Multicultural New Zealand (MNZ) has produced a resource designed to help women of all cultures make the most of their new life in New Zealand. The idea for such a resource came from a women’s hui held by the MNZ Women’s Council in May 2018 where the women were asked to identify three priority areas for action. Key themes that emerged were: structural and systemic safety for women; leadership development and economic independence; and promoting an inclusive society and community wellbeing for women.

Sue Hanrahan who has had the task of turning these points into action says it can be difficult for individuals to influence complex issues such as these. Instead, they have been reframed into outcomes that the women can aspire to. These are: I feel I belong; My family’s needs are met; I am part of the community; and I lead a balanced life.

The Framework helps grow all three of the components of training and education – knowledge, skills and values. The focus is on transformational change using discussion and information to help migrant and former refugee women to reach their potential and fully participate in and contribute to their new community.

Women are encouraged to reflect on questions such as – what hopes and dreams do you have for life in New Zealand?

The trained coordinators guide the process of reflection – then action. “It is about helping people to talk and discuss issues with their peers,” says Sue. “Each woman will make a decision about her development based on her own values and needs.”

In the long term MNZ expects to see the following expected outcomes:

The Ministry for Women provided funding for an initial pilot to test and refine the handbooks. Currently, the JR McKenzie Trust is supporting the further distribution and pilot of resources in ten communities around the country. Once the documents have been revised they will go on the MNZ website for use by any community group.

“I am passionate about the Framework,” says Maria Buldain, who is piloting the Framework in Oamaru. Maria started with a small group of unemployed women in the town and is now working to engage ethnic women who are employed in places like rest homes and on farms. Feedback from the women in her first group of about six has been very positive and they have asked if they can keep meeting.

“I think that tells me that they find it useful. The small group really allowed the women to open up and discuss personal topics. We had never discussed our dreams and hopes before but they now realise that in New Zealand you have the right or the possibility to dream, whereas in the country you came from the economic or political situation made this impossible. What we learn from the
Framework is that you do have a voice and you can use your voice, ask for help when you need it, follow your dreams and lead a balanced and safe life – and that the police in this country can be trusted – they are there to support and protect you.”

Rizwaana Latiff from Hawkes Bay was part of the original hui. She says that she has found it “amazing and empowering. I wish I had been able to use it years ago when I first came to New Zealand. Only now am I beginning to feel I belong and fit in. It helps you understand how things work and where and how you can fit in and at the same time be strong in your own culture.”

Rizwaana ran her pilot with a group of six women – all chosen from different ethic and economic backgrounds: some women had degrees, while others were used to manual work.

“Bringing them together was the first important thing,” says Rizwaana. “To belong, we all need to get to know each other. It’s very simple: social cohesion. In our group we had a Muslim woman and a Sikh. At first they refused to talk to one another. That is how it is where they came from. I gently asked them whether keeping up this attitude would be good for their children. So she could get to the group, I used to pick up the Sikh woman because she didn’t drive. Then one week she did not phone to arrange this and I thought, well, she’s not coming. But then she arrived with the Muslim woman! Now the Muslim woman is teaching her how to drive. Once you get to know each other all the old barriers are down.”

The trained coordinators also bring their own experience to discussions. In Rizwaana’s pilot group none of the women knew about services like cervical screening and they needed information on vaccination – important issues for Rizwaana who is a trained nurse and midwife. The women were also keen to learn about the difference between local and central government, and voting, about how the law works here, and how the Police have a community support role – not true in most of the countries where they come from where the police are feared, so Rizwaana had a local policeman come and talk with the group.

The heart of successful resettlement Rizwaana says is resolving identity issues in a new country. “This is what the Framework does so brilliantly. They are fearful of losing their own culture and identity, so they separate themselves from the wider community. The Framework helps them feel strong in their own culture, knowing that this will continue to be part of them when they adapt. They can be a kiwi – they can sit in a room with lots of people drinking – and still belong.”

Two handbooks have been developed. One for the person who facilitates the discussion (the coordinator), and the other for the participant. For the purpose of the Framework, the participant is referred to as a ‘navigator’ as she takes charge of her own development.

The Navigator‘s Handbook lists information about the help available from local NGOs such as Shakti, Women’s Refuge, Citizens Advice Bureau or ACE organisations like E Tu Whānau which has an inclusive kaupapa, providing programmes that are designed to actively support former refugees and migrants. Their self-defence course is one mentioned in the handbook as part of the ‘I Feel Safe’ section.

During the programme, the women will visit a local marae. They create their own pepeha so they can introduce themselves in Māori, sharing their connections to people and places that are important to them.

Pancha Narayanan, MNZ National President says that the Framework “has been shaped by women and their experience of New Zealand both as long term Kiwis and newcomers. It is a timely resource for all New Zealanders.”