Friday, 4 December 2015

Love Life Fono: Conversation, community and diversity

The Love Life Fono kicks off this evening, marking it’s 10th anniversary of celebrating, supporting and advocating for gender and sexually diverse Pacific communities in New Zealand and the broader Pacific region. We chat to member of the organising committee, Tim Baice, about his Love Life Fono journey and the importance of community discussion.
“I first heard of the Love Life Fono in 2013 through some colleagues and was immediately drawn by the theme 'Voices of the Third Spirit' which to me presented a unique opportunity to meet with other members of the Rainbow Pacific community, and to listen to their stories and share our experiences,” says Tim who has been responsible for the International strand and the Education strand of the workshops which take place on Friday.

Liaising with participants from across the region who are engaged in similar advocacy work from a variety of organisations Tim says he has been deliberate in attempting to connect what is currently happening across the region to what is a currently happening in New Zealand. “In particular connecting to current discussions on the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals across the world.”

Tim says Love life Fono provides an opportunity for a conversation that would otherwise take place in isolated spaces and different silos. “This is a bringing together of a diverse and often misunderstood members of the Rainbow Pacific community, wherever they may or may not find themselves on the LGBTQUI spectrum or alternatively on the MVPAFF.

“We know that Pacific youth have the highest rates of youth suicide and often issues of identity (whether cultural, gender or sex/sexuality) are often attributed causes. 

“The Fono is a space where health/education/social sector organisations focused on raising awareness, and supporting Rainbow Pacific people's which creates a safe and enabling space for younger members to have access to key health/ sexual health/social services. Because of the vastness of the community the Fono is a great example of the intergenerational equity as well as intergender solidarity, where young people are mentored by older peers, and older peers learn and are in touch with the younger generations within the rainbow Pacific community.” 

With a significant amount of thinking and planning going into the development of the Love life Fono, Tim says that the great thing about the organising committee is that they are all from different professional and community backgrounds. 

“What unites us are our Pacific cultures and our common commitment to supporting and advancing our communities,” he says.

“Our working contributions to this Fono have been informed by these diverse professional and community backgrounds, for example in negotiating the theme/ programme for this year's Fono we brainstormed as an organising committee and then allowed community members through the various organisations we are associated with to provide feedback. In addition, a Cultural Custodians Council was formed comprised of senior Pacific community leaders who have had previous involvement in the Fono, or are working in spaces directly linked to this work such as the Member of Parliament for Manurewa Ms Louisa Wall, and Siaosi Mulipola of Village Collective. 

“The organising committee met with the CCC in late October, and the feedback received on our ideas was generally positive, and focused specifically on how we could draw some actionable outcome statements at the end of the Fono, something the Committee had already pre-empted.”

While Tim acknowledges community support as instrumental to the work done by the committee he says it is also important to note that communities are diverse and varied. “They are not homogenous social groupings and this is important to understand when working across different sectors/ and groupings within communities.

“Families, Schools, Churches etc that make up ones local community are important sties for individuals to navigate and negotiate their identities and roles, and it is important that we continue to ensure that these spaces are safe and empowering for them.”

Tim says across the Pacific region there are common areas that need to be highlighted and discussed in relation to LGBTI people’s rights and well-being.

“Discrimination and access in the spaces of employment and education and the need to create safe and empowering spaces is important,” he says. “For our trans community this has been a particular issue, but more broadly in schools being able to create safe, accepting and empowering environments which requires us all to continue working with schools, churches and families.

“For others, law reform is needed in Pacific countries where same sex relationships and self identifying as gay is still illegal.” 

He says it is important to highlight "the freedom and power of being able to self identify."

Published online 3 December 2015 via:

