“Kiwi food is okay for Kiwis, but it isn’t okay for us”: Special food in the perinatal period for migrant mothers

I attended the 5th International Conference on Nutrition and Nurture in Infancy and Childhood: Relational, Bio-cultural and Spatial Perspectives from Wednesday, 5 November 2014 – Friday, 7 November 2014.

Those who know me or follow my work will know that I am deeply interested in eating and thinking about food. I’m interested in how food structures our days and our lives,it nourishes and sustains us, reminds us of people, events, history, all in a mouthful.

Birthday cake
A special birthday cake, made for a surfer on his special birthday.

I’ve written elsewhere about how migrants perform identity through food preparation and consumption. I’ve also written about consumptive multiculturalism. I’m also interested in the provision of food in (monocultural) institutional contexts such as health where people are racialised by the foods that they eat and how the processes of hospitalisation strip people of their cultural and social identities and often lead people into being unable to access culturally appropriate food. This presentation brings those ideas together.

Abstract

Food, its preparation and ingestion, constitutes a source of physical, emotional, spiritual and cultural nourishment. Food structures both daily life and major life transitions, including the transition to parenthood, where food is prepared and consumed that recognises the unique status of the mother. However, the reductive focus of hospitals where efficiency, economy and a focus on nutrients dominate and where birth is viewed as a normal event can mean that there is a mismatch between the cultural and religious dietary needs of migrant mothers with the food that is available from Western instititutional environments. In this paper I outline a research study, which examined the transition to parenthood among new migrant groups in New Zealand. Based on a number of focus groups with mothers and fathers, the data were analysed using a postcolonial feminist lens and drew upon Foucauldian concepts to examine the transition to parenthood. The findings show that Asian new migrant parents construct the postnatal body as vulnerable, requiring specific kinds of foods to facilitate recovery from the trials of pregnancy and delivery and optimize long term recovery from pregnancy. This discourse of risk contrasts with the dominant discourse of birth as normal, and signals the limitations of a universal diet for all postnatal mothers, where consuming the wrong food can pose a threat to good maternal health. Paying attention to what nutrition and nurturing might mean for different cultural groups during the perinatal period can contribute to long term maternal well-being and cultural safety. Health practitioners need to understand the meanings and significance attached to specific foods and eating practices in the perinatal period. I propose that institutional arrangements become responsive to dietary needs and practices by providing facilities and resources to facilitate food preparation.

I’m hoping that the written form of the paper becomes part of an edited book about mothers and food. Fingers crossed, it’s under review at the moment.

‘This child is a planned baby’: skilled migrant fathers and reproductive decision-making

Article first published online: 13 MAY 2014  De Souza, Ruth Noreen Argie. (2014). ‘This child is a planned baby’: skilled migrant fathers and reproductive decision-making. Journal of Advanced Nursing. doi: 10.1111/jan.12448

Risk management and life planning are a feature of contemporary parenting, which enable children to be shaped into responsible citizens, who are successful and do not unduly burden the state (Shirani et al. 2012). This neoliberal project of intensive parenting and parental responsibility (typically gendered as maternal) involves child centredness and detailed knowledge of child development (Hays 1998). Simultaneously, contemporary masculinities are increasingly being situated beyond the traditional Western binary of the active home-caring mother and passive breadwinning father. Following Connell (1995), the plural word masculinities refers to the many definitions and practices of masculinity (See e.g. Archer 2001, Cleaver 2002, Finn & Henwood 2009, Haggis & Schech 2009, Walsh 2011). Broader and more inclusive repertoires of fathering emerge from diverse family practices and formations including queer/homoparental families; cohabitation; new technologies; changing domestic labour arrangements; the changing organization of childcare and growing involvement of fathers; and social policy initiatives including parental leave and family-friendly employment practices (Draper 2003).

These rapid societal changes have ushered in new forms of participatory fathering and family involvement for men in the Western world. However, the pressure to integrate traditional breadwinner and authority figure roles with contemporary demands for involvement in all aspects of the perinatal period has not been matched by reduced work pressures or the provision of active societal support and preparation (Barclay & Lupton 1999). As a result, men often feel isolated, excluded, uninformed and unable to obtain resources and support in the perinatal period placing pressure on relationships, challenging feelings of competence and requiring negotiation of competing demands (Deave & Johnson 2008). Furthermore, men have gender- specific risk factors for perinatal distress including their more limited support networks; dependence on partners for support; additional exposure to financial and work stresses; a more idealized view of pregnancy, childbirth and parent- hood stemming from a lack of exposure to contemporary models of parenting; and lastly being less keen to seek help with emotional problems (Condon et al. 2004). All of these factors are compounded by practitioners and services oriented towards mothers and babies marginalizing fathers (Deave & Johnson 2008, Lohan et al. 2013).

Babies on board: Families in detention

The rather time-worn yellow sign “Baby on Board” seen in the back window of vehicles is meant to encourage safe driving, but also is a public announcement of one’s new status as a parent (It’s also a pun referring to pregnant women commuters in London, as an incitement for commuters to offer their seats to pregnant women). In Australia, when I think of “Babies on Board” there is a poignancy and a deep and overwhelming sadness, because it evokes images of people seeking asylum via boat. The official term is “unauthorised maritime arrivals”, a dehumanising and bureaucratic term rather like the hardline policies of deterrence and detention. Abbott’s cruel “stop-the-boats” strategy ensures that maternity and infancy cannot be the celebrations they are in every culture. Mothers, babies, children and families will encounter the opposite of tender loving care at the hands of the Australian Government who will send them to detention centres in remote locations run by global companies including G4S, Serco and Transfield (See Cathy Alexanders Crikey post for more details). This outsourcing of misery costs the Australian taxpayer a load of money ($2.97 billion has been budgeted by the Federal Government (2013-2014) for detention-related services and offshore asylum seeker management while $19.3 million is  allocated ($65.8 million over four years) for regional solutions).

baby-on-board-2

Consistent with other responses to asylum seekers in western countries, Australia has developed policies of deterrence and detention for boat arrivals without a valid visa. Australia’s Migration Act 1958 requires all “unlawful non-citizens” (people who are not Australian citizens and do not have permission to be in the country) to be detained, until they are granted a visa or leave the country. This detention policy was introduced in 1992 and continues until today. What makes Australia’s response to a legitimate right to seek asylum is the uniquely cruel policy of mandatory, indefinite detention and offshore processing. Without an age exemption it means that detainees can include families and unaccompanied children with processing taking months or years. A range of international literature shows that detention is highly distressing for both adults and children with long-term consequences. The majority of asylum seekers are found to be refugees under the 1951 Convention.

Everyone has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution. Article 14, Universal Declaration of Human Rights (signed by member countries in 1948, including Australia).

The child shall have the right to adequate nutrition, housing, recreation and medical services. Principle 4. United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child. Proclaimed by General Assembly resolution 1386(XIV) of 20 November 1959.

I am horrified that many new babies and new parents will be starting their lives in detention, the latter having already navigated treacherous borders, war strife and dangerous seas but now officialdom to meet the needs of their babies. Most of my professional career has involved supporting new parents. Aside from working on a postnatal ward, I helped to set up a service for women with postnatal depression in Auckland in the mid-nineties, my colleagues and I offered assessment, consultation and therapy to women. Aside from the hundreds of women I met I also heard many stories in the weekly support group I facilitated for depressed women for three years. My Master’s research considered the experiences of new migrant mothers and the challenges of establishing a new life without support and access to cultural rituals. In my PhD research I looked at the “the politics of the womb” and the role of maternity in projects of capitalism, nation building, imperialism and globalisation. See my other blog posts on supporting migrant fathering, ‘good’ motheringpronatalist and antinatalist policies (including Australia’s forcible removal of Aboriginal – and some Torres Strait Islander – children). I’ve also researched and written about the experiences of Refugee women in New Zealand, Korean migrant mothers and the discursive repertoires of Plunket NursesI have spent decades educating organisations and professionals about the needs of new mothers and I developed a brochure about Postnatal depression for the New Zealand Mental Health Foundation with the help of consumer organisations and many new parents and professionals. So you could say I know a little about what new mothers and babies might need to help them thrive.

