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Applications of Feminism for Community Development of Maori Women

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Social Work
Wordcount: 1693 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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In this e-journal, ‘feminism’ as a tauiwi community and social work theory and ‘mana wahine’ as a tangata whenua concept will be identified and evaluated as applicable in interventions for individuals and families within a social work context. Also, these two theories will be compared and contrasted by highlighting the specific features of each concept. Further, a discussion of how both concepts could be applied within Aotearoa by social work