Packing myself up proved a difficult task – not in the least because I was short on necessary amenities, like body wash, and conditioner bars, night serums, lotions; the works, really – but rather, because I was in the sad position of having to forsake some of my beloved chapter books for the long haul ahead. When one is strapped for space (and time, as is perpetually my case these days it seems) it pays to be tactical in what you carry with you. Some things really are better left behind. This is a useful dictum, I think, that may be well applied to many areas in life. This did mean, however, that I had to very regretfully lay the three unread chapter books back on my bedside table, for there was absolutely no way I could justify bringing an entire compendium along with me half way across the world. To an official UN event, at that! I was going to be up to my neck in everything but leisurely reading – and for good reason too.
The past few weeks in the lead up to our delegation’s departure has been nothing short of exciting and unreal: constituting a flurry of errand-running, making the acquaintance of some brilliant and clued-on women who really do shine the way you imagine superstars do, attending the HRC's CEDAW consultation, and, finally, seeing my affairs for the trip in order. The entire process has been edifying to say the least, from close korero with some truly influential changemakers working in the field of gender and development, to reflecting on our own moral positioning in a world stratified by difference. My privilege is not absent to me, and on this count, I expect prospects for learning and self-reflection to continue through not just the month ahead, but well beyond it. Most resoundingly, the last few weeks have stirred in me a heightened sense of responsibility as far as my advocacy is concerned – I don’t plan on resting on my laurels.
It has been immensely humbling to recognise that my selection is not insignificant. My mother made sure to relay to me just how fortunate I am as a millennial to have somehow sidled my way into a position that sees me off to one of the most influential intergovernmental decision-making bodies for humanitarian rights globally – a place where many community activists and individuals who have done the necessary grassroots work on ground for years would clamour to be part of. I’m infinitely thankful, but I can’t allow myself to be apologetic (I think women spend enough time feeling that way as is). Instead, I’m resolved to bring something back to the communities I work in – and inject as much of what I learn into some very earnest research and practice.
Despite New Zealand’s ever-burgeoning achievements in the field of social progress where gender parity is concerned, we remain critically inattentive of the gendered impacts of poverty in the face of growing economic inequity. The working poor. Pay equity. Domestic violence. Sexual violence. Intergenerational trauma. Institutional racism. There’s a confluence of negative parameters that translate into very real suffering for so many women in our country. Provisions for health, education and improvements to general quality of life remain hugely influenced by socio-economic conditions; research also indicates that it is minority communities, particularly Māori and Pasifika women, who are disproportionately affected by issues including negative health outcomes relative to the rest of the population. Given the opportunity for productive reform, it is important that government bodies and community stakeholders alike work directly with grassroots organisations in bringing better, holistic provisions to at-risk communities – and that is the change I want to be part of.
I think of my mother and her placard touting, relentlessly critical feminist cadre that came before us and made a nefarious name for themselves, all in the hope that things would be marginally better for their daughters. I look to my mum now and I see someone who loves talking to her plants in the garden, someone who drives excitedly for an hour each week to her Te Reo class and falls asleep in her astronomy club lectures because they go past eight and who makes batch loads of banana bread every week without egg because I don’t eat egg and still gets up in the morning to go to work and lend an ear to countless young women like myself because that’s her job. And a lot of the time I see someone who is very tired. I don’t think it’s just her. It’s about time our generation take up the mantle.
In some way, I imagine this trip to be part of a series of beginnings, like an anthology of sorts. And so, I endeavour to keep my head up (and out of my books).
So long Mrs. Dalloway. Arundhati Roy, who brought reams of literary nostalgia to my diasporic heart – goodbye. Roxanne Gay, with your wry, gallows humour and wit; I leave you on the table, for now. Female authorship has for a large part of history been one of the most potent means by which we have been able to speak our experiences to the world. There has always been an element of danger to how women have sought to articulate their very real traumas, desires, longings – fundamental interactions within the world and within themselves – and yet, despite all odds (and to our credit), our triumphs do remain immortalised in text. But not always.
And so it seems I’m leaving my chapter books on my bedside table. But I’ve been tactical, I have something else packed neatly away in my carry-on – an unlined notebook for the journey onward.
All posts by Institute delegates reflect their own thoughts, opinions and experiences