Parenting and mothering are not easy. The transition is challenging emotionally, physically and socially. That’s why so many cultures have rituals for protecting and nurturing new mothers, whether it’s special foods, attention or ceremonies. The mother has experienced a massive transition requiring time to recoup, hence postpartum rest and loving attentive care are provided to women. Maternity professionals have a unique role in supporting the health and wellbeing of new migrant and refugee families, as they have privileged access to women at a time that is culturally and spiritually important to a woman and her family. However, women’s experiences of maternity services that are designed to meet their needs, can lead them to feel isolated, disrespected and invisible (and that’s when they aren’t in detention). 

Detention centres have been called factories for mental illness. The conditions in immigration detention are not conducive to establishing or maintaining family life, let alone helping families thrive. For asylum seekers who may have experienced torture or trauma, there is a vulnerable to experiencing mental health problems even before they reach countries of resettlement. The conditions of detention are demanding and difficult without the resources and support of family and friends, community and culture, no direct access to services and support. This situation is exacerbated by the unknown length for which people will be detained and to where they might be sent. It is further compounded by the punitive and coercive ways in which people are treated in detention. Existing trauma is only exacerbated while in prolonged detention which has an impact not only on the individuals in a family, but families themselves with the role of parent being undermined. Imagine powerless parents in unpredictable, hostile and degrading surroundings who cannot ensure their children’s safety or comfort. Yes, Australian policies of detention and deterrence are contributing to long term mental ill health for children and their families. Detention facilities have been criticised for the “culture of punishment, humiliating treatment of detainees, including children, and a failure to provide appropriate psychological support for high-risk populations”.

Children in detention

 In all actions concerning children … the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration. UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989)  – Article 3.

.. a child who is seeking refugee status … whether unaccompanied or accompanied … [shall] receive appropriate protection and humanitarian assistance.

UN Convention on the Rights of the Child  (1989) – Article 22 .

 

No child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily. The arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.

UN Convention on the Rights of the Child  (1989) – Article 37 (b).

 

Children subjected to abuse, torture or armed conflicts should recover in an environment which fosters the health, self-respect and dignity of the child.

UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) Article 39.

Children, accompanied or on their own, account for as up to half of all asylum seekers in the industrialized world. Australia is not the only country to detain children, The United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy also directly contradict The Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which stresses that detention of children should only be a last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time. In Australia up till 1994 there was a 273-day time limit on detention, however, after this time indefinite detention became the norm with no exemptions made for children or unaccompanied minors. A Human Rights Commission National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention in 2001 noted that (CRC)  requires the detention of children to be ‘a measure of last resort’, but Australia’s detention laws make detention of unauthorised arrival children ‘the first, and only, resort’. Mandatory detention overrides the rights and protections of child asylum seekers as enshrined in other international and regional conventions and declarations the European Convention on Human Rights, the Geneva Convention, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. 

Source: Department of Immigration and Citizenship, 13 September 2013. Adapted by the Australian Human Rights Commission.
Source: Department of Immigration and Citizenship, 13 September 2013. Adapted by the Australian Human Rights Commission.

The Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) statistics (2014) show that:

  • 1106 children are held in Australia’s secure immigration detention facilities,
  • 356 on Christmas Island and 177 of the children in Nauru
  • 1579 are detained in the community under residence determinations.
  • 1816 children live in the community on Bridging Visas (their parents have no work rights and limited access to Government support).

Research shows that even “brief” detention is detrimental to children. Prior to 2008, all children seeking asylum In Australia were faced with mandatory detention for an average of two years. In a summary of the impacts on children’s physical and mental health, Kronick, Rousseau, & Cleveland (2011) noted all manner of behvioural problems including disruptive conduct, nighttime bedwetting, separation anxiety, sleep disturbance, nightmares and impaired cognitive development. More severe symptoms includied mutism, stereotypic behaviours, and refusal to eat and drink. Mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression, self harm and suicidal ideation were common. Younger children experienced developmental delays, attachment and behavioural problems Parents self-reported a decrease in the capacity to parent while in detention, and detention can trigger memories of previous trauma, humiliation and hopelessness. United Kingdom research has also found behavioural difficulties, developmental delay, weight loss, difficulty breast-feeding in infants, food refusal and loss of previously obtained developmental milestones. The neurodevelopmental vulnerability of infants means that they are highly sensitive to their socio-cultural environments. The Australian Human Rights Commission is conducting an inquiry into children in immigration detention. You can read powerful testimonials from children themselves, educators and health professionals including this account from Paediatrician Karen Zwi who visited Christmas Island:

Babies are unable to crawl because the ground is so rough and the only playground is unusable during the day due to the extreme heat.New mothers are forced to queue up for strictly rationed nappies, baby wipes and powdered milk, with staff telling them constantly they will never be resettled in Australia.

Parenting in detention

Changes to the Migration Act since July 19, 2013 mean that pregnant asylum seekers in offshore detention (classed as “unauthorised maritime arrivals”) can be removed offshore. Recently babies have been sent from Darwin to Nauru and Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young plans to introduce a bill banning the removal of Australian-born babies to offshore detention centres to Parliament in May. She says:

‘‘We are, by incarcerating these newborn babies, creating the next damaged generation . . . we know the damage the detention of children has (on them),’’ she said. ‘‘If we allow this to continue, we are knowingly destroying them,’’ she said. ‘‘I don’t think that’s a political issue, it’s a moral issue.’’

(Note that Section 21(8) of the Australian Citizenship Act makes clear that a baby, born in Australia, who is stateless, is eligible to apply for Australian citizenship).

Louise Newman (see reference below) has worked extensively with women asylum seekers and notes that they have unique health and mental health needs related to pregnancy and delivery which can be exacerbated by limited antenatal care or screening. Their histories can include sexual trauma and abuse and perinatal loss. Receiving perinatal “care” in a detention facility means that professionals are balancing competing priorities and subject to varying forms of regulation and administration which put complex demands on their time. There may be ambiguity about how to respond to the needs of pregnant or postpartum women who they might be ill-equipped or resourced to support as reports have indicated.

In a detention context, women are isolated from their cultural traditions and supports and sometimes physical isolation begins weeks prior to delivery. This cultural isolation compounded with a lack of access to interpreters during delivery can increased fear and distress and is implicated in the high rates of postnatal depression and anxiety and attachment difficulties with infants seen in women in detention. Newman notes that research in the United Kingdom would resonate with women’s experiences and clinician observations in Australia. Where women expressed high levels of of distress and reported poor care. The context also impacted on their capacity to parent with women feeling isolated, incompetent, ashamed and guilty for delivering a baby in detention. Consequently, a highly anticipated, magnificent, sacred and profound time in a woman and her family’s life becomes one that is painful. In a powerful article describing his visit to Christmas Island, acting for some 26 babies born in detention Jacob Varghese notes how cruel asylum seeker policy is for new parents:

…what it is like being a new parent in a remote prison, with no control over your circumstances, every daily routine determined for you by guards and bureaucrats.

 

How the Australian government reports on conditions in detention differs from the reality. In an article for Crikey, Caroline de Costa, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and Director of the Clinical School at James Cook University School of Medicine, Cairns Campus in North Queensland notes:

We were told that there is 24/7 access to a nursing triage service, with a doctor on call, for asylum seekers (male and female, adults and children) in all three camps.  We were also told that there are regular playgroups and ‘Mums and Bubs’ sessions held in all three camps for pregnant women and new mothers. Meeting individual asylum seekers, in the visitors’ rooms of all three facilities, in the two days following our formal visit, we heard stories quite different from the official accounts. We observed in many parts of the camps that asylum seekers including children and women are routinely listed, dealt with and addressed by the numbers given to them on arrival by boat in Australia, rather than by their names.

Caroline de Costa also “unequivocally” states that neither Manus nor Nauru are suitable places for the detention of very young babies and their families. She suggests that:

the greatest and most pervasive risk is to the mental health of children and their families. The fact of ongoing uncertain detention is bad enough; adding to it with an extremely isolated hot and crowded environment with few diversions within the detention facility and none outside is demonstrably contributing to very high levels of psychiatric presentations among asylum seekers, well documented by many of my colleagues in recent weeks. My own observations of recent mothers I met in Darwin is of a high level of postnatal depression that is continuing on well past the postnatal period…

The Australian Immigration Minister’s (Scott Morrison) office says:

the Government’s policy is to transfer illegal boat arrivals to offshore processing centres and families are transferred to Nauru. The statement says creating exemptions for offshore processing will only create dangerous incentives for people smugglers to fill boats with women and children.

Cartoon by Oslo Davis Source: Museum Victoria
Cartoon by Oslo Davis
Source: Museum Victoria

So what can we do?

