and health professionals often need to fill in the gaps. Fathers are key persons who strongly influence the perinatal decisions women make. Migration often requires changed roles for fathers, especially if they have not grown up with expectations about their roles as active participants.

Fatherhood can be difficult and fathers need support and guidance to prepare them for the transition and to develop competence Men can sometimes lack appropriate models and emotional support for fathering, requiring that they be encouraged to develop support for their parenting beyond their partner (Goodman, 2005). Each stage of the paternal lifecycle including pregnancy, labour and delivery, postpartum period and parenthood poses challenges for new parents to be. Labour and delivery are particularly difficult times for fathers who can feel coerced, ill-prepared, ineffective, and/or psychologically excluded from the event (Bartlett, 2004).

The postpartum period, particularly the first year after childbirth, is a time of emotional upheaval for first-time fathers, who have to adapt to the presence of an infant who is a priority. Research on first-time fathers’ prenatal expectations of the experience compared with perceptions after the birth found that they expected to be treated as part of a labouring couple, but were often relegated to a supporting role. Fathers were confident of their ability to support their wives, but labour was more work and scary than they had anticipated. The focus also changed postpartum from their wives to their babies. The study found that fathers need to be better included and supported in their role as coach and friend (Chandler & Field, 1997).

The first year of parenting is often experienced as overwhelming (Nyström & Öhrling, 2004). Anticipatory guidance is critically important for expectant fathers, as many men (like women) hold unrealistic expectations about parenthood that can hinder their adjustment to the realities of fatherhood (Goodman, 2005). Supporting fathers prenatally can improve their transition to fatherhood (Buist, Morse, & Durkin, 2003). Interventions that can help prepare men for the changes and stresses of becoming a parent include not only ensuring that men are included in childbirth preparation classes but that the content relates to the concerns of fathers and which promotes paternal involvement in all aspects of infant care. Fathers should be given opportunities to develop skills and confidence in infant care, both before and after their infant’s birth. Fathers- only classes could help men develop competence and confidence away from their partner whom they could perceive as being more capable.

Obstacles to greater involvement in fathering include work, parental modelling after one’s own father, maternal gate-keeping from wives or female partners, co-constructed processes of “doing gender” by both mothers and fathers, gender identities and ideologies and discourses of fatherhood (Doucet, (2005).

Fathers’ breastfeeding role

An infant’s father has a pivotal role in maternal initiation and continuation of breastfeeding (Littman, Medendorp, & Goldfarb, 1994), hence breastfeeding education and promotion should be directed to expectant fathers as well as mothers. Littman, Medendorp, and Goldfarb suggest that breastfeeding education should include appropriate anticipatory guidance related to managing feeling excluded when mothers are breastfeeding. Ways for new fathers to experience closeness with their infants can be suggested, and nurses can encourage the development of men’s nurturing qualities while supporting the importance of their particular role as father. Skill acquisition in infant care is a crucial step in facilitating father-infant bonding. 8. Fathers are excluded in research.

Maternal and infant health has enjoyed extensive attention from researchers, medical practitioners, and policymakers. However, little is known about the physical and psychological health of fathers, but with gender roles changing and an increasing emphasis on paternal involvement in all aspects of parenting, adjustments are required for both men and women (Goodman, 2004). Research on fatherhood lags behind that on maternal health, a disparity that is a significant gap in family research and theory. This disparity is a serious omission in knowledge and scholarship because becoming a father is a major developmental milestone (Bartlett, 2004). In order to provide optimal support to new fathers it is important to understand fathers’ experiences from the perspectives of fathers themselves (Goodman, 2005).

Interactions with significant others (nurses and partners) have a significant impact on both parents’ perceptions of parental efficacy (Montigny & Lacharite, 2004) Health professionals are well placed to support fathers in a way that empowers them to feel good about themselves, their abilities, and their infant, which in turn enhances their motivation to interact with and care for their infant (Bandura, 1996; (Bryan (2000) cited inMontigny & Lacharite, 2004)

Conclusion

The transition to fatherhood is significant with many men feeling overwhelmed or excluded. However, services that provide prior guidance and are male- friendly can increase involvement and participation. Little is known about how this transition is managed especially the needs of migrant fathers and the mediating role of social and psychological factors. However the participation of men is linked with positive outcomes for the whole family. By supporting father- friendly services, families can benefit especially families separated from support systems like migrant families. Nurses can play a pivotal role in pulling fathers ‘in’ and helping families pull together in the transition to fatherhood so that all families can thrive.

