Tag Archives: Multiculturalism

Apropos of agency

Cross posted

anjum has been writing about agency with respect to Muslim women in particular, but also in respect of all women in minority ethnic groups: We’re quite capable of speaking for ourselves, imperial feminism, dodging bullets. Apropos of that, here is a challenge I’ve given my students, something which seems to have rattled some of them a little, especially those of them who felt that we (whoever “we” is) ought to be very worried about the various forms of veiling that many Muslim women wear, and should be doing something about it.

Turn it around, I say to them. Imagine what a newcomer to Australia or New Zealand, or indeed any other Western nation, might say about the practices we force on women here. Women have to get the hair waxed off their legs, they must wear make-up and straighten their hair, when they’re at work they have to wear shoes that make their feet ache and can result in long term damage to their legs and hips, and there are some foods they’re not supposed to eat, so that they can keep their weight down. Sure, they can “choose” not to do these things, but if they don’t, then they will be criticised, sometimes quite severely. There are no formal rules about these practices, but all the women understand that this is what they must do, and if they don’t, they will pay the price.

Then I say to them, how would you feel if the newcomer decides that she will do her best to rescue Western women, to work hard to liberate Western women from these practices, because it’s clear that they need rescuing.

I’ve had a few stunned silences in my tutorials when I’ve put it that way. And in other places. Including in myself.

Speaking on the marae

In a couple of places, I’ve said that women are banned from speaking on some marae. I was wrong. I’m sorry for having said this.

In a comment on my previous post, He Uri o Nanakia very gently pointed out that I was wrong, and took the time to explain some of the customs around who speaks when and where on marae. I’m very sorry to have been saying something that is wrong, and sorry that I didn’t take the time to get it right before leaping into print.

I’ve copied the comment here.


Under Māori tikanga, women are not banned from speaking on the marae.

Exactly what you mean when you say marae is possibly an issue here but I will take it that you mean the wharenui (‘meeting house’) itself or the marae ātea (the area in front of the wharenui where the whai kōrero happens in most areas). The term marae can and often does refer to the whole complex but I’m assuming that you don’t think that women are banned from speaking at all, anywhere on the marae complex.

On most (but by no means all) marae, women do not perform the whai kōrero (formal speeches) within the ceremony of the pōwhiri (ritual welcome). During a pōwhiri the whai kōrero is done either on the marae ātea or inside the wharenui. When there is no pōwhiri in progress, there is no restriction on who may speak on the marae in these areas. (That is to say, no default restriction, depending on what is happening there may be restrictions on who may speak based on a range of issues such as, specific expertise or professional role.)

Within the ceremony of the pōwhiri the role that is performed almost exclusively by women is the karanga. This is the call between the tangata whenua (hosts) and the manuhiri (guests). If there is no body who can perform the karanga the pōwhiri cannot go ahead. It is a crucial element of the ritual. In modern times the karanga is usually quite short but it is entirely possible for the karanga to be as long and have as much linguistic content as the whai kōrero. In addition to the karanga, women may interject to show support or disagreement during the whai kōrero of their speaker. They may also cut the speaker off entirely if they wish make a strong statement that they do not support the speech.

The way these customs are practiced varies from marae to marae.
Whether of not the customs of the pōwhiri are discriminatory or sexist is a complicated discussion and as you say, one to be had within Māoridom, not ‘about’ Māoridom.

However, stating that women are prohibited from speaking on the marare is incorrect and I speculate that this statement is likely to have offended and disappointed some people. Misconceptions like this one can make it difficult for some Māori women to engage with what as seen as the Pākehā feminist dialogue.


Thank you, He Uri o Nanakia, for your comment, and for the time you took to explain the matter to me.

Me te mihi nui


Why were Maori excluded?

I visited the South Australian Migration Museum recently (a school holiday trip with the girls). There were some fascinating exhibits, including one about the 1903 Naturalisation Act in Australia, which of course, functioned to keep “undesirables” out of the great white nation.

The Act has some rules about who may, or may not, become naturalised citizens of Australia. The people who could become citizens included:

A person resident in the Commonwealth, not being a British subject, and not being an Aboriginal native of Asia, Africa, or the Islands of the Pacific, excepting New Zealand, who intends to settle in the Commonwealth…

Emphasis mine.

So why were Maori acceptable? I had a dig around on google, and the Australian Federal parliament site, but I couldn’t find anything. It would be interesting to know the reasoning of the framers of the Act. I speculate that it may be because Maori were already sitting in the New Zealand parliament, but I don’t know. Does anyone have any idea?

Breaking my heart too

A friend of mine wrote his doctoral thesis here in Australia. He made a promise to some of the people who talked to him and gave him their stories. When he was over here a few days ago, he kept that promise.

He has written a post about it, and it is heart breaking. Most of my New Zealand readers will already have seen his post – it’s up on one of the big group blogs there. It’s also on his own blog, and I’m hoping that some of my Australian readers will go and read the story there.

That long and winding road

So! What about that racism, then?