The good news is that there is plenty of resistance both professionally, in the community and among refugee advocacy organisations. DASSAN (Darwin Asylum Seekers Support and Advocacy Network) believe that families should not be detained and babies should not be born into detention. They advocate for policy change but have also been providing practical help and support including: making welcome packs for new babies; sewing gifts: and collecting clothes for babies and women in detention on Christmas Island. They observe:

At a time when families should be focused on preparing for the joy of welcoming new life, they are instead dealing with the trauma of having fled from their home, the great anxiety of being told they will be sent to Nauru or Manus Island, and the daily despair of being kept locked up.

(Note, if you’d like to support their work there are details on the DASSAN site). Chilout (Children out of immigration detention) have worked tirelessly to lobby for children aged from zero to eighteen. I recommend reading their Factsheet and accessing the extensive range of resources and reports on their website.

The use of prolonged detention for pregnant women and mothers with young children inflicts physical and psychological harm disproportionate to the policy aim of immigration control and should be stopped immediately .

 

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) made a passionate plea on World  Refugee Day for the Australian Government to end the mandatory detention of children and adolescents seeking asylum in Australia and in offshore centres. Their Position Statement Towards better health for refugee children and young people in Australia and New Zealand advocates for the abolition of  Australian legislation that allows children to be housed in detention centres and they propose that the Australian Government  immediately place detained children in the community with their families where they can be provided with appropriate health and social support. There is a Paediatrics & Child Health advocacy campaign for health and well-being of children in detention/refugees which was launched on 7 June 2013. Information and template letters addressed to Government Ministers can be used to advocate for health of children in detention. These are just a few of the national and local responses to mothers, children and families in detention.
There is also a National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention 2014: Discussion Paper. The the Australian Human Rights Commission (HRC) is investigating the ways in which life in immigration detention affects the health, well-being and development of children and inviting people previously detained as children in closed immigration detention and assessing the current circumstances and responses of children to immigration detention. A follow up to their report ten years ago A last resort? the report of the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention (National Inquiry). After the National Inquiry positive developments including the removal of children from high security Immigration Detention Centres, the creation of the Community Detention system and the use of bridging visas for asylum seekers who arrive by boat. However, there are still around 1,000 children in closed immigration detention, a higher number than the last inquiry, and the Commission’s monitoring work reveals that key concerns remain. Their aim is to discover if there have been any changes in the ten years since the last investigation, and whether Australia is meeting its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). You can read the inquiry discussion paper and make a submission that addresses the inquiry terms of reference. This inquiry is focused on closed detention facilities (not community) and the impact of detention on children under 18 years. You can also read about their work on alternatives to closed detention The last words really belong to Murray Watt who in an article Why is an Australian baby locked up in detention? says:

 

It’s not fair that children – or anyone for that matter – should be locked up for years on end, without any consideration of their claims to protection.   It’s not fair that the conditions in offshore detention camps, overseen by our own government, are dangerous, inhumane and deliberately designed to break people’s spirit.   And it’s not fair that Australia – ranked by the IMF as the 10th richest country in the world – should pass our refugee “problem” on to countries that are far poorer and less safe than many of the countries from which refugees come in the first place.   Australia can do better than this. Over our history, we have led the world in protecting others in distress, and in improving the rights and living conditions of our citizens and those across the world. We should live up to our history.

References

  • Kronick, Rachel, Rousseau, Cécile, & Cleveland, Janet. (2011). Mandatory detention of refugee children: A public health issue? Paediatrics & child health, 16(8), e65.
  • Mares, Newman, Dudley, & Gale, (2002). Seeking Refuge, Losing Hope: Parents and Children in Immigration Detention. Australasian Psychiatry, 10(2), 91-96. doi: 10.1046/j.1440-1665.2002.00414.x)
  • Newman, Louise K, & Steel, Zachary. (2008). The child asylum seeker: psychological and developmental impact of immigration detention. Child and adolescent psychiatric clinics of North America, 17(3), 665-683.

Enhancing the role of fathers

First published in Viewpoint, March 2014 Issue of the Kai Tiaki: Nursing New Zealand.

March 2014 Midwives at work
March 2014 Midwives at work

Reference as: DeSouza, Ruth. (2014). Enhancing the role of fathers. Kai Tiaki: Nursing New Zealand, 20(2), 26-27 (download 3.2 MB pdf DeSouza Migrant Dads).

Mkono mmoja haulei mwana. A single hand cannot nurse a child. Kiswahili proverb

I spent the first ten years of my life in Tanzania and Kenya where this Kiswahili proverb comes from. My father played a prominent part in childcare and the raising of three daughters. We migrated twice, first to Kenya and then to New Zealand. As migrants we only had our nuclear family to fall back on and my father took a central role in raising us while my mother studied. His philosophy was that that everything that needed to be done to keep the household going was a labour of love that we should all expect to contribute freely and lovingly to. This idea of pulling together and being self-sufficient reminds me of another Kiswahili phrase Harambee which means to pull together. Jomo Kenyatta was the first president of Kenya and this catch phrase that he popularized can also be seen on the Kenyan flag. Which brings me to the purpose of this article, which is to talk about pulling together around a family, especially one that has migrated and in particular pulling “in” fathers during the transition to parenthood.

Including fathers in care

It is not possible to address the needs of women, infants and children in heterosexual families without addressing the needs of a child’s father (Buckelew, Pierrie, & Chabra, 2006). Pregnancy and childbirth are pivotal periods where individuals can grow as they adjust to the transition (Montigny & Lacharite, 2004).The perinatal period is a critical developmental touch point where health professionals can have a profound influence in assisting fathers and mothers in their transition. Often interventions focus on the mother and serve to increase her developing expertise, which subsequently tends to increase parental conflict (Montigny & Lacharite, 2004). Health professionals can have a significant role in fostering interactions between both partners (Montigny & Lacharite, 2004).

Most immigration studies focus on the negative consequences of immigration for families and for parenting. For example, immigration is perceived predominantly in the literature as a source of stress and a risk factor for families and children. Engaging women in groups or developing couples’ groups that would also serve the needs of new fathers could educate participants and provide support and information. Supporting the whole migrant family is critical, particularly when often a key motivation for migration is to provide a better life for children (DeSouza 2005; Roer-Strier et al 2005). Families can provide a buffer and the strength and safety to cope with what might seem an unfamiliar, and at times hostile, receiving community (Roer-Strier et al 2005).

Parenthood, combined with recent migration, can lead to a process of extended change and adaptation in all domains of a parent’s life. These changes can include adjusting to a new home, social environment, language, culture, place of work and profession. Often, economic, social and familial support systems are lost or changed. Under such circumstances, parents’ physical and psychological health, self-image, ability to withstand stress and anxiety levels may all be challenged (Roer-Strier, Strier, Este, Shimoni, & Clark, 2005). For new migrant families, support needs are critically important and in the absence of usual support networks, partners and husbands play an important role in providing care and support that would normally be received from mothers, family and peers. Systems need to be ‘father-friendly’ as husbands are the key support for migrant women who have often left behind friends and family.

So, what can be done to reorient services so that they are more father-friendly? Fatherhood is changing, influenced by diverse family practices and formations, which challenge the male breadwinner-female home carer division of labour. The shift from being a breadwinner and authority figure to being involved in all aspects of the perinatal period has become an expectation in the Western world (Deave & Johnson, 2008). Fathers play a crucial role in the couple’s relationship and the father-infant relationship and they contribute to individual and family well-being (Goodman, 2005). where men are required to provide practical and emotional support to mothers and children However, Barclay and Lupton (1999) suggest that active societal support and preparation are not readily available to men despite the expectation that men will fill the gaps that were previously filled by neighbours and women relatives.

Health and social services and nurses who work in them often fail to engage fathers successfully and can even pose a barrier to their engagement (Williams, Hewison, Wildman, & Roskell, 2013). The ‘new involved father’ benchmark (Lupton & Barclay, 1997a) requires that fathers participate in antenatal classes, labour and delivery. In the absence of social networks, family and peers groups, partners and health professionals often need to fill in the gaps. Fathers are key persons who strongly influence the perinatal decisions women make. Migration often requires changed roles for fathers, especially if they have not grown up with expectations about their roles as active participants.

Fatherhood can be difficult and fathers need support and guidance to prepare them for the transition and to develop competence Men can sometimes lack appropriate models and emotional support for fathering, requiring that they be encouraged to develop support for their parenting beyond their partner (Goodman, 2005). Each stage of the paternal lifecycle including pregnancy, labour and delivery, postpartum period and parenthood poses challenges for new parents to be. Labour and delivery are particularly difficult times for fathers who can feel coerced, ill-prepared, ineffective, and/or psychologically excluded from the event (Bartlett, 2004).