References

  • Bandura, A, Barbaranelli, C, Caprara, G V, & Pastorelli, C. (1996). Multifaceted impact of self‐efficacy beliefs on academic functioning. Child Development, 67(3), 1206-1222.
  • Barclay, Lesley, & Lupton, Deborah. (1999). The experiences of new fatherhood: a socio-cultural analysis. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 29(4 %R doi:10.1046/j.1365-2648.1999.00978.x), 1013-1020.
  • Bartlett, E.E. (2004). The effects of fatherhood on the health of men: A review of the literature. Journal of Men’s Health and Gender, 1(2-3), 159-169.
  • Buckelew, Sara M. , Pierrie, Herb , & Chabra, Anand (2006). What Fathers need: A countywide assessment of the needs of fathers of young children. Maternal and Child Health Journal,, 10(3).
  • Buist, A, Morse, C A, & Durkin, S. (2003). Men’s adjustment to fatherhood: Implications for obstetric health care. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing, 32(2), 172-180.
  • Chandler, S., & Field, P.A. (1997). Becoming a father: First-time fathers’ experience of labor and delivery. Journal of Nurse-Midwifery, 42(1), 17-24.
  • Deave, T., & Johnson, D. (2008). The transition to parenthood: what does it mean for fathers? Journal of Advanced Nursing, 63(6), 626-633. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2648.2008.04748.x
  • DeSouza, R. (2006). New spaces and possibilities: The adjustment to parenthood for new migrant mothers. Wellington: Families Commission.
  • Doucet, A. (2005). It’s almost like I have a job, but I don’t get paid’: Fathers at home reconfiguring work, care, and community. Fathering: A Journal of Theory, Research, and Practice about Men as Fathers, 2(3), 277-303.
  • Goodman, J.H. (2004). Paternal postpartum depression, its relationship to maternal postpartum depression, and implications for family health. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 45(1), 26-35.
  • Goodman, J.H. (2005). Becoming an involved father of an infant. JOGNN – Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing, 34(2), 190-200.
  • Littman, H., Medendorp, S.V. , & Goldfarb, J. . (1994). The decision to breastfeed: The importance of father’s approval. Clin Pediatr (Phila), 33(4), 214-219.
  • Lupton, D, & Barclay, L. (1997). Constructing fatherhood: Discourses and experiences. London ; Thousand Oaks, Calif.: SAGE
  • Montigny, Francine de , & Lacharite, Carl (2004). Fathers’ perceptions of the immediate postpartal period. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing, 33(3), 328-339.
  • Nyström, K., & Öhrling, K. (2004). Parenthood experiences during the child’s first year: Literature review. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 46(3), 319-330.
  • Roer-Strier, Dorit, Strier, Roni, Este, David, Shimoni, Rena, & Clark, Dawne. (2005). Fatherhood and immigration: challenging the deficit theory. Child & Family Social Work, 10(4 %R doi:10.1111/j.1365-2206.2005.00374.x), 315-329.
  • Williams, Robert, Hewison, Alistair, Wildman, Stuart, & Roskell, Carolyn. (2013). Changing Fatherhood: An Exploratory Qualitative Study with African and African Caribbean Men in England. Children & Society, 27(2), 92-103.

Korean migrant mothers on giving birth in Aotearoa New Zealand

Cite as: DeSouza, Ruth. (2014). One woman’s empowerment is another’s oppression: Korean migrant mothers on giving birth in Aotearoa New Zealand. Journal of Transcultural Nursing. doi: 10.1177/1043659614523472.  Download pdf (262KB) DeSouza J Transcult Nurs-2014.

Published online before print on February 28, 2014.

Abstract

Purpose: To critically analyze the power relations underpinning New Zealand maternity, through analysis of discourses used by Korean migrant mothers. Design: Data from a focus group with Korean new mothers was subjected to a secondary analysis using a discourse analysis drawing on postcolonial feminist and Foucauldian theoretical ideas. Results: Korean mothers in the study framed the maternal body as an at-risk body, which meant that they struggled to fit into the local discursive landscape of maternity as empowering. They described feeling silenced, unrecognized, and uncared for. Discussion and Conclusions: The Korean mothers’ culturally different beliefs and practices were not incorporated into their care. They were interpellated into understanding themselves as problematic and othered, evidenced in their take up of marginalized discourses. Implications for practice: Providing culturally safe services in maternity requires considering their affects on culturally different women and expanding the discourses that are available.

