Being heard – voices from Pacific women and girls

A new report elevates the voices of Pacific women in Aotearoa New Zealand – experiences, both good and bad, and aspirations for the future. The report speaks to the resilience of Pacific women and how far they have come. It celebrates progress, reflects on the past, and acknowledges the path ahead.

Pasefika Proud is actively supportive of initiatives which promote and socialise its key messages and work. The mahi undertaken by PACIFICA culminating in the Wellbeing Report – Voices from Pacific Women and Girls in Aotearoa, New Zealand, aids in the delivery of initiatives involving talanoa with Pacific women and girls around how they keep themselves safe, strong, prosperous, and resilient.

An online survey put together by PACIFICA (Pacific Allied Council Inspires Faith Ideals Concerning All) Inc., which works on a number of projects with Pasefika Proud, has gathered together the thoughts, experiences and hopes of 173 females, aged from 13 to 78 years, and who identify as being of Pacific ethnicity. 

The aim of the survey was to understand the challenges faced by Pacific women and to document how they, despite statistics to the contrary, show resilience, strength, and mana. The catalyst for this was PACIFICA’s aim to present a record of Pacific women and girls’ voices in 2023, understanding the challenges faced and how best to support them. 

As well as the online survey there were also two talanoa sessions in person, in Auckland and Wellington. The data from both was analysed and compiled into a compelling Wellbeing Report, which shares some interesting findings. 

For example, areas the women found challenging were basically broken down into three sections – navigating between the Western environment they lived in and their cultural values and obligations, the biases they face being Pacific and female, and the socioeconomic hardship that followed. 

Respondents pointed out the difficulty of walking the middle ground between Pacific and Pakeha/Palagi and a sense of disconnect and feeling of not belonging in either.  

Being torn between the two different worlds left some women with an identity struggle, and an acceptance of many barriers facing them. 

“It is difficult to navigate spaces with competing priorities that don't necessarily fit the status quo. Often Pacific women are expected to care for but not lead.”  (Tokelau/Tuvalu, 31-year-old) 

And many believed the situation was getting harder and more challenging as Pacific women struggled to make advances and gains towards prosperity. 

But there was hope. Seeing other Pacific women succeed in many areas acted as motivation. They said this helped build resilience and increased belief, they too, could succeed. 

One Wellington-based Samoan woman said there was a much greater presence in senior positions. 

‘’We are definitely breaking that glass ceiling. I hope that we no longer have to read stories that say ‘the first pacific woman to hold...’ Our point of uniqueness is that we bring with us a community rich in culture, history, and tradition,’’ she said. 

At the launch of the report in Wellington on Friday 24th November 2023, PACIFICA National President, Rebecca Lelaulu, said the wellbeing of Pacific women and girls in Aotearoa was something that was close to the hearts of those in the organisation. 

She said conversations with members began four years ago on the lack of data held on Pacific women and girls in the country and on how the organisation could highlight the economic and social status of Pacific women and girls nationally. 

‘’The thinking was that we would develop a report that would provide ... a view of the status of Pacific women and girls in Aotearoa, NZ,’’ she said. 

‘’Around that time, we were also thinking about applying for ECOSOC status.  ECOSOC is the United Nations Economic and Social Council responsible for the direction and co-ordination of the UN’s economic, social, humanitarian, and cultural activities. It is the UN’s largest and most complex subsidiary body’’. 

That application proved successful, and in October 2021, PACIFICA was granted special consultative status by the UN ECOSOC - the highest status granted by the United Nations to non-governmental organisations. The accreditation enables PACIFICA to participate fully in the UN system. 

Luamanuvao Dame Winnie Laban (left) with PACIFICA National President, Rebecca Lelaulu (right)‘’The report we are launching is the beginning of a series of projects that PACIFICA is keen to look into as part of our ECOSOC status and for us to provide opportunities for Pacific women to contribute effectively to the cultural, social, economic, and political development of Aotearoa New Zealand and its people,’’ Rebecca said. 

Luamanuvao Dame Winnie Laban told the audience at the launch she believed Pacific Island cultures could be building blocks and they could mobilise the cultural values of Pacific Island communities to increase participation and achievement for all.  

She talked of how her leadership journey took her back to the Pacific and through talking to other Pacific women, who had shared her experience, she found a ‘’deeper, cultural resonance’’. 

‘’One lesson I learnt was that we do not work alone. As Pacific Island women we work, we grow, we learn.  These are with groups within our community and organisations like PACIFICA. My vision of Pacific women leadership is grounded in family, culture, and the community. I am really excited by the new generation of Pacific Island women leaders,’’ Dame Winnie said. 

She told of how she found inspiration for her journey in many places, including poetry, song, story, and the lives of women who had inspired her. 

She quoted from a poem, written by Karlo Mila about Pacific Island women’s leadership. In her poem Karlo describes how Pasifika peoples ‘’alter the face of this nation with every birth’’.   

It is a conversation 
Between ocean and history 
Genealogy and bone 

It is a thin umbilical line
Through time
That pulls us
Reaching between
Destiny and memory

We are navigating
A new constellation
Mapped deep in your bones

An ocean of islands

You dream us 
A sea of stars 
At our feet

Deputy Secretary Policy at the Ministry for WomenThose at the launch were praised by the Deputy Secretary Policy at the Ministry for Women, Deborah Malcolm, who said more of the sort of work done by PACIFICA was needed. 

‘’170 women’s voices, we need more of this.  We need to bring this into government. We need to hear your voices. That whole thing of wellbeing is so important as it feeds into our social, our mental, economic, everything we do starts and ends with wellbeing,’’ she said. 

 From here, PACIFICA will continue to reach out to members and their families and socialise the key messages and work of Pasefika Proud to help deliver initiatives to keep people safe, strong, prosperous, and resilient.

CLICK HERE to view the GALLERY from the event

Pacific Allied (Women's) Council Inspires Faith Ideals Concerning All Incorporated (PACIFICA) was established in 1976 by Pacific women living in Aotearoa New Zealand during the tail end of the Dawn Raids, so that they could speak with one voice and be recognised as a force working for a more positive involvement of Pacific peoples in New Zealand society. 


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A Wellbeing Report

Voices from Pacific Women and Girls in Aotearoa, New Zealand

This report published in November 2023 by P.A.C.I.F.I.C.A Inc and supported by Pasefika Proud seeks to understand factors contributing to Pacific women’s wellbeing through a mixed methods approach. The report drew on past literature to gauge how Pacific peoples are portrayed in data and research, specifically Pacific women.