The postpartum period, particularly the first year after childbirth, is a time of emotional upheaval for first-time fathers, who have to adapt to the presence of an infant who is a priority. Research on first-time fathers’ prenatal expectations of the experience compared with perceptions after the birth found that they expected to be treated as part of a labouring couple, but were often relegated to a supporting role. Fathers were confident of their ability to support their wives, but labour was more work and scary than they had anticipated. The focus also changed postpartum from their wives to their babies. The study found that fathers need to be better included and supported in their role as coach and friend (Chandler & Field, 1997).

The first year of parenting is often experienced as overwhelming (Nyström & Öhrling, 2004). Anticipatory guidance is critically important for expectant fathers, as many men (like women) hold unrealistic expectations about parenthood that can hinder their adjustment to the realities of fatherhood (Goodman, 2005). Supporting fathers prenatally can improve their transition to fatherhood (Buist, Morse, & Durkin, 2003). Interventions that can help prepare men for the changes and stresses of becoming a parent include not only ensuring that men are included in childbirth preparation classes but that the content relates to the concerns of fathers and which promotes paternal involvement in all aspects of infant care. Fathers should be given opportunities to develop skills and confidence in infant care, both before and after their infant’s birth. Fathers- only classes could help men develop competence and confidence away from their partner whom they could perceive as being more capable.

Obstacles to greater involvement in fathering include work, parental modelling after one’s own father, maternal gate-keeping from wives or female partners, co-constructed processes of “doing gender” by both mothers and fathers, gender identities and ideologies and discourses of fatherhood (Doucet, (2005).

Fathers’ breastfeeding role

An infant’s father has a pivotal role in maternal initiation and continuation of breastfeeding (Littman, Medendorp, & Goldfarb, 1994), hence breastfeeding education and promotion should be directed to expectant fathers as well as mothers. Littman, Medendorp, and Goldfarb suggest that breastfeeding education should include appropriate anticipatory guidance related to managing feeling excluded when mothers are breastfeeding. Ways for new fathers to experience closeness with their infants can be suggested, and nurses can encourage the development of men’s nurturing qualities while supporting the importance of their particular role as father. Skill acquisition in infant care is a crucial step in facilitating father-infant bonding. 8. Fathers are excluded in research.

Maternal and infant health has enjoyed extensive attention from researchers, medical practitioners, and policymakers. However, little is known about the physical and psychological health of fathers, but with gender roles changing and an increasing emphasis on paternal involvement in all aspects of parenting, adjustments are required for both men and women (Goodman, 2004). Research on fatherhood lags behind that on maternal health, a disparity that is a significant gap in family research and theory. This disparity is a serious omission in knowledge and scholarship because becoming a father is a major developmental milestone (Bartlett, 2004). In order to provide optimal support to new fathers it is important to understand fathers’ experiences from the perspectives of fathers themselves (Goodman, 2005).

Interactions with significant others (nurses and partners) have a significant impact on both parents’ perceptions of parental efficacy (Montigny & Lacharite, 2004) Health professionals are well placed to support fathers in a way that empowers them to feel good about themselves, their abilities, and their infant, which in turn enhances their motivation to interact with and care for their infant (Bandura, 1996; (Bryan (2000) cited inMontigny & Lacharite, 2004)

Conclusion

The transition to fatherhood is significant with many men feeling overwhelmed or excluded. However, services that provide prior guidance and are male- friendly can increase involvement and participation. Little is known about how this transition is managed especially the needs of migrant fathers and the mediating role of social and psychological factors. However the participation of men is linked with positive outcomes for the whole family. By supporting father- friendly services, families can benefit especially families separated from support systems like migrant families. Nurses can play a pivotal role in pulling fathers ‘in’ and helping families pull together in the transition to fatherhood so that all families can thrive.

References

  • Bandura, A, Barbaranelli, C, Caprara, G V, & Pastorelli, C. (1996). Multifaceted impact of self‐efficacy beliefs on academic functioning. Child Development, 67(3), 1206-1222.
  • Barclay, Lesley, & Lupton, Deborah. (1999). The experiences of new fatherhood: a socio-cultural analysis. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 29(4 %R doi:10.1046/j.1365-2648.1999.00978.x), 1013-1020.
  • Bartlett, E.E. (2004). The effects of fatherhood on the health of men: A review of the literature. Journal of Men’s Health and Gender, 1(2-3), 159-169.
  • Buckelew, Sara M. , Pierrie, Herb , & Chabra, Anand (2006). What Fathers need: A countywide assessment of the needs of fathers of young children. Maternal and Child Health Journal,, 10(3).
  • Buist, A, Morse, C A, & Durkin, S. (2003). Men’s adjustment to fatherhood: Implications for obstetric health care. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing, 32(2), 172-180.
  • Chandler, S., & Field, P.A. (1997). Becoming a father: First-time fathers’ experience of labor and delivery. Journal of Nurse-Midwifery, 42(1), 17-24.
  • Deave, T., & Johnson, D. (2008). The transition to parenthood: what does it mean for fathers? Journal of Advanced Nursing, 63(6), 626-633. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2648.2008.04748.x
  • DeSouza, R. (2006). New spaces and possibilities: The adjustment to parenthood for new migrant mothers. Wellington: Families Commission.
  • Doucet, A. (2005). It’s almost like I have a job, but I don’t get paid’: Fathers at home reconfiguring work, care, and community. Fathering: A Journal of Theory, Research, and Practice about Men as Fathers, 2(3), 277-303.
  • Goodman, J.H. (2004). Paternal postpartum depression, its relationship to maternal postpartum depression, and implications for family health. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 45(1), 26-35.
  • Goodman, J.H. (2005). Becoming an involved father of an infant. JOGNN – Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing, 34(2), 190-200.
  • Littman, H., Medendorp, S.V. , & Goldfarb, J. . (1994). The decision to breastfeed: The importance of father’s approval. Clin Pediatr (Phila), 33(4), 214-219.
  • Lupton, D, & Barclay, L. (1997). Constructing fatherhood: Discourses and experiences. London ; Thousand Oaks, Calif.: SAGE
  • Montigny, Francine de , & Lacharite, Carl (2004). Fathers’ perceptions of the immediate postpartal period. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing, 33(3), 328-339.
  • Nyström, K., & Öhrling, K. (2004). Parenthood experiences during the child’s first year: Literature review. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 46(3), 319-330.
  • Roer-Strier, Dorit, Strier, Roni, Este, David, Shimoni, Rena, & Clark, Dawne. (2005). Fatherhood and immigration: challenging the deficit theory. Child & Family Social Work, 10(4 %R doi:10.1111/j.1365-2206.2005.00374.x), 315-329.
  • Williams, Robert, Hewison, Alistair, Wildman, Stuart, & Roskell, Carolyn. (2013). Changing Fatherhood: An Exploratory Qualitative Study with African and African Caribbean Men in England. Children & Society, 27(2), 92-103.

Korean migrant mothers on giving birth in Aotearoa New Zealand

Cite as: DeSouza, Ruth. (2014). One woman’s empowerment is another’s oppression: Korean migrant mothers on giving birth in Aotearoa New Zealand. Journal of Transcultural Nursing. doi: 10.1177/1043659614523472.  Download pdf (262KB) DeSouza J Transcult Nurs-2014.

Published online before print on February 28, 2014.

Abstract

Purpose: To critically analyze the power relations underpinning New Zealand maternity, through analysis of discourses used by Korean migrant mothers. Design: Data from a focus group with Korean new mothers was subjected to a secondary analysis using a discourse analysis drawing on postcolonial feminist and Foucauldian theoretical ideas. Results: Korean mothers in the study framed the maternal body as an at-risk body, which meant that they struggled to fit into the local discursive landscape of maternity as empowering. They described feeling silenced, unrecognized, and uncared for. Discussion and Conclusions: The Korean mothers’ culturally different beliefs and practices were not incorporated into their care. They were interpellated into understanding themselves as problematic and othered, evidenced in their take up of marginalized discourses. Implications for practice: Providing culturally safe services in maternity requires considering their affects on culturally different women and expanding the discourses that are available.

Keywords: focus group interview, cultural safety, Korean women, maternal, postcolonial, Foucault.