Keywords: focus group interview, cultural safety, Korean women, maternal, postcolonial, Foucault.

Introduction

A feature of contemporary maternity is the notion that birth can be empowering for women if they take charge of the experience by being informed consumers. However, maternity is not necessarily empowering for all mothers. In this article, I suggest that the discourses of the Pākehā maternity system discipline and normalize culturally different women by rendering their mothering practices as deviant and patho- logical. Using the example of Korean migrant mothers, I begin the article by contextualizing maternity care in New Zealand and outlining Korean migration to New Zealand. The research project is then detailed, followed by the findings, which show the ways in which Korean mothers are interpellated as others in maternity services in New Zealand. I conclude the article with a brief discussion on the implications for nursing and midwifery with a particular focus on cultural safety.

You can read the rest at: Journal of Transcultural Nursing or download DeSouza TCN proof.

Regulating migrant maternity: Nursing and midwifery’s emancipatory aims and assimilatory practices

I’ve just had the first paper from my PhD published: DeSouza, R. (2013), Regulating migrant maternity: Nursing and midwifery’s emancipatory aims and assimilatory practices. Nursing Inquiry. doi: 10.1111/nin.12020

In contemporary Western societies, birthing is framed as transformative for mothers; however, it is also a site for the regulation of women and the exercise of power relations by health professionals. Nursing scholarship often frames migrant mothers as a problem, yet nurses are imbricated within systems of scrutiny and regulation that are unevenly imposed on ‘other’ mothers. Discourses deployed by New Zealand Plunket nurses (who provide a universal ‘well child’ health service) to frame their understandings of migrant mothers were analysed using discourse analysis and concepts of power drawn from the work of French philosopher Michel Foucault, read through a postcolonial feminist perspective. This research shows how Plunket nurses draw on liberal feminist discourses, which have emancipatory aims but reflect assimilatory practices, paradoxically disempowering women who do not subscribe to ideals of individual autonomy. Consequently, the migrant mother, her family and new baby are brought into a neoliberal project of maternal improvement through surveillance. This project – enacted differentially but consistently among nurses – attempts to alter maternal and familial relationships by ‘improving’ mothering. Feminist critiques of patriarchy in maternity must be supplemented by a critique of the implicitly western subject of maternity to make empowerment a possibility for all mothers.

 

 

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).

 

How can we better support new mothers to sing?

I am a member of the Perinatal Mental Health New Zealand Trust (PMHNZ) whose vision is to : “improve outcomes for families and whanau affected by mental illness related to pregnancy, childbirth and early parenthood”. They produce a quarterly newsletter that includes information about research, training, workshops and courses, innovative projects and services, topics for discussion and stories. It was a privilege to share my research with other members in the February newsletter (pdf) and on this Women’s day it seems apt to share it with a broader audience.

One of my favourite stories that I would tell when we ran workshops in the nineties about postnatal depression was by Jack Kornfield. I would share this story and half the room would be in tears.

“There is a tribe in East Africa in which the art of true intimacy is fostered even before birth. In this tribe, the birth date of a child is not counted from the day of its physical birth nor even the day of conception as in other village cultures. For this tribe the birth date comes the first time the child is a thought in its mother’s mind. Aware of her intention to conceive a child with a particular father, the mother then goes off to sit alone under a tree. There she sits and listens until she can hear the song of the child that she hopes to conceive. Once she has heard it, she returns to her village and teaches it to the father so that they can sing it together as they make love, inviting the child to join them. After the child is conceived, she sings it to the baby in her womb. Then she teaches it to the old women and midwives of the village, so that throughout the labor and at the miraculous moment of birth itself, the child is greeted with its song. After the birth all the villagers learn the song of their new member and sing it to the child when it falls or hurts itself. It is sung in times of triumph, or in rituals and initiations. This song becomes a part of the marriage ceremony when the child is grown, and at the end of life, his or her loved ones will gather around the deathbed and sing this song for the last time.” A Path with Heart (1993, p. 334).