Benedict has issued some new mortal sins. Being a not so good convent girl, and regarding the seven deadly sins more as a list to be worked through than activities that would imperil my eternal soul (not that I think I have one, anyway), I was intrigued to see what he proposed to add. Could I have some more fun?

Alas, no. It’s no longer just lust, gluttony, avarice, sloth, anger, envy and pride; now we have some new sins:
– environmental pollution
– genetic manipulation
– accumulating excessive wealth
– inflicting poverty
– drug trafficking and consumption
– morally debatable experiments
– violations of fundamental rights of human nature

Whatever. Personally, I’m only involved in a few of those, and then only because I happen to live in a wealthy Western liberal democracy, and through the machinations of a market society, I am inevitably complicit in at least some of them.

There’s been plenty of commentary on them around the web, so I thought I would add my bit too. To those last two sins.

They’re just fundamentally incoherent. “Morally debatable” experiments? WTF does he mean by that? Just being morally debatable doesn’t make something morally wrong. Benedict, or his advisors, or his PR flunkeys, is engaging in a neat little dodge here. It’s clear that morally bad experiments are sinful (if you believe in sin, that is). That’s just what a sin is – something that is morally bad. And a morally good experiment is clearly not sinful. In between, we have to make judgements. These are not easy judgements to make – those in-between experiments are tricky. But according to the Vatican chief honcho, if something is dubious, it’s bad. No ifs, not buts, no maybes. If you can argue about its moral worth, it must be bad.

The clear message – DON’T THINK FOR YOURSELF! If you have to think for yourself, it must be dubious, and therefore it’s bad.

And a violation of the fundamental rights of human nature? Sure, that might be immoral, but what exactly are the fundamental rights of human nature? In order to commit this sin, I need to know what the fundamental rights of human nature are. Very poorly defined, Mr Pope. One (meaning me) would think that if you are to go about opining on how people should live their lives, then you should at least spell out exactly what you mean.

Push it all far enough, and it turns out that the fundamental rights of human nature are not to do with human rights, like freedom from oppression, but rights of human nature – a different beastie. Human nature is DNA – genetic manipulation is impermissible. Benedict slips into the naturalistic fallacy, beloved of environmentalists everywhere – if it’s “natural”, it must be good. (Quick- think of five counter examples before lunch!)

Nothing about real human rights, like freedom from oppression. That’s real sin, through action, or inaction, denying the fundamental equal moral worth of every human being. Of course, Benedict couldn’t consider adding sexism to his list of mortal sins – the Catholic Church is far too involved in oppressing women to consider that it might be sinful to deny them access to contraception. Nor could he consider that covering up paedophilia might be just as bad as engaging in paedophile rape of children. Far better to wuss around with weasel words about it being a stain which has “even infected the clergy itself” (see the Times online article).

But he might just have made a bit of an effort with racism. Unless of course, he thinks that the Church is racist too, so he better not name that as a sin.

I know, from the inside, that sexism is pervasive in contemporary Western societies. And so too is racism.

And there’s been a simply stunning example of it in Australia in the last few days. The Haven Backpackers Resort Hotel, in Alice Springs, asked a group of Aboriginal women and their children to leave, because of their skin colour.

They checked into the Haven Backpackers resort, but a short time later the manager told them that guests already staying there had complained of being scared.

The group included several young mothers and a three-month-old baby. Most were young leaders, chosen specially for their standing in the Yuendumu community.

The resort manager told Bethany Langdon from the Yuendumu Young Leaders program the group would have to leave.

That’s right. Aboriginal women and children were asked to leave a hotel because they were Aboriginal.

It’s shocking, and disheartening, and utterly banal. It’s the ordinary everyday racism that black people in Western liberal democracies face, everywhere and everyday. And it’s a sin.

The Hoydens have asked people to blog about this, so that in future, if tourists search or google the Haven Backpackers Resort Hotel in Alice Springs, they will find this story, and know that the Haven Backpackers Resort Hotel in Alice Springs is racist.

If you too have a blog, perhaps you might care to do the same.

A day to remember

Many years ago, when I was four or five, my parents got my brothers and me up to watch one of the lunar missions returning to earth, on what was then our very new and exciting black and white TV. I can recall shots of the sea, and not much more. I think they were live shots, but my memory could be playing me false here – it could be that film was flown out to New Zealand and then shown on TV. But in that case, I can’t think why Mum and Dad would have gotten us up specially to watch it. What I do remember is the occasion, and why it was important.

Fast forward a few decades, to a different country, and a much larger colour TV (flat screen, digital, bells and whistles, and not something we had intended to get just yet, but our old TV suffered from mechanical derangement in the move over the Tasman).

Today, my husband and I got our children to watch the apology to Indigenous Australians for the Stolen Generation being read in Federal Parliament by the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd. We want our girls to remember this day, or even if they don’t remember the day itself, to remember that we got them to watch and witness when the Prime Minister, in the Federal Parliament, said “Sorry.”