Introduction

A feature of contemporary maternity is the notion that birth can be empowering for women if they take charge of the experience by being informed consumers. However, maternity is not necessarily empowering for all mothers. In this article, I suggest that the discourses of the Pākehā maternity system discipline and normalize culturally different women by rendering their mothering practices as deviant and patho- logical. Using the example of Korean migrant mothers, I begin the article by contextualizing maternity care in New Zealand and outlining Korean migration to New Zealand. The research project is then detailed, followed by the findings, which show the ways in which Korean mothers are interpellated as others in maternity services in New Zealand. I conclude the article with a brief discussion on the implications for nursing and midwifery with a particular focus on cultural safety.

You can read the rest at: Journal of Transcultural Nursing or download DeSouza TCN proof.

Regulating migrant maternity: Nursing and midwifery’s emancipatory aims and assimilatory practices

I’ve just had the first paper from my PhD published: DeSouza, R. (2013), Regulating migrant maternity: Nursing and midwifery’s emancipatory aims and assimilatory practices. Nursing Inquiry. doi: 10.1111/nin.12020

In contemporary Western societies, birthing is framed as transformative for mothers; however, it is also a site for the regulation of women and the exercise of power relations by health professionals. Nursing scholarship often frames migrant mothers as a problem, yet nurses are imbricated within systems of scrutiny and regulation that are unevenly imposed on ‘other’ mothers. Discourses deployed by New Zealand Plunket nurses (who provide a universal ‘well child’ health service) to frame their understandings of migrant mothers were analysed using discourse analysis and concepts of power drawn from the work of French philosopher Michel Foucault, read through a postcolonial feminist perspective. This research shows how Plunket nurses draw on liberal feminist discourses, which have emancipatory aims but reflect assimilatory practices, paradoxically disempowering women who do not subscribe to ideals of individual autonomy. Consequently, the migrant mother, her family and new baby are brought into a neoliberal project of maternal improvement through surveillance. This project – enacted differentially but consistently among nurses – attempts to alter maternal and familial relationships by ‘improving’ mothering. Feminist critiques of patriarchy in maternity must be supplemented by a critique of the implicitly western subject of maternity to make empowerment a possibility for all mothers.

 

 

Refugee women in New Zealand: Findings and recommendations

Today on International Women’s Day, it seems apt to share this article that I wrote on behalf of our research team for the Women’s Health Action Update, volume 16, Number 43, December 2012. Women’s Health Action is a charitable trust, that works to “provide women with high quality information and education services to enable them to maintain their health and make informed choices about their health care”. Their focus is on health promotion and disease prevention and they are particularly supportive of breastfeeding and screening. Their vision is ‘Well women empowered in a healthy world’.

More than 80 per cent of the world’s refugees are women and their dependent children. Often women of refugee backgrounds [1]are constructed within deficit frames as having high needs. This representation is problematic as it deflects attention from considering broader historical, social, systemic and political factors and the adequacy of resettlement support.

Little is known about the experiences of women who enter New Zealand through the Women at Risk category identified by The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). This category constitutes up to 75 places (10%) of New Zealand’s annual refugee quota of 750. Refugee Services worked with AUT University and the three Strengthening Refugee Voices Groups in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch to undertake a project to examine the resettlement experiences of women who enter New Zealand through this category or become sole heads of households as a consequence of their resettlement experiences. This project was funded by the Lotteries Community Sector Research Fund.

The project was important not only for its findings but also for the research process, which focused on strengths, social justice, community development and transformative research. This transformative agenda aimed to enhance the wellbeing of refugee background women by focussing on the roots of inequality in the structures and processes of society rather than in personal or community pathology (Ledwith, 2011). Within this frame we were committed to constructing refugee women as an asset rather than deploying a deficit model of refugee women as a burden for the receiving society (Butler, 2005).

Focus groups were held in 2009 and 2010 with women who entered New Zealand as refugees under the formal category ‘Women at Risk’ or became women who were sole heads of households once they arrived in New Zealand. Women that took part had lived in New Zealand from between five months to sixteen years.  Lengthy consultations were held with the three Strengthening Refugee Voices groups in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch prior to undertaking data collection, in order to scope and refine the research focus and process. These groups were subsequently contracted to provide services and support.

Key findings

Although support needs are similar to all refugees arriving in New Zealand, there were unique and exacerbated gender issues. Refugee background women experienced a double burden of stress with half the support, especially as they parented on their own. This is despite the tremendous unpaid and voluntary support provided by faith and ethnic community members. Women frequently postponed their own aspirations in order to assure the future of their children. When they were ready to take up further education (including English language classes) or employment, limited assistance was then available (given the focus on early resettlement) leading to women feel disadvantaged.

We have made several recommendations based around several specific themes. More broadly we recommended that:

  • More intensive and longer term instititutional support be made available from agencies such as Refugee Services.
  • Subsidised practical help be made available.
  • Assistance to broaden sources of support and networks is goven.
  • Subsidised English language lessons and childcare are available.
  • That a one stop shop/holistic support from culturally and linguistically skilled refugee community insiders be provided.

Parenting

Raising children in New Zealand brought new stresses. These included concern about the loss of culture, values and language and losing their children to less palatable values including the consumption of alcohol and drugs, gender mixing and loss of respect for elders. Women addressed these issues in a range of ways that included trying different less hierarchical styles of parenting, attempting to spend more time with their children, engaging them in broader supports eg mosque. However, a few women had the experience of losing their children through the intervention of CYFS and felt disempowered in their interactions with CYFS and with schools.

  • Programme for parenting for Refugee women, particularly around issues such as discipline, inter-generational gender issues
  • Programmes for young people.
  • Cultural competence training for CYFS.

Family reunification

Living in New Zealand is difficult for women who are conscious of their own comfort while other family members struggle. However, the cost of bringing family members over is prohibitive and the costs involved in providing support in the form of phone calls and remittances add a burden to already stretched lives of the women. The importance of extended family is highlighted for women on their own and the kinds of help that could be provided by family members. Additional stresses are the requirement that refugee women are able to support their families once they arrive in New Zealand. The process is also made difficult by the lack of transparency in the immigration process.

  • Prioritise the reunification with family for women who are here on their own.
  • Provide financial support to women.
  • Increase transparency of the processes and decisions that are made.

Health system

Women encountered a different health system that at times was difficult to navigate. Many women felt that their health concerns were not taken seriously and that the health system created new problems. In terms of some health beliefs and stigma there was value in having more culturally appropriate services available. The surfeit of refugee background health professionals was a potential resource that was not being used.

  • Train and employ a more ethnically, religiously, and linguistically diverse health workforce at all levels
  • Develop culturally responsive services.
  • Examine the affordability of services.
  • Develop cultural competence of staff working in health services.

Education

The cost and availability of day care for Refugee women on their own is prohibitive in some cases consuming the lion’s share of their income/benefit. Taking up loans in order to finance their own educations is also a problem. This prevents women from achieving their own goals such as learning English, driving or further education, which would assist them in the long term with employment and independence. Women generally considered their own advancement as secondary to their children. If women were resourced financially to gain an education this would assist them to also be a resource for their children. Having long-term support to enter the workforce would also be of benefit.

  • Subsidised day care for women on their own.
  • Mentoring.
  • Scholarships for further education.

Employment

Women were concerned that their children were not getting employed despite tertiary qualifications. Barriers to employment included: ‘lack’ of New Zealand experience, language barriers, their perceived difference (clothing, culture, skin colour) and paucity of appropriate childcare, poor public transport. The impacts of unemployment included losing their dignity, health impacts of taking inappropriate jobs, boredom

  • Subsidised driving lessons, support with transport
  • More work with employers to destigmatise refugee workers
  • Work mentoring/brokering services
  • Support for family members who come into New Zealand through the reunification category to obtain further education

Racism

Refugee women and their families experienced a range of racism related harms that were instititutional and interpersonal taking physical and verbal forms. Their clothes and accent marked them out, and verbal altercations saw stereotypes being invoked particularly around Islamophobia and discourses of war on terror. Women deployed a range of strategies to cope with racism including minimising the racism and helping their children to cope with it.

  • Social marketing campaigns
  • Community education
  • Addressing structural racism
  • National conversation on racism
  • National campaign against racism

The research team hope that this research provides a snapshot of the role and value of various sectors in enabling or constraining the resettlement of refugee background women. This could contribute to better informing theory, practice and policy in order that the self-determination and resilience of refugee background women and their communities is supported.