Thursday, 26 November 2015

No woman no cry

On reflecting on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women which is today, I think back about Fatima Tupa'i - a young mother in Samoa who was beaten to death by her husband while she slept next to her two kids. There are too many tragic stories like this in our small region and it must stop!
Recently I listened to a young North Korean woman, Yeonmi Park who spoke at the recent One Young World Summit in Thailand, but it was speech at the Summit in Dublin 2014 that captured the worlds heart and highlights why in this day and age we require the observation of this day. Internationally observed days like the day for the Elimination of Violence against women provide us all with an opportunity to critically reflect on our own lives, but more importantly to look outside that box and to see and understand how others live and experience theirs. Yeonmi literally had the audience in tears with harrowing tales of life under the repressive North Korean regime and her perilous escape to freedom.
Here she speaks about being brainwashed; of seeing executions; of starving; of having to watch her mother being raped; of burying her father on her own at just 14; and of threatening to kill herself rather than allow Mongolian soldiers to send her back to North Korea.
I cannot even begin to imagine or fathom what these experiences must of been like, and so on this day and on every other day I will continue to acknowledge and salute her strength and resilience, as a symbol of hope and a beacon of light for all other women across the world who find themselves in similar circumstances. Yeonmi is a survivor.
I pay tribute to and pray for those who died in vain; and those who will continue to lose their lives in vain unless we as a global community tackle this issue of addressing and eliminating all forms of violence against woman. I hope we all pause to reflect on this during this years White Ribbon Campaign.

Monday, 9 November 2015

The poverty blame game that we cannot afford to continue

My heart sank when I read an illustrious Professor in Samoa joined the ranks of those who continue to blame the poor for their poverty. This negative - lens approach is not only disempowering, but also contributes  to a greater misunderstanding about the multidimensional nature of poverty, and to the inflation of some of the worst myths and stereotypes we have about our own people (simply lazy, that's why they are poor) hampering any genuine attempts to greater understand this in critical depth, also undermining  attempts  to mobilize social support in initiating change within our communities.
In reading this article I wasn't fully sure what point Professor Viali was trying to make. In his attempt to provide a level headed analysis of the current situation of 'poverty' in Samoa, he leaves out some fundamental points about the nature of poverty which leaves room for misinterpretation.

“Everyone cannot be rich, so we need the poor in society to continue to drive social policy of our country, we need that.
“When there is no poverty we suffer because that part of us that requires giving to the poor is missing. “Giving and feeding the poor is absolutely necessary for our psyche.”

What the Professor should have pointed out is that under capitalist neoliberalism this assertion that societies need people to remain as the underclass is true. Capitalism is predisposed to function successfully where there is an underclass to support and buttress the wealth of the rich. That is fundamentally how it works. This would probably be a somewhat accurate depiction of Samoa given the current economic modus operandi..... however I think it is somewhat misleading to then say traditional models of kinship and subsistence farming are the answers to addressing poverty; these are after all the traditional social institutions which have been compromised thanks to the hand of the free market and ongoing globalization.

Indeed, in responding to claims of poverty most Pacific people will tell you that our cultures and societies had never heard of such a thing, and that poverty is the antithesis of how our societies and social relationships were traditionally structured and organised. This well rehearsed notion which figures in many a study about Poverty in the Pacific is at times over romanticized, and is still being used to justify our social stances against people who we consider to be lazy, and as a consequence of that laziness, poor. "Giving and feeding" are core aspects of the reciprocal  nature our culture, but I disagree with the assertion that people need to be poor so we can feel better about ourselves. This I believe to be the remnants of our colonial past, indoctrinated by the church and then adopted uncritically within our cultures.

Professor Viali does make a couple of claims that most people will agree with; the problematic nature in which development projects/assistance are structured and that of the prevalence of relative poverty vs absolute poverty in Samoa (great to read that the Ombudsman's office is currently working on collecting extensive data on all forms of poverty in Samoa).

However, the article also fails to elaborate on this concept of 'relative poverty' - the discussion should of then moved on to consider the implications of 'income inequality' in Samoa as the instigator of relative poverty, highlighting that the trickle down effects of neoliberal economics and development have failed; to trickle down that is with wealth largely concentrated  within the hands of a select few. But this is the problematic nature of this concept of 'relative poverty' being assessed within the context of the economic reality and the social and cultural perceptions of poverty on Samoa. Those who 'have' lament the plight of the 'have-nots' with little understanding (and perhaps little care) about the impact of structural (economic, cultural,  historical) forces and how these shape the unequal playing field we all must operate within and negotiate.

Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump recently said in an interview that he had a hard time growing up when his father gave him a small loan of US $1 Million to begin his business. In his small world (and mind) of the ridiculously wealthy, that amount of money is probably considered small, but it just goes to show how we as humans can manipulate words and their meanings to suit our individual purposes.