For me the message in this story reflects the importance of love, being loved by a community and the importance of acknowledgement. Painfully, however, it highlights the ways in which women’s experiences of maternity can be just the opposite. That is, they can feel isolated, disrespected and invisible. As a clinician, I’ve learned that there are ways in which we, and the system that we work in can make this most magnificent, sacred and profound time in a woman and her family’s life also one that is painful, one that leaves long lasting scars. Health professionals can cause harm even especially when we think we are doing good. As an academic for 13 years prior to which I worked as a clinician for 10 years, I am deeply interested in the issue of power and how professional frameworks of care can undermine women’s personal experiences.

This song has been the background soundtrack to my recently completed PhD. I used data from a study funded by the Families Commission and assisted by Plunket, where I talked to 40 migrant women about their experiences of becoming mothers in New Zealand. I also talked to Plunket nurses about their experiences of caring for women from ethnic migrant backgrounds.

My motivation for doing research was prompted by my clinical experiences. Several years ago I decided to make a move from working in mental health to working in maternity. As someone who had worked as a community mental health nurse I took a lot of concepts about my work in mental health into this new setting, for example, I believed that care should be client centred and driven, that services should fit around consumers of services and that taking time to be with people was important. What I found in the institutionalised setting of hospital maternity care and later community care was that some of the routine procedures that are administered in hospitals and in the community with good intentions had negative impacts and were oppressive especially for women who did not tidily fit into the mould for the factory style model that was in place then. The conveyor belt metaphor is apt given that women who were the wrong fit were viewed as a problem, as only a single way of becoming a mother was acceptable. I saw that staff were frustrated at the extra demands or complexity of working with ‘diverse’ women, they lacked resources like time and knowledge. In turn, I could see that women who valued particular kinds of social support, acknowledgement and rituals were not getting their needs met. It seemed like a situation where no one was a winner.

What I found out in my research was that there was a big gap in satisfaction among women who were familiar with the structure of maternity services in the west and women whose lives had been shaped by growing up in other cultural contexts. Fundamentally there was a schism in the ways in which birth was understood. To be simplistic, western modes of being a mother valued independence, autonomy, taking up expert knowledge and using it and being an active consumer. By that I mean the individualising of responsibility for maternity on the mother, to take up scientific knowledge through reading self help books and for the role of the partner to be a birth coach and the goal of birth to be “natural”.

This dominant Pakeha middle class model of being a mother clashed with other understandings of motherhood, where responsibility was more collectivised, so that embodied knowledge from cultural authority figures (mother and mothers in law) protected mothers and where a range of rituals and supports were available for the mother (including some which were also not necessarily helpful). Women who became mothers in New Zealand had to negotiate these two different models of maternity and come to terms with what they negotiated. However, in the context of an assimilatory maternal health system it was very difficult for women to maintain traditions that were important to them. For example many women were not supported if they wanted to bring in traditional foods with them or have support from grandmothers. Many of these encounters left migrant mothers feeling disempowered. Another important clash was the different philosophies and roles of professionals and mother in the context of midwifery models and medical models. Some women viewed birth as a risky process and wanted the reassurance of visualising technologies. The view of birth as a risky process clashed with midwifery models of birth as a natural process that women are physically prepared for but need encouragement and support with.

Conclusion How can we support all kinds of women with different values, beliefs and rituals around birth, to feel loved, nurtured, safe and supported? How can we give women who might be separated from their loved ones, support to access those values, beliefs and that will allow them to manage the transition into motherhood? Returning to the metaphor of singing, and the power of connection it engenders, how can we connect and support people who are singing different kinds of songs? Can we adjust our tone so that we can harmonise? Can new songs and rhythms infuse the songs we already know with new energy and possibility?

Having a baby in New Zealand without your support base http://www.mentalhealth.org.nz/kaixinxingdong/page/486- resources+dragon-babies+parents-stories 

Finding more humane solutions: New Zealand’s refugee deal with Australia

Last weekend the New Zealand government made a deal with Australia to take 150 asylum seekers held in Australian detention facilities. New Zealand accepts the fifth highest number (equal with Canada) of refugees per capita, but this move reduces the number of refugees selected through New Zealand’s quota of 750 by 150 (600 refugees a year compared with 50,000 in the United States and 20,000 in Australia). What’s even more alarming as Gordon Campbell notes, is the way in which this new deal conflates two very different mechanisms for refugee arrival.

