AUCKLAND (Pacific Media Watch): A groundbreaking symposium on intersectionality has focused on issues of importance in the Pacific, including access to land by women in Samoa and Tonga; the compounded oppression faced by disabled, Māori gay women and the identity discourses of Filipino people living in New Zealand.
The "Intersectionality revisited: Moving beyond the contours of race, class and gender" conference at AUT University was hosted by the Pacific academic staff team, staff in the School of Social Sciences and Public Policy and the Pacific Media Centre.
It was organised by Dr Camille Nakhid, a PMC advisory board board member and an associate professor in AUT's social sciences school.
Intersectionality is a concept often used in critical theories to describe the ways in which oppressive institutions (racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, xenophobia, classism and others) are interconnected and cannot be examined separately from one another.
The academy in New Zealand is white-dominated but the symposium refreshingly featured a diverse range of speakers of colour and Pasifika and Black African female chair people.
Dr Huhana Hickey, a research fellow in Taupua Waiora Centre for Māori Health Research at AUT University, discussed the intersection of disability with class, gender, ethnicity, race, religion, age and sexual orientation.
She proposed that all research conducted must take intersectionality into account.
While women with disabilities have long been viewed as belonging to the two marginalised identities of women and people with disabilities, there were many in the region who identified with yet more marginalised identities, such as Māori, Aboriginal, or lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI).
"Discrimination on the grounds of disability alone is an issue. However, when one takes into account the other identities, then the discrimination becomes compounded by those other identities that in themselves evoke their own form of discrimination and marginalising experiences," Dr Hickey said.
"If you are a woman, you can't just say that's a single concept. That is not homogenous. It is more than inequity, it is actually about the diversity within the diversity that exists.
"We cannot exclude it from anything. When we look at research, we've got to look at how we frame it in the most diverse way we can to get the greatest voices of the multiple marginalised identities" she added, saying this was the only way to get good quality research.
"I have seen discrimination since babyhood but it doesn’t mean I can't celebrate who I am - every aspect of my identity seems to be discriminated against. We have got to address the multigenerational impact of what colonisation did.The whole purpose of doing studies and identifying marginalisation and oppression is about changing it," Dr Hickey said.
PhD candidate Alwin C. Aguirre is investigating intersectionality in the identity discourses of Filipinos in New Zealand.
A self-described "temporary Filipino migrant", Aguirre had found that Filipino migrants in New Zealand were caught "in the middle" or in between periods in time, cultures, their former status and their new status.
Aguirre's PhD also focuses on the construction of the image of the "ideal immigrant" as portrayed by state agencies such as Immigration New Zealand in their literature, and he interviewed Filipino migrants to find out what they thought of this "idealised immigrant".
Although Aguirre's findings are not available yet, he found varied and diverse experiences of "uprooting, belonging and attachment".
He also discovered that being caught "in between" allowed his interviewees more room for contemplation of the intersectionalities in their own identities, including the new identity of being "second class citizens" in New Zealand.
PhD candidate Karanina Sumeo of AUT spoke on the field research she had conducted with women and third gender in Samoa and Tonga on rights and access to lands in urban settings.
"For women in Tonga, owning land is a dream," she said, explaining that all land in Tonga belonged to the King and there were prescribed hereditary rights which stipulated that the first born male child inherited the land as an individual title.
In both countries, women move to their husband's land when they marry and if the husband then finds another wife, the women can be left landless.
In Samoa, 80 percent of the land is customary land-owned by the people and there are no no gender specific allocation of rights to land in Samoa so everyone has equal rights to customary land, Sumeo added.
However, land rights are part of chiefly titles and sisters will often refer titles to brothers. Also, government does not have much land in the urban areas to grant to people who need it.
"Customary land represents food security, income, collateral, sovereignty, identity and place for settlement. Peoples' wellbeing, families, communities and security are threatened when rights and access to their land and other natural resources are lost or at risk," she said.
Sumeo said the Tongan Royal Commission on land tenure had already made recommendations to make inheritors rights more equal between male and female but to enact this would require agreement from the nobility.
"It is difficult to see how someone would give up power," she told Pacific Media Watch.
Giving women equal rights to land in Tonga is currently one of the barriers to that country being able to ratify the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
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