 


[1] Note that terms like ‘refugee background women’ and ‘communities’ refer to highly diverse groups of people (Butler, 2005). In capturing the experiences of refugee women as sole heads of households, we were mindful of the potential that using a category could imply a “single, essential, transhistorical refugee condition” (Malkki, 1995, p.511).

 

How can we better support new mothers to sing?

I am a member of the Perinatal Mental Health New Zealand Trust (PMHNZ) whose vision is to : “improve outcomes for families and whanau affected by mental illness related to pregnancy, childbirth and early parenthood”. They produce a quarterly newsletter that includes information about research, training, workshops and courses, innovative projects and services, topics for discussion and stories. It was a privilege to share my research with other members in the February newsletter (pdf) and on this Women’s day it seems apt to share it with a broader audience.

One of my favourite stories that I would tell when we ran workshops in the nineties about postnatal depression was by Jack Kornfield. I would share this story and half the room would be in tears.

“There is a tribe in East Africa in which the art of true intimacy is fostered even before birth. In this tribe, the birth date of a child is not counted from the day of its physical birth nor even the day of conception as in other village cultures. For this tribe the birth date comes the first time the child is a thought in its mother’s mind. Aware of her intention to conceive a child with a particular father, the mother then goes off to sit alone under a tree. There she sits and listens until she can hear the song of the child that she hopes to conceive. Once she has heard it, she returns to her village and teaches it to the father so that they can sing it together as they make love, inviting the child to join them. After the child is conceived, she sings it to the baby in her womb. Then she teaches it to the old women and midwives of the village, so that throughout the labor and at the miraculous moment of birth itself, the child is greeted with its song. After the birth all the villagers learn the song of their new member and sing it to the child when it falls or hurts itself. It is sung in times of triumph, or in rituals and initiations. This song becomes a part of the marriage ceremony when the child is grown, and at the end of life, his or her loved ones will gather around the deathbed and sing this song for the last time.” A Path with Heart (1993, p. 334).

For me the message in this story reflects the importance of love, being loved by a community and the importance of acknowledgement. Painfully, however, it highlights the ways in which women’s experiences of maternity can be just the opposite. That is, they can feel isolated, disrespected and invisible. As a clinician, I’ve learned that there are ways in which we, and the system that we work in can make this most magnificent, sacred and profound time in a woman and her family’s life also one that is painful, one that leaves long lasting scars. Health professionals can cause harm even especially when we think we are doing good. As an academic for 13 years prior to which I worked as a clinician for 10 years, I am deeply interested in the issue of power and how professional frameworks of care can undermine women’s personal experiences.

This song has been the background soundtrack to my recently completed PhD. I used data from a study funded by the Families Commission and assisted by Plunket, where I talked to 40 migrant women about their experiences of becoming mothers in New Zealand. I also talked to Plunket nurses about their experiences of caring for women from ethnic migrant backgrounds.

My motivation for doing research was prompted by my clinical experiences. Several years ago I decided to make a move from working in mental health to working in maternity. As someone who had worked as a community mental health nurse I took a lot of concepts about my work in mental health into this new setting, for example, I believed that care should be client centred and driven, that services should fit around consumers of services and that taking time to be with people was important. What I found in the institutionalised setting of hospital maternity care and later community care was that some of the routine procedures that are administered in hospitals and in the community with good intentions had negative impacts and were oppressive especially for women who did not tidily fit into the mould for the factory style model that was in place then. The conveyor belt metaphor is apt given that women who were the wrong fit were viewed as a problem, as only a single way of becoming a mother was acceptable. I saw that staff were frustrated at the extra demands or complexity of working with ‘diverse’ women, they lacked resources like time and knowledge. In turn, I could see that women who valued particular kinds of social support, acknowledgement and rituals were not getting their needs met. It seemed like a situation where no one was a winner.

What I found out in my research was that there was a big gap in satisfaction among women who were familiar with the structure of maternity services in the west and women whose lives had been shaped by growing up in other cultural contexts. Fundamentally there was a schism in the ways in which birth was understood. To be simplistic, western modes of being a mother valued independence, autonomy, taking up expert knowledge and using it and being an active consumer. By that I mean the individualising of responsibility for maternity on the mother, to take up scientific knowledge through reading self help books and for the role of the partner to be a birth coach and the goal of birth to be “natural”.

This dominant Pakeha middle class model of being a mother clashed with other understandings of motherhood, where responsibility was more collectivised, so that embodied knowledge from cultural authority figures (mother and mothers in law) protected mothers and where a range of rituals and supports were available for the mother (including some which were also not necessarily helpful). Women who became mothers in New Zealand had to negotiate these two different models of maternity and come to terms with what they negotiated. However, in the context of an assimilatory maternal health system it was very difficult for women to maintain traditions that were important to them. For example many women were not supported if they wanted to bring in traditional foods with them or have support from grandmothers. Many of these encounters left migrant mothers feeling disempowered. Another important clash was the different philosophies and roles of professionals and mother in the context of midwifery models and medical models. Some women viewed birth as a risky process and wanted the reassurance of visualising technologies. The view of birth as a risky process clashed with midwifery models of birth as a natural process that women are physically prepared for but need encouragement and support with.

Conclusion How can we support all kinds of women with different values, beliefs and rituals around birth, to feel loved, nurtured, safe and supported? How can we give women who might be separated from their loved ones, support to access those values, beliefs and that will allow them to manage the transition into motherhood? Returning to the metaphor of singing, and the power of connection it engenders, how can we connect and support people who are singing different kinds of songs? Can we adjust our tone so that we can harmonise? Can new songs and rhythms infuse the songs we already know with new energy and possibility?

Having a baby in New Zealand without your support base http://www.mentalhealth.org.nz/kaixinxingdong/page/486- resources+dragon-babies+parents-stories 

Finding more humane solutions: New Zealand’s refugee deal with Australia

Last weekend the New Zealand government made a deal with Australia to take 150 asylum seekers held in Australian detention facilities. New Zealand accepts the fifth highest number (equal with Canada) of refugees per capita, but this move reduces the number of refugees selected through New Zealand’s quota of 750 by 150 (600 refugees a year compared with 50,000 in the United States and 20,000 in Australia). What’s even more alarming as Gordon Campbell notes, is the way in which this new deal conflates two very different mechanisms for refugee arrival.

KeyGillard

There are two ways in which refugees are able to remain in New Zealand. The first is the quota category, which in New Zealand is presently 750 persons per annum. People are recommended by the UNHCR to Immigration New Zealand (INZ) for selection. The refugees who apply for resettlement in New Zealand must meet the definition of a refugee given below. The second resettlement category includes Convention Refugees, or Asylum Seekers. Asylum seekers most often arrive at Auckland International Airport and then need to go through an application process to be granted refugee status and be able to settle in New Zealand. A boat of asylum seekers has never reached New Zealand.

It is a right under the UN Refugee Convention to claim political asylum and there is no queue. A claim for asylum is carefully assessed and if there are grounds for political persecution, asylum has to be granted. It is a completely different procedure from the UN annual refugee quota of 750. The 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees is the key legal document, outlining the rights of refugees and the legal obligations of signatory states. Article 1 (2) of the United Nations’ 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees modifies Article 1 A (2) of the 1951 Convention to define a refugee as a person who:

owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such a fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.

This definition only refers to people who have fled their country of origin and then sought sanctuary in a second country for protection.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is an international agency that provides protection for refugees, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), asylum seekers, and stateless persons—it attempts to find long-term solutions for a number of the world’s refugees. There are three options: the first is voluntary repatriation; the second is local integration in the country of asylum; and in the third, the UNHCR works with eighteen countries with established or developing resettlement programmes to resettle refugees in a third country, including Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States of America. Countries with emerging programmes are Benin, Brazil, Britain, Burkina Faso, Chile, Iceland, Ireland and Spain.

The earliest refugees to New Zealand arrived between 1870–1890 and included Danes, Russian Jews and French Huguenots. Subsequently, refugees from Nazism (1933–39), Poland (1944), Hungary (1956–58), ‘handicapped’ refugees (1959), Chinese (1962– 71), Russian Christians from China (1965), Asians from Uganda (1972–73), Chileans, Soviet Jews, Eastern Europeans, people from the Middle East, South-East Asia (Indo-Chinese), Somalia, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Iran and the Sudan have resettled in New Zealand—over 40,000 refugees.