Saying sorry is important. The words really do matter. Here’s why.

I wrote, months ago, about the republican account of freedom as non-domination. A free person is someone who can stand tall, who can look others in the eye, who need not constrain her actions for fear of other people’s reactions. She is a person is with standing, one who can treat with the powerful, can act without fear of unjust retribution, can take her place in the community. She is free from domination.

Freedom as non-domination is a highly social sense of freedom – a free person is one who enjoys standing within social settings. And it is an institutional sense of freedom. The republican account of freedom looks at the relationships between people, and the institutional structures that guarantee freedom. So a person is not accounted free just because of a happy coincidence; she is only free if the world is organised in such a way that she is necessarily free.

This account of freedom can be used to explain what goes on when one person commits a crime against another. Very roughly, the person who commits the crime dominates the other, remove her freedom, and constrains her actions. The offender does not see the victim as a citizen, someone who enjoys freedom as non-domination.

I know, my account here is, well, thin, when it comes to crimes like rape and murder, and it could do with a lot more explanation. If you want to follow up on this, then the book to look for is Not Just Deserts: A Republican Theory of Criminal Justice, by John Braithwaite and Philip Pettit, (OUP: 1990). But the account does work quite nicely when it comes to the treatment of Indigenous Australians. For an incredibly long time, their citizenship was formally and literally denied, and even when that was changed, the treatment of Indigenous Australians by other Australians denied that Indigenous Australians had any rights, even, at its extremes, denied that they might have any status as human beings, and certainly denied them the same sort of status as other Australian citizens. They were totally dominated, treated as being of little account, treated as being some sort of irritation on the Australian polity.

So how to start restoring the status of Aboriginal people, as full citizens, as people who can stand tall and look the other in the eye, secure and respected in their freedom?

Braithwaite and Pettit argue that where a crime has been detected, and the offender convicted, then there should be recognition, recompense and reassurance. The offender must recognise that she has offended against the victim, compromising his standing as a citizen who enjoys freedom as non-domination. She must take steps to make good the victim’s losses, through compensation or whatever other steps are thought necessary. And she must reassure the victim that the actions or circumstances which created the crime will not re-occur.

I think Australia has done a lot of hard work with recognising that a great wrong occurred. To be sure, at least some people thought they were doing the right thing when Aboriginal children were taken from their families, in what we now know as the Stolen Generation, but whatever the intent of those who devised the polices and implemented them, the fact was that a great wrong occurred. (Rather than getting into “did it / didn’t it” occur discussions here, there’s a great post and links and comments thread – Debunking Windschuttle on Larvatus Prodeo for anyone who wants to argue that there never was a stolen generation.)

Some work on recompense is starting to happen, with claims against state and territory governments. More on that in a moment. It’s the third “R” I want to concentrate on, reassurance.

The victim needs to know that she will not be vulnerable to the crime again. She needs to know, not just the the offence is recognised, and the compensation has been paid, but that it will never reoccur. That’s why the apology is so important. After all, if it was only about recognition and recompense, then in a perverse market solution, it could become okay to commit crimes, provided you paid the price afterwards. Payment rendered for goods taken. And of course, transactions can always be repeated.

That’s why standing up and saying sorry matters so very much. The apology ties the recognition and recompense together, and binds them into a reassurance that the crime will not happen again.

Of course, paying compensation reinforces the strength of the apology. It turns the words from being mere words, into a genuine and sincere acknowledgement of past wrongs, and a clear signal that all efforts will be made to ensure that such a crime will not occur again, that the victims of the crime are no longer vulnerable to domination, that they are free citizens standing tall and proud.

That means that the next steps that the Rudd government takes are very important. From the outside at least, the recent John Howard inspired incursion into Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory looks suspiciously like another version of the Stolen Generation. In addition, so far, Rudd has not talked about recompense. However, for today, that should not detract from the enormous step that has been taken with the apology. And the apology contained this important sentence:

We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.

It’s a first step.

Alas, this morning we had time only to watch the apology itself, and a little of Mr Rudd’s speech, before we had to take the girls to school. We don’t know how long we will be living in Australia – it could be a few years, or it could be forever. There’s a good chance that our girls will become Australians in substance, not just form (they all have Australian citizenship, by birth or by descent, in addition to NZ citizenship). As Australians, I think that it is important for them to know that they witnessed the moment when the leader of the nation had the courage and the integrity to say, “Sorry.”

Update over the break.
Continue reading

It only took until the 21st century

Sometimes, instead of the same old policies with different faces, elections make real changes. Like at last putting in place a leader who recognises that Aboriginal people exist, that they existed in Australia long before other people existed in Australia, and that the other people who came to Australia treated its first human inhabitants shamefully.

I plan to write something sensible about why saying sorry, as well as doing sorry, is so important on the day that the apology is formally given (Wednesday 13 February). But in the meantime, another change – for the VERY FIRST TIME, a traditional welcome to country by Indigenous elders has been held in the Australian federal Parliament.