• Fri, 24, May, 2019 - 5:00:AM

How Kiwi migrant women reconcile feminism with their cultural values

Seven women against a wall / Mentatdgt /

People from just about everywhere have come to call New Zealand home. Adjusting to their new environment, immigrants often adopt Kiwi lingo, mannerisms and humour. Being a Kiwi adds to their identity, and many immigrants are keen to engage with all of our various weird and wonderful Kiwi-isms.

Sadly, the feminist ideas upheld by mainstream culture in Western countries like New Zealand are harder to integrate into the households of some immigrant families. Daughters of immigrants often have to reconcile the more liberal ideas we encounter in school and the media, with the traditional values which have been imparted to us growing up.

I spoke with women who grew up biculturally, as Kiwis and as immigrants, about their experiences with feminism, tradition and their hopes for the future.

What were your experiences growing up as a migrant woman in New Zealand?

It was wonderful. My upbringing made me the empathetic, independent woman I am today. Indian culture is vibrant and welcoming, albeit patriarchal. There were many moments growing up I was told I couldn’t do things because of my gender. I could hardly go out with my friends because of the danger posed to women, but my male cousins were encouraged to stay out late while I was stuck in my room.

— Jasmin, Indian

My mom tried to raise me the Samoan way but her perspective almost always clashed with mine. I rejected her view on life and culture. The idea of going from one person’s house, to another person’s house without ever experiencing life on my own — independently, learning self-reliance — seems so scary.

— Rosie, Samoan

I was one of the few Asians in my primary. At home, I started to become more ‘westernised’ and this created some conflict between who I was and how my family approached me. I felt stupid about losing fluency in Thai, and then became so insecure that I didn’t speak it at all. This created a barrier not only between myself and my culture, but between myself and my family members, so I grew up with a lot of space.

— Janny, Thai

Growing up in a Chinese family is similar to a Western one. You support and care for one another and want the best for your loved ones. I’d say it’s how Chinese parents express this, informed by their culture, that have caused some challenges. They place a lot of importance on academic achievement over most other things. I used to hate that. However, now that I’m older, I realise that they just wanted me to get the best out of life.

— Linda, Chinese

What does your culture expect of women?

Thai women have more expectations placed on them, like being able to top their class, while being good with children, while having domestic skills. Men, on the other hand, just have to top the class, without pressures to start a family.

— Janny

Women are expected to abandon their ambitions, drop out of school and take care of the household until they are ready to be married away to a man they would meet the day of the wedding. I want education, employment and marriage to a person I love.

— Jasmin

Almost my entire life, I’ve been getting what I call “princess lessons” from my mom. I was told to talk softly, not laugh too much or too loudly. Always wear a lavalava around the men because it’s disrespectful to show them your legs (even if you’re wearing long, baggy pants.) The idea that women have to be modest and sweet and silent 24/7 seems so outdated and ridiculous and quite frankly, insulting to an individual.

— Rosie

What, if anything, do you think needs to change about raising daughters within your culture?

The mindset where girls have to live their lives by a predetermined script, given to them by closed-minded people who adhere to tradition, needs to change. Daughters in a Samoan household should be encouraged to reach for whatever their dreams and passions are instead of being restricted, kept inside and told to be quiet.

— Rosie

The double standard surrounding exploring relationships and sexuality for boys and girls needs to stop. The pressure for women to get married before an ‘expiry date’ can go, too.

— Linda

When teaching daughters (and sons) domestic skills there’s no need to add “because you’re a girl” and other gendered remarks. I’d like to see more separation between tradition and raising children. It’s valuable, but we need to progress beyond it.

— Janny

Stop begging men to marry their daughters by giving them dowry. Stop sending women away when they get married. Stop equating a woman’s marriageability to her age. Dismissing unmarried women’s achievements needs to change. A lot needs to change.

— Jasmin

What makes you proud of women of your culture?

Women in China contribute equally in the workplace, despite facing discrimination. China has more than half of the world’s self-made female billionaires.

— Linda

There’s a recent movement of strong, independent, outspoken Samoan women. It’s celebrities, people in my community, women who are thriving in the performing arts industry. They have challenged the status quo for women in Samoan culture.

— Rosie

I love that women in Indian folklore and history are displayed as strong female figures like Mai Bhago and Kali, a Hindu goddess. Considering that they were inspired by the women of their time, it is devastating to see that Indian women aren’t respected as much as these icons. What makes women different now?

— Jasmin

Do you have a message for the women in your lives?

Don’t be taken in by what is expected of you. Hold onto the values that make you feel proud.

— Janny

I’d like say to my mother that times have changed and I want to forge my own path. I’d like to say to my sister that I’m so proud of the woman she is growing into.

— Linda

To my daughter: I hope that as you grow up your voice isn’t silenced, your opinions stay yours and that you remain strong. Understand the importance of freedom and hold onto yours.

— Rosie

You are not and will never be a burden.

— Jasmin


  • Culture /
  • Immigration /
  • Identity /
  • Tradition /
  • Diversity /
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