New Zealand only developed its quota programme in 1987. The development of a formal annual quota for refugees occurred concurrently with the Immigration Policy Review of 1986 and subsequent Immigration Act 1987. This legislation brought into being more diverse migrants to New Zealand. Whereas previously, migrants had been selected on the basis of country of origin (primarily European), the new legislation liberalised migration so that migrants entered New Zealand by way of a points system on the basis of skills. Other significant changes included the development of four migration categories—occupational, business, family, and humanitarian. The latter category represented refugee policies and saw the introduction of an annual quota for resettling refugees.

The Minister of Immigration and the Minister of Foreign Affairs set the composition of the refugee quota. This process takes into account the UNHCR’s international protection priorities, the needs of refugee communities settled in New Zealand, and the capabilities of New Zealand as a host country. The UNHCR refers refugee cases to Immigration New Zealand for consideration under the refugee quota. The refugees are then assessed by Immigration New Zealand, which makes a final decision on the refugees’ admission to New Zealand. The quota comprises up to six intakes a year of around 125 people each.

One of my concerns is that this move will impact on special categories within our NZ Refugee Quota Programme such as national, ethnic and religious groups, as well as special needs groups such as ‘handicapped’ refugees, long stayers in refugee camps, and refugee “boat people” rescued at sea (Tampa). In particular from these formal categories introduced in 1992:

  • Protection (600 persons)—This category includes up to 300 places for family members, covering hgh-priority refugees needing protection from an emergency situation.
  • Medical and/or disabled cases (75 persons)—Refugees with a medical condition or disability that cannot be treated in the country of asylum but can be treated in New Zealand. This special category “provides for the resettlement of refugees with medical, physical or social disabilities which place them outside the normal criteria for acceptance by resettlement countries” (Parsons, 2005).
  • Women at risk (75 persons)—Women refugees (alone or with dependant children) at risk in a refugee camp, especially from sexual violence (75 persons). New Zealand, like Canada and Australia, has created a special category for resettling women at risk. The UNHCR definition for refugees in this category includes:

Women and girls who have protection problems particular to their gender…including expulsion, refoulement and other security threats, sexual violence, physical abuse, intimidation, torture, particular economic hardship or marginalization, lack of integration prospects, community hostility, and different forms of exploitation. Such problems and threats…may render some refugee women or girls particularly vulnerable. (UNHCR, 2002, p. 22).

In addition to the refugee quota, 300 places are made available per year for family members to be sponsored under the Refugee Family Support category who would otherwise be unable to qualify for residence under any other category of government residence policy. The government has recently made changes to the category, including expanding the definition of family member, to recognise a wider range of family structures. It also introduced a ballot system in 2002.

My other concern is that New Zealand should be doing more not less. For all the criticism of Australian policy, its annual refugee intake as a proportion of its population is still five times ours. Why not either increase our overall refugee quota to 900 so that it includes the number of people from Australia as this Dominion Post editorial suggests:

And this means that 150 other refugees, typically rotting in wretched camps near some of the ghastliest places on earth, will not be able to come to New Zealand.

Their places will be taken by those who were lucky enough to have become the responsibility of Australia. This isn’t really fair. Australia’s rejected refugees are not necessarily more deserving than the 150 who will miss out.A more compassionate approach would have been simply to increase the overall refugee quota by 150, bringing it to 900.

Race Relations Commissioner, Mr Joris de Bres supports this increase and advocates for refugees accepted from Australia to be subject to a bilateral agreement and distinguished from the humanitarian refugee quota:

 The 150 places should be in addition to the annual quota. The quota is a separate arrangement, and the Government’s announcement could constitute an ongoing reduction in New Zealand’s humanitarian commitment to the UNHCR to accept up to 750 refugees in need of resettlement. The present 750 refugee quota includes specific groups including women at risk, disabled people and family linked cases. The announcement may diminish New Zealand humanitarian response to these vulnerable groups of refugees.For transparency, any refugees accepted from Australian detention camps should be subject to a bilateral agreement separate and distinct from the humanitarian refugee quota.

Another concern is whether in tone, language, media and treatment we are emulating a punitive and dehumanising Australian asylum seeker policy. Bryce Edwards in the National Business Review notes that:

we have effectively approved and given international legitimacy to an Australian policy that ‘is the outcome of squalid politics, beginning with John Howard’s demonising of the boat people and exaggerating their threat. The effectiveness of the scare tactics, also employed after Howard left the scene, forced Gillard to reopen the foreign detention centres – centres of human misery.

Photos received by Sarah Hanson-Young of the Manus Island Detention Centre, Nauru. from an article by Bianca Hall

Brian Rudman in the Herald observes that John Key is embracing a particularly hellish vision:

Amnesty International’s refugee expert, Dr Graham Thom, after a visit to the Nauru camp in November, called the conditions “cruel, inhuman and degrading”, with 387 men cramped into five rows of leaking tents “suffering from physical and mental ailments – creating a climate of anguish as the repressively hot monsoon season begins”. Dr Thom said “the news that five years could be the wait time for these men under the Government’s ‘no advantage’ policy added insult to injury”, with one man attempting to take his life while the Amnesty group were visiting.

 

Even former MP’s have jumped in Aussie Malcolm in the Herald:

Australia and Australia alone stands out from the rest of the world with arguments about queue jumpers and all sorts of populist jargon that actually hides racism, and now New Zealand has joined Australia it’s a tragedy,” Mr Malcolm told Radio New Zealand…It couldn’t be a worse outcome.

 

Jan Logie of the Green party asked questions in parliament but interestingly enough there’s been silence from our Labour party as the National Business Review points out:

Yet opposition parties have been noticeably weak in their critiques of the policy, choosing to play it safe. A Labour-led government, David Shearer says, wouldn’t necessarily reverse the policy, and instead ‘Labour would discuss the policy with Australia’

 

I’m with Michael Timmins a New Zealand refugee lawyer when he suggests that New Zealand could play a positive role and improve protection in the region rather than “cosy[ing] up to Australia’s broken asylum system”. In his excellent article, he suggests engaging in regional co-operation and working with South East Asian countries so that they can properly process refugees. New Zealand is at a cross-roads, we can choose to punish groups of people who demonstrate incredible courage to leave horrendous circumstances or we can attempt to find some solutions that uphold people’s human rights and dignity.I know which I would prefer.

courage 2 courage1

Unsettled in Australia: Reflections on my first Australia/Straya/Invasion day

koala bear

My first stuffed toy as a child in Nairobi was a koala bear and I’ve been besotted with them ever since. So you can imagine that I was captivated by this meme where the koala realises that she’s not a bear but a marsupial. To draw a very long bow, I think her puzzlement captures the experience of so many visibly different migrants in settler societies who believe they are part of a nation and then find that they aren’t, whether it’s because their qualifications aren’t recognised which leads them to be unemployed or under-employed or they begin to realise that their skin colour doesn’t lend them to being neatly absorbed into the imagined community on national days of celebration. So here I am in Australia, not as a nine year old (when my family were looking to migrate from Nairobi) but as an adult in mid-career, here to live and work. Joining a multitude of other New Zealanders (the most common country of birth of Australian residents outside of Australia is the United Kingdom followed by New Zealand, you’ll find other interesting nuggets on cultural diversity on Esther Hougenhout‘s blogpiece) who’ve also crossed the ditch. I’ve visited Australia for conferences and to visit my partner’s family, but it’s been over twenty years since I lived somewhere other than Aotearoa. In my work and community life I’ve carefully considered how migrants engage with settler institutions and their relationships with indigenous communities, but I am having a powerful opportunity to examine my own complicity in forms of oppression (in the context of another settler society) as Harsha Walia so powerfully puts it in a video on anti-oppression, decolonization, and being a responsible ally.

992894-australia-word-cloud
From news.com.au
australia-map-aboriginal-nations
Courtesy of Brisbane Murri Action Group

We’ve arrived in time for Australia day which commemorates the 225th anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet in Sydney Cove, New South Wales in 1788, when British sovereignty was also proclaimed over the eastern seaboard of Australia. It’s a day of festivals, concerts, citizenship ceremonies and acknowledgements of the contributions Australians have made with the recipients of honours and Australian of the year announced. Entrepreneur and electrical retailer Dick Smith even got into the jingoistic spirit with his casually racist advertisement for Aussie foodstuffs, beautifully critiqued by Sunili. I’m not sure if the stones that hit both our heads as we were walking along the Nepean highway to look at housing options were an important Australia day cultural tradition for young blokes in fast cars (I’d like to know how their aim was so brilliantly accurate). Nevertheless fervent nationalism is everywhere, cars and houses are adorned with Australian flags and there is an exacerbation in bogan behaviour as comedians Aamer Rahman from Fear of a Brown Planet and Robert Foster/Kenneth Oathcarn observe.

