|Pacific Media Watch|
A de facto gender primer on how to succeed
Title -- 5262 REVIEW: A de facto gender primer on how to succeed
Date -- 17 January 2008
Byline -- None
Origin -- Pacific Media Watch
Source -- Pacific Media Centre 16/1/08
Copyright - PMC
Status -- Unabridged
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REVIEW: A DE FACTO GENDER PRIMER ON HOW TO SUCCEED
Pasifika Women: Our stories in New Zealand, by Sandra Kailahi. Auckland: Reed.
Reviewed by Julie Middleton
AUCKLAND (PMC/Pacific Media Watch): Pasifika women are the backbones of their communities in the islands and in New Zealand. But so often, in New Zealand as in their homelands, their contributions and opinions have been invisible or under-documented.
Part of this is the good old gender hierarchy that can act to confer lesser status on Pacific women than Pacific men; part of it is the self-effacement of Pacific women. Another part is a palagi-centred media, and a publishing industry which has been slow to understand the value of such a book and the potential size of its market.
The 2006 Census told us that 265,974 people identified with the Pacific peoples ethnic group - 6.9 per cent of the total New Zealand population. They need to see more of themselves and their role models as does the rest of New Zealand.
This book, Pasifika Women, then, is welcome. The author, New Zealand-born television journalist Sandra Kailahi, who describes herself as being of Tongan and New Zealand descent, is a former Fair Go staffer who previously worked for Tagata Pasifika at Television New Zealand. This is her first book.
With the assistance of a $3000 Creative New Zealand grant, the Aucklander has profiled 20 Pasifika women with public status, and in doing so goes a good way towards documenting Pacific womens contribution to New Zealand life.
Her subjects range from the well-known, such as the Minister of Pacific Affairs, Luamanuvao Winnie Laban, to less high-profile women such as Tofilau Esther Tofilau, the worlds only Pacific Island woman bodybuilding judge. Some of them have always had New Zealand passports; some migrated.
Their first-person, often candid accounts roam from childhood to the present, from the private sphere to public life, and place emphasis on the input of parents and wider family - Kailahi identifies parents and village links at the top of each chapter.
The interviewees outline how they attained their success, and between them highlight and comment on a range of important issues affecting Pacific women here and in the islands.
These include practical and cultural issues adapting to different ways of life; the low numbers of Pacific women in decision-making; the influence of religion; racism; gender equality and the roles of men and women; maintaining cultural traditions far from home, and how notions of status in Pacific society affects the way people communicate.
This books orientation towards achievers makes it something of a de facto primer on how to succeed, and this is reinforced by the separate boxing of a pithy quote as well as a piece of advice. Here is Aliitasi Foleni Dutt, New Zealands top heavyweight boxer:
I know some people think I shouldnt be boxing because its wrong for women, let alone a Samoan woman, to box. I feel sorry for them and my heart goes out to them they cant see out of the box they are living in. If only they could see what they can achieve and not what they cant.
There are also rare chances to find out about those whose public lives require distance for example, Judge Ida Malosi, like all judges, keeps a low public profile so getting her into this book is a coup for Kailahi.
That said, the book does not take a rigorously journalistic approach. The questions Kailahi has posed can only be surmised, and she has avoided some of the obvious (and tough) ones.
The problem with this first-person biographical take without third-person commentary to fill the gaps allows any moa in the room to be skirted, and this tends to leave the reader with the frustrating sense that the picture is incomplete.
You can infer that Kailahi has had to draw a delicate balance between reader interest in the complete story and the subjects right not to unearth painful memories or be put in a position where they might refuse to participate.
For example, Judge Malosi discusses her happy marriage (so in love after 25 years) without naming her husband. He is former Senior Sergeant Anthony Solomona, whose assault conviction in 2005 led to an inquiry into so-called sick police culture. (Solomona was also the person about whom disgraced Herald on Sunday journalist John Manukia fabricated interviews the same year).
A journalistic approach would have ensured that these facts were acknowledged, even briefly, and, ideally, would have encouraged some explanation of how Judge Malosi dealt with the upheaval the issues must have caused.
In another example, the fascinating and candid Rev Feiloaigamatausala Janette Taulealeausumai who talks bravely and openly about her experience of mental ill-health talks subsequently about some bad experiences I had endured when I was a young woman in the church which caused her flashbacks and trauma.
She says that those experiences and her ill-health are linked - and that she is fine now - but there is no indication as to whether the author of these experiences has been dealt with. I finished her story worrying that maybe something remained unresolved.
On the publishing side, Reeds editors have been disappointingly sloppy, allowing all sorts of spelling, grammatical and factual errors to make it to print. This undermines the books credibility and that of Reed. (It is, however, not the only publisher that can plead guilty here; half-hearted editing seems to have become a trend in New Zealand.)
For example, Matafetu Togakilo Smith, a weaver, talks about going to the 1999 South Pacific Arts Festival in Noumea. The festival was actually in 2000 (it happens every four years) and its proper name is the Festival of Pacific Arts.
In the next sentence, someone talks about the Northern Territories in Australia (should be Territory). Someone has a breach baby, and another talks about setting precedence.
The images in the book are black-and-white portraits by Elam graduate Eimi Tamua the key here has been strong and simple settings and family photos. The book also includes a short but useful glossary of common words in Maori and Pacific Island languages used throughout the book.
Overall, Pasifika Women is an interesting, personable and valuable documentation of the achievements of New Zealands high-achieving Pacific women. The hope now is that it is widely read.
* Julie Middleton is an Auckland journalist and was formerly the advocacy and communication officer for the Human Development Programme at the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), based in New Caledonia.
PACIFIC MEDIA WATCH is an independent, non-profit, non-government organisation comprising journalists, lawyers, editors and other media workers, dedicated to examining issues of ethics, accountability, censorship, media freedom and media ownership in the Pacific region. It is now published by the Pacific Media Centre at New Zealand's AUT University. Launched in October 1996, it has links with the Journalism Programme at the University of the South Pacific, Journalism Studies at the University of PNG (UPNG) and the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism (ACIJ), Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand. The website is hosted by the Association of Progressive Communications (APC).
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