Edwin Tamasese recently highlighted the costs of cash crop farming and agriculture in Samoa is beyond the reach of most local farmers, who are further  disadvantaged by their lack of access to capital. Lazy we say? Parents whose children are on the streets as vendors who wish to forgo rural lifestyles to pursue urban opportunities against a system which says "you do not have a place here, where is your land and why are you not working it? "- Again we say Lazy. At the end of the day we all have an agenda. It is unfortunate however that the agenda of this rhetoric is to maintain the status quo so that 'we' can revel in our 'wealth' and ensuing powers of access, opportunity and choice, and then use this advantage to look distastefully at those who lack and are working their hardest to address this, effectively keeping people in poverty. (Downward envy much).

What gains do we make from constantly belittling and labeling people as lazy? How are we within the comfort of our own relative wealth justified to then pass judgement on others who do not enjoy the same freedoms and accessibilities in life?

We all know that communities of people who are constantly told negative things about themselves tend to internalise and adopt these identities, which then shapes wider social perceptions and thus our responses. We can achieve so much more with a positive and more understanding approach and realising our roles are not as judges upon this earth but as fellow citizens committed to a fair realization of social justice for all!!

Sunday, 14 June 2015

The Asia Pacific Greens Federation Congress

I have had such a great time at the Asia Pacific Greens Federation Congress (June 12 - 14 2015 in Wellington) meeting people from the region hearing about the fantastic advocacy work they are doing in representing their people, indigenous groups and more vulnerable groups in society as well  as the work they are doing around climate change it has been great sharing ideas and knowledge around what works.

Although I was initially disssapointed at the lack of Pacific representation at the forum I now see it as the task of the few of us that are here (myself, two  reps from Solomon Islands and one from Papua New Guinea) to reach out into our networks and to get them connected.I came to this congress a bit hesitant, thinking anything that is Asia-Pacific is largely going to be about Asia, but instead of complaining we need action to tie in the wonderful work that is currently being done across the Pacific through bodies and organisations that are not necessarily political parties. There are of course numerous benefits in working together but we must also note that there are significant differences that warrant specific, special  and regional attention and I am happy that as a result of numerous discussions, a Pacific network is now being advocated for and that the Congress do its part to reach out to groups across the Pacific - with the assistance of the few of us that are now part of the Congress.

Benefits include being part of a global network, being part of an international movement seeking to hold everyone to account on Climate change, providing a forum for networking and sharing of ideas and best practice - providing international support and recognition for local level advocacy projects, having access to the tools and knowledge needed to implement this stuff on the ground.I have had two major concerns and priorities during this congress, connecting this movement to the fantastic work and groups doing this work in the Pacific I. E. The Pacific Youth Council, Pacific National youth councils (SNYC), various NGOs and also connecting Pasifika communities to the local and global movement here in Aotearoa NZ.

I note that climate change is not everyone's number 1 breakfast topic, but it should be, and to those of us (within the Pacific community) who still this day deny that it has any relevance to inner-city, suburban 'diasporic Pasifika communities', just remember where you came from, where your parents and ancestors are from! We have a responsibility as a regional and 'global community' to care and to be accountable and do our parts and to hold our government's to account when they are not doing all that they can (hello Pacific people in NZ, AUS, USA). We,  on this side of the ocean, MUST for our brothers and sisters on the other side of the ocean, do our parts, to try our best, and to think about the Pacific as a whole - not just those of us who are (unfortunate) fortunate to live inside the diaspora. This is important in remembering that many of our elders not only left their island homes so that their children could have better lives and better access to education (somewhat questionable in some parts and no Latafale it was not to gain 'wisdom' that is any better than that accessed in the homeland) but also so that WE (yes the collective and royal we) do what we can to give back to the land and people that nurtured (and the culture) that sustains us and also to support the ongoing development of our islands/ communities and families.

There were over 21 resolutions passed at the Congress and a few of them involved the Pacific I. E the call to support West Papua's desire to join the Melenesian Spearhead Group (MSG) as a sovereign independent entity (although a bit dissapointed that the clause in which we condemn the Indonesian government's ghastly human rights record in the area had been somewhat watered down).  Another resolution condemned the government's of Australia and New Zealand and their spying on the electronic activities of SOVEREIGN countries in the Pacific in order to maintain power imbalances /status quo. Another resolution called on Australia and NZ to take more seriously their obligations to refugees via the UN Refugee Convention.