S Peter Davis who made a YouTube video Straya Day, notes that

as January 26 rolls around, you begin to see cars on the road with little Australian flags poking out the windows like a diplomatic cavalcade. In what is usually a pretty tolerant and multicultural nation, this is one day of the year when folks start casting suspicious and slightly disapproving glances toward brown people. Anti-immigrant slogans like “We grew here, you flew here,” and the somewhat more direct “Fuck off we’re full” begin to make the rounds. Understand, it’s the minority of people, and Australia does not hold the patent on racism. But when you combine this with a cocktail of youth, alcohol and barbecue…parts of the country just explode in a shower of beer, singlets and thongs.

Or not as the pictures below reveal.

Beer baby
Via Chalk Hotel’s Facebook page

This day of barbecues and beer is also called Invasion or Survival day. It represents “an undercurrent of division and inequality that belies the happy, egalitarian culture that the day is meant to convey, “a day of mourning for the land that was taken and the ensuing two centuries of social alienation and discrimination” as Robin Tennant-Wood puts it. There are also Survival Day celebrations like the 2013 Share The Spirit Festival featuring Indigenous music, dance and culture. Numerous Invasion day marches have also taken place across Australia.

Grandtheft Australia
Via Idle No More Facebook page

Hip hop artists Reverse Polarities recent release “Invasion Day” acknowledges the historical and continuing injustices faced by Indigenous Australians and pushes for Australians to understand their history rather than being immobilised by guilt (white Australians) or innocence (visibly different new Australians):

Many Australians feel guilt for the actions their white predesessors and claim non- involvement due to being new Australians. We must be active in our understanding of history. The past is not ours to change, but the future can be shaped.

INM Invasion day
Via Idle No More Australia’s Facebook page

Peter Gebhardt a poet, retired County Court judge and former principal asks for accountability and reckoning with the history of genocide “What might an Aboriginal person say of Australia Day? Why should the Aborigines celebrate that day?” He adds:

It was the day that marked the theft of a land (terra nullius), the day that marked the theft and abduction of a people, of a culture, the day that initiated the pathways to the Stolen Children and, to our ultimate shame, the deaths in custody. It is a day that stands as a reminder of massacres. The wind-stench of bodies burned in bonfires hangs heavy upon the nation’s conscience and in the clouds…You can shuttle history, but you cannot shuttle facts. It would be a great Australia Day if it faced honesty, historical facts, abandonment, hypocrisy, shelved superiority and embarked upon an exercise of spiritual empathy rather than religious hubris.

A point supported by Tristan Ewins, who calls for celebration and critique of this national day:

There is a problem, here, in that there is still no formal resolution: comprehensively righting the injustices suffered by indigenous people. Without the closure provided by a just, representative and inclusive Treaty between the modern Australian nation and our indigenous peoples, it is hard to imagine a fully inclusive celebration of the Australian nation. Perhaps in the future – should such a resolution be achieved – then maybe this could become the focus of a new ‘national day’ for all Australians.

The desire for redress and accountability has a long way to go to being realised, but small steps toward reconciliation are evident. This year for the first time both the Aboriginal and Australian flags were simultaneously hoisted on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Aboriginal flag on bridge
Picture: Sam Ruttyn Source: News Limited via new.com.au

Apparently, more than 17,000 people from 145 countries took the citizenship pledge to become Australians on January 26th. Without any sense of irony whatsoever, Tony Abbott Leader of the Opposition told an Australia Day breakfast and citizenship ceremony in Adelaide that change should be welcomed “when it’s in accordance with the customs and traditions of our people” and he added that new citizens were “changing the country for the better”.

Being a new arrival in Australia myself has been interesting, there are many similarities with New Zealand. The neoliberal multicultural success stories of refugees and migrants loom large both in media and in private conversations. Take Akram Azimi, Young Australian of the Year 2013 who arrived  in Australia 13 years ago from Afghanistan and went from being ‘an ostracised refugee kid with no prospects’ to becoming his school’s head boy. Or diasporic Maori, Frank (name changed) who repeatedly called himself and other Maori “niggers”in front of his car salesman colleagues. He told me that his wife wanted to return home six months into their stint here and he insisted they “tough it out”, he quipped “things are fine if you just work hard”. He’s taught his children important aspects of Te Ao Maori and has disdain for the various groups that have formed stating that “if you want to learn about your culture you should go home to do it”. Rauf Soulio (chair of the Australian Multicultural Council and a judge of the District Court of South Australia) peppers an opinion piece with words and phrases like “enterprise”, “courage and commitment” and talks about people who “strove to build new and prosperous lives”.  Extolling a neoliberal narrative combined with a commitment to reconciliation:

It is one of the hallmarks of our multiculturalism that we work hard to ensure that those who come here have every opportunity to become fully participating members of Australian society, rather than remaining guests or temporary visitors. It doesn’t matter that you don’t have Australian lineage or ancestry when you arrive – as long as you contribute.

Aus-strayer
Illustration: Ben Sanders/The Jacky Winter Group in the Sydney Morning Herald

Yup, I’m here to work and become a “fully participating member” of Australian society, and to that end have also been consuming multiculturalism with relish and delight. I am blissfully happy at being able to access ingredients and cuisines that are difficult to find in Aotearoa. But consumption aside, I do want to find a way to engage ethically with this place. Shakira Hussein‘s incisive critique of Scott Morrison’s speech at the Menzies Centre for Australian Studies in London brilliantly skewers Morrison’s selective consumption of multiculturalism:

Morrison doesn’t spell out which aspects of “diversity” would be considered acceptable under a more balanced post-multicultural regime, but I’m guessing he subscribes to the consensus view that multiculturalism has had a beneficial effect on the Australian diet. (Sharia tribunals? No thanks. Homous and baklava? More, please.) Even those most ardent racists participate in the multiculturalism of consumption. But while enjoying our pizza and laksa, we need to “send a message” that such tolerance “is not a licence for cultural practices that are offensive to the cultural values and laws of Australia and that our respect for diversity does not licence: the primacy of the English language”.

His comments come just in time for Geert Wilder’s visit to Australia next month. See Deborah Kelly’s kit below.

Veiled woman

I was in Sydney almost seven months ago when I caught up with a friend of the family who asked me why I hate white people. I had to explain to him that my work is about critiquing white hegemony and that is a different thing. Critiquing hegemony and racism and advocating for indigenous rights is viewed decidedly un-Australian, as effectively parodied by Don Watson:

We’re pragmatists. It comes with being Australian that we don’t upset ourselves about things of no practical consequence. Of course, for some people the wine’s always corked. You’ll hear them from Ballarat to Bali, running the country down. Fair dinkum, you want to deck the bastards sometimes. But, as I said, we don’t upset ourselves. Poor things, they can’t think of the foundation of the country without thinking of the people it was taken from. They can’t think of dear old decent Arthur Phillip without thinking of the time he sent out men with bags to collect half a dozen Aboriginal heads. Nothing in the manifold benefits of British rule, British institutions, British customs and British capital cheers them up or excites a little gratitude.

Remind them of the nation’s progress, show them how human health and happiness have in general flourished here, and in return you’ll get the vale of tears it has been for the Aborigines, or the grave injustices to women, or the treatment of refugees arriving on boats: as if because some people got the rough end of the pineapple we are all supposed to be abraded by it.

Michel Foucault the French philosopher said that the point of “a critique is not a matter of saying that things are not right as they are. It is a matter of pointing out on what kinds of assumptions, what kinds of familiar, unchallenged, unconsidered modes of thought the practices we accept rest”. For me, as an academic with a commitment to social justice, blindly supporting the status quo is not an option. I know that I have a long journey of learning and unlearning ahead of me, without the reassurance of state sanctioned biculturalism or a biculturalism grounded in treasured processes and relationships in Aotearoa that have inflected my adult life. But this grounding from the place I’ve called home for most of my life will be fundamental to examining my complicity in the maintenance of oppression, my understanding of the multicultural project and to forging my own rather than received understandings of indigineity here in Australia. Luckily there are many who’ve already walked this path. Between their wisdom and those of my global intellectual and political community I think I am koalified to undertake this next adventure.

Via Colourfest film festival
Via Colourfest film festival