Scoop Review of Books

Indian women myths quashed

More than 100 years of Indian women making a home and career in New Zealand is the subject of a new book. ‘Sari: Indian women at work in New Zealand’, being launched today by Dunmore Publishing, is a labour of love by AUT Associate Professor of Management Dr Edwina Pio.

She says she wanted to explode the myth that a New Zealand Indian woman will probably only own a dairy, be unable to speak English and be a mere chattel of her all-powerful husband.

“My book uncovers findings such as terms like ‘curry-munchers’, race aliens and foreign trash which emboss the experiences of many Indian women,” she says. “Other more positive phrases, such as great learners, hard working, non-smokers and family oriented, are now more frequently heard.”

‘Sari’ is the result of interviews with 100 Indian women and conversations with more than 600 Indian women across New Zealand over a period of six years. Governor General Anand Satyanand wrote the foreword. Guest speakers at today’s launch include AUT Chancellor Sir Paul Reeves, National Party leader John Key and the Indian High Commissioner KP Ernest.

Writing the book evolved from Associate Professor Pio’s concern that qualified and professional Indian women find it difficult to get work equivalent to their skills and qualifications.

“This is primarily because they lack Kiwi experience,” she says. “And because their accent and perhaps visible diversity discriminators such as skin colour are different from the New Zealand host society.”

Associate Professor Pio says Indians comprise 2.6 percent of New Zealand’s population. She adds that with India emerging as a global giant in the world economy it is important that New Zealand reaps the benefits of its immigration policies.

“All New Zealanders can benefit through a more sophisticated understanding of individual-organisational fit, and plug into the enormous wealth of data and experience which migrants bring about India,” she says. “This includes Indian’s vast knowledge and expertise of the meandering pathways often necessary to do business in India.”

The working journey of these women ‘of the sari’ is intertwined with the immigration policies and the mental interstices of various eras, she says.

“Sewn into the stories in my book are the spangles of an Indian patriarchal system, which supported the women and yet at the same time created very strict demarcation lines,” she says. “Add to that the shaded sequins of in-laws who could both manipulate and manoeuvre the bahu, or the Indian daughter-in-law, as she sought to carve out her career and gain an education.”

“Women from the pioneer settler families, who today are third and fourth generation Kiwis, as well as more recent migrants, who have entered New Zealand in the last fifteen years, for the richly embroidered narratives of this book.”

Associate Professor Pio hopes her book will bring the silent voices of Indian women into the public domain, as a tribute to their work and life in New Zealand, and posing questions and offering recommendations for policy makers, employers, the business community and Indians in New Zealand.
More information about Associate Professor Edwina Pio, and some more here.


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