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There are two ways in which refugees are able to remain in New Zealand. The first is the quota category, which in New Zealand is presently 750 persons per annum. People are recommended by the UNHCR to Immigration New Zealand (INZ) for selection. The refugees who apply for resettlement in New Zealand must meet the definition of a refugee given below. The second resettlement category includes Convention Refugees, or Asylum Seekers. Asylum seekers most often arrive at Auckland International Airport and then need to go through an application process to be granted refugee status and be able to settle in New Zealand. A boat of asylum seekers has never reached New Zealand.

It is a right under the UN Refugee Convention to claim political asylum and there is no queue. A claim for asylum is carefully assessed and if there are grounds for political persecution, asylum has to be granted. It is a completely different procedure from the UN annual refugee quota of 750. The 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees is the key legal document, outlining the rights of refugees and the legal obligations of signatory states. Article 1 (2) of the United Nations’ 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees modifies Article 1 A (2) of the 1951 Convention to define a refugee as a person who:

owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such a fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.

This definition only refers to people who have fled their country of origin and then sought sanctuary in a second country for protection.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is an international agency that provides protection for refugees, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), asylum seekers, and stateless persons—it attempts to find long-term solutions for a number of the world’s refugees. There are three options: the first is voluntary repatriation; the second is local integration in the country of asylum; and in the third, the UNHCR works with eighteen countries with established or developing resettlement programmes to resettle refugees in a third country, including Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States of America. Countries with emerging programmes are Benin, Brazil, Britain, Burkina Faso, Chile, Iceland, Ireland and Spain.

The earliest refugees to New Zealand arrived between 1870–1890 and included Danes, Russian Jews and French Huguenots. Subsequently, refugees from Nazism (1933–39), Poland (1944), Hungary (1956–58), ‘handicapped’ refugees (1959), Chinese (1962– 71), Russian Christians from China (1965), Asians from Uganda (1972–73), Chileans, Soviet Jews, Eastern Europeans, people from the Middle East, South-East Asia (Indo-Chinese), Somalia, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Iran and the Sudan have resettled in New Zealand—over 40,000 refugees.

New Zealand only developed its quota programme in 1987. The development of a formal annual quota for refugees occurred concurrently with the Immigration Policy Review of 1986 and subsequent Immigration Act 1987. This legislation brought into being more diverse migrants to New Zealand. Whereas previously, migrants had been selected on the basis of country of origin (primarily European), the new legislation liberalised migration so that migrants entered New Zealand by way of a points system on the basis of skills. Other significant changes included the development of four migration categories—occupational, business, family, and humanitarian. The latter category represented refugee policies and saw the introduction of an annual quota for resettling refugees.

The Minister of Immigration and the Minister of Foreign Affairs set the composition of the refugee quota. This process takes into account the UNHCR’s international protection priorities, the needs of refugee communities settled in New Zealand, and the capabilities of New Zealand as a host country. The UNHCR refers refugee cases to Immigration New Zealand for consideration under the refugee quota. The refugees are then assessed by Immigration New Zealand, which makes a final decision on the refugees’ admission to New Zealand. The quota comprises up to six intakes a year of around 125 people each.

One of my concerns is that this move will impact on special categories within our NZ Refugee Quota Programme such as national, ethnic and religious groups, as well as special needs groups such as ‘handicapped’ refugees, long stayers in refugee camps, and refugee “boat people” rescued at sea (Tampa). In particular from these formal categories introduced in 1992:

  • Protection (600 persons)—This category includes up to 300 places for family members, covering hgh-priority refugees needing protection from an emergency situation.
  • Medical and/or disabled cases (75 persons)—Refugees with a medical condition or disability that cannot be treated in the country of asylum but can be treated in New Zealand. This special category “provides for the resettlement of refugees with medical, physical or social disabilities which place them outside the normal criteria for acceptance by resettlement countries” (Parsons, 2005).
  • Women at risk (75 persons)—Women refugees (alone or with dependant children) at risk in a refugee camp, especially from sexual violence (75 persons). New Zealand, like Canada and Australia, has created a special category for resettling women at risk. The UNHCR definition for refugees in this category includes:

Women and girls who have protection problems particular to their gender…including expulsion, refoulement and other security threats, sexual violence, physical abuse, intimidation, torture, particular economic hardship or marginalization, lack of integration prospects, community hostility, and different forms of exploitation. Such problems and threats…may render some refugee women or girls particularly vulnerable. (UNHCR, 2002, p. 22).

