Women Speak Out! A Report of the Pacific Women's Conference. October 27 – November 2
Our government is 100 percent behind International Women's Year. Our government has given our women every incentive to become involved with women's issues and to bring these issues to the notice of the Women's Committee on International Women's Year.
Under the old National Development Council framework (the word ‘national’ has no political affiliation), the Labour party rearranged the National Development Council into the Sector Councils and these Sector Councils comprise Education, Mineral, Building, Trade Promotion, Forestry, Distribution and Social. I am a member of that Social Development Council.
The government being concerned with International Women's Year, set up a Women's Sector Council, giving priority to all women's issues. In our Parliament last year, there was a Women's Committee to seek out ways and means of improving the lot of the women of New Zealand. Every women's organisations were invited to come down to give their point of view. I'm afraid to say that not many Polynesian people became involved.
Last year, the government, for the first time said to us: “We are concerned about the education in this country. page 84 Come to us and tell us what you want us to do for you in education and which way you want to go”. The island people living in New Zealand were asked to come forward. One Samoan lady came forward and organised the Samoan group in Auckland. Only two of us Niuean ladies became involved. Also, another delegate from Samoa, Mrs. Tuisamoa, also became involved. We were the only women I can recollect who actually became involved with educational development in Auckland last year.
I have become involved at grass-roots level in may capacity as Voluntary Social Worker to see what I can do to help our people who are living in New Zealand.
As you all know, I originally came from Niue Island. I was seventeen when I left there to go to New Zealand. I was educated in Niue to Form II level. At thirteen years of age, because there was no secondary schools in Niue, and because it was an underdeveloped country, I became a girl Friday to the Headmaster and a pupil as well, until the age of fifteen, when I became a trainee teacher. At seventeen, my mother decided that I just wasn't suited to the life on Niue, so she packed me off to New Zealand. “You just don't fit here,” she said, “your European side is more dominant. So go to New Zealand”. So I went to New Zealand.
I must give you the background of the migration pattern of Polynesian people to New Zealand. In the early years, the men went first. Then they brought their wives, their brothers, their sisters, and their children. Now this system went on until 1950. They worked in the freezing works, on the wharves, for the city councils, they did all the menial jobs - simply because they didn't understand English. I work and I try to help them in my capacity, even then to translate for them and to do what I could to make their lives easier.
All the industries in New Zealand, menial jobs like laundries, are passed on to Polynesian workers. In the late half of the 1950's, a social group from the Victoria University in Wellington, decided to take up a survey, motivated mainly by newspapers which were talking about ghettoes forming around Ponsonby and all around there. They did a survey on Polynesian housing and as a result, from 1957 to 1969, we were able page 85 to have a Housing development in Auckland, within the framework of Maori and Islands Affairs. It took over ten years before they were able to give us a Housing Department.
The pattern of life and migration of Islands people to New Zealand was really a very, very hard one. Polynesian people tend to group within themselves. The Niuean by themselves, the Samoans by themselves, the Cooks by themselves. The only time they meet is when they go to church.
This pattern of life is going in Auckland. The government is really helping all the Polynesian people in Auckland. So really, I cannot say very much against the lot of Polynesian people in New Zealand. We're fairly well treated; the New Zealand people are very kind to Polynesian people in industry and work. The New Zealand government realises the potential of Polynesian people in Auckland working in industry and if they were to go back to their own islands, industry in New Zealand would disintegrate.
But the government realised all these problems. We are not discriminated against, although some of us say that we are, we are not. We just work quietly in the background. A lot of booklets have been published to help Polynesian people like - ‘The Understanding of Polynesian people living in Auckland’ and ‘The Polynesian in Industry’. In work and industry now, they give English lessons to Pacific islanders living in New Zealand.
In Auckland we have a Pacific Islands Women's Committee for International Women's Year. It is a growing committee but we have had some difficulty in trying to organise women and to get them together because most Pacific women in Auckland are shy, they are interested only in their own social matters, and social issues; they have their own social gatherings.
International Women's Year is one of the ways we can bring some reason to the argument about men's right and women's right. And why? Because in the simplest terms, they are people's right and their responsibility is to the whole community. International Women's Year needs the working page 86 co-operation of everybody, not just those at the top. I'd like to see them down there, if it's to have real impact on all women in our society and all the men as well.