It has been wonderful sharing with like minded people passionate about the environment and social justice, and it is through opportunities like this which enable all of us to pause, reflect and to refresh and enhance our knowledge and approaches and to keep fighting the good fight.Looking forward to getting more of our 'Pasifika' warriors on board!!

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Superdiversity; a lecture delivered by our very own superwoman

Tonight, Ahmed (Mohammed Mohammed) and I attended a public lecture that the wonderful Mai Chen gave on 'Superdiversity' and the implications of 'demographic disruption' for business, social relationships and the ongoing development of New Zealand's identity as a nation.
I've raved on about Mai in the past, having attended her book launch 'the Public Law Tool Box' in 2014, the work she did with the Bilingual Leo in petitioning parliament to have Pasifika Languages recognised, with ample resourcing in early childhood education. Today I also learnt about the fantastic work she does as the chair NZ Asian Leaders (could a Pasifika model ever work? - which I pondered as I marvelled at what this woman has achieved over her 30 year career in law).
Anyways, I am still trying to process what I heard tonight. Mai's intellect and passion for her work is phenomenal and she said a lot of things that got me thinking about identity, space, place and time and (super) diversity in this country and how NZ's social and financial success really depends on how we nurture and enhance the 'diversity dividend' by making sure that our laws and policies and business practices reflect superdiversity in our society.
Mai will later this year be releasing a book jointly with The University of Auckland; a 'Superdiversity Stocktake', which will look at the importance of:
• Understanding that New Zealand is already a superdiverse society, and that trend will accelerate over the coming years;
• Securing the ‘diversity dividend’ by making sure that our law and policy and business practices are fit for purpose in a superdiverse society;
• Identifying the eight key law and policy and business challenges posed by superdiversity; and
• Undertaking a stocktake of our current law, policy and business settings to manage the transition to superdiversity.
She spoke a lot about 'demographic disruption' and the significant influence migrants and non Anglo Saxon communities play in this i.e. 50% of Auckland being Maori, Pacific and Asian by 2020 and the inherent challenges these communities currently/will face, and why NZ as a whole needs to respond to superdiversity to survive. She did not frame her talk using terms like 'equity' and 'social justice', and If I heard correctly she refrained from pursuing that path and preferred to appeal to peoples self interest saying - 'at the end of the day we all want to do well'.
Another thing I noticed was that she didn't mention or talk about any of the issues she highlighted from a gender perspective..... nor was gender issues/diversity a primary focus or concern in her summary.
Anyways the book is being launched at the end of the year I will keep those who are interested posted lol.
Randomly, here is a picture of the wonderful Mai. You know how you can have academic crushes - like be totally in love with someone's brain - I think this is my first lawyer crush.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Happy New Years Samoa: Congratulations

I'm fortunate to be spending New Year's in paradise. Being home at this time of year is part of the annual get away from the realities and responsibilities of work and life, and a great opportunity to relax, and catch up with friends and family.

While my friends are all outside entertaining guests (ma guests ma guests ma guests lol) I'm watching Tuilaepa's speech on TV, an address penned to reign in the New Year, to celebrate and reflect on the many achivements this small island country in the Pacific has made, and also to outline that Samoa will continue to grow, develop and prosper in the New Year by listing some very significant events taking place in Samoa in 2015.

Despite what you may feel personally about the man, Tuilaepa's leadership is formidable and has been a significant factor in Samoa's continuous evolution and development.  This isn't a "I love Tuilaepa let's all vote for him and forget the missteps he has made" post. No. Rather it is an opportunity to reflect and celebrate the country's collective efforts and to be creative with our thinking in developing solutions to addressing both existing and new challenges and opportunities.

In the scheme of things, and on the scale of the international stage, the achievements of this small island developing state deserves recognition; real achievements which I feel are often overlooked, poorly understood or fail to involve some form of sports or entertainment.

Samoa's graduation from the United Nations list of Least Developed Countries (LDC) to Middle Income Country took place with little fanfare but deserves much congratulations. It hearlds in a series of new and exciting opporrunities but also challenges and it will be interesting to see how Samoa and the people of Samoa work to meet these.

Samoa also took on the mammoth task of hosting the Third International Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) Conference, the first time a major international conference of this kind was hosted by a Pacific country. You don't need to look far to see what the international community thought of Samoa's role as host.

I want to take this opportunity to thank and acknowledge all those who have worked hard and continue to work to develop our beautiful homeland.

Manuia le tausaga fou.

Check out his speech here.