In addition to the refugee quota, 300 places are made available per year for family members to be sponsored under the Refugee Family Support category who would otherwise be unable to qualify for residence under any other category of government residence policy. The government has recently made changes to the category, including expanding the definition of family member, to recognise a wider range of family structures. It also introduced a ballot system in 2002.

My other concern is that New Zealand should be doing more not less. For all the criticism of Australian policy, its annual refugee intake as a proportion of its population is still five times ours. Why not either increase our overall refugee quota to 900 so that it includes the number of people from Australia as this Dominion Post editorial suggests:

And this means that 150 other refugees, typically rotting in wretched camps near some of the ghastliest places on earth, will not be able to come to New Zealand.

Their places will be taken by those who were lucky enough to have become the responsibility of Australia. This isn’t really fair. Australia’s rejected refugees are not necessarily more deserving than the 150 who will miss out.A more compassionate approach would have been simply to increase the overall refugee quota by 150, bringing it to 900.

Race Relations Commissioner, Mr Joris de Bres supports this increase and advocates for refugees accepted from Australia to be subject to a bilateral agreement and distinguished from the humanitarian refugee quota:

 The 150 places should be in addition to the annual quota. The quota is a separate arrangement, and the Government’s announcement could constitute an ongoing reduction in New Zealand’s humanitarian commitment to the UNHCR to accept up to 750 refugees in need of resettlement. The present 750 refugee quota includes specific groups including women at risk, disabled people and family linked cases. The announcement may diminish New Zealand humanitarian response to these vulnerable groups of refugees.For transparency, any refugees accepted from Australian detention camps should be subject to a bilateral agreement separate and distinct from the humanitarian refugee quota.

Another concern is whether in tone, language, media and treatment we are emulating a punitive and dehumanising Australian asylum seeker policy. Bryce Edwards in the National Business Review notes that:

we have effectively approved and given international legitimacy to an Australian policy that ‘is the outcome of squalid politics, beginning with John Howard’s demonising of the boat people and exaggerating their threat. The effectiveness of the scare tactics, also employed after Howard left the scene, forced Gillard to reopen the foreign detention centres – centres of human misery.

Photos received by Sarah Hanson-Young of the Manus Island Detention Centre, Nauru. from an article by Bianca Hall

Brian Rudman in the Herald observes that John Key is embracing a particularly hellish vision:

Amnesty International’s refugee expert, Dr Graham Thom, after a visit to the Nauru camp in November, called the conditions “cruel, inhuman and degrading”, with 387 men cramped into five rows of leaking tents “suffering from physical and mental ailments – creating a climate of anguish as the repressively hot monsoon season begins”. Dr Thom said “the news that five years could be the wait time for these men under the Government’s ‘no advantage’ policy added insult to injury”, with one man attempting to take his life while the Amnesty group were visiting.

 

Even former MP’s have jumped in Aussie Malcolm in the Herald:

Australia and Australia alone stands out from the rest of the world with arguments about queue jumpers and all sorts of populist jargon that actually hides racism, and now New Zealand has joined Australia it’s a tragedy,” Mr Malcolm told Radio New Zealand…It couldn’t be a worse outcome.

 

Jan Logie of the Green party asked questions in parliament but interestingly enough there’s been silence from our Labour party as the National Business Review points out:

Yet opposition parties have been noticeably weak in their critiques of the policy, choosing to play it safe. A Labour-led government, David Shearer says, wouldn’t necessarily reverse the policy, and instead ‘Labour would discuss the policy with Australia’

 

I’m with Michael Timmins a New Zealand refugee lawyer when he suggests that New Zealand could play a positive role and improve protection in the region rather than “cosy[ing] up to Australia’s broken asylum system”. In his excellent article, he suggests engaging in regional co-operation and working with South East Asian countries so that they can properly process refugees. New Zealand is at a cross-roads, we can choose to punish groups of people who demonstrate incredible courage to leave horrendous circumstances or we can attempt to find some solutions that uphold people’s human rights and dignity.I know which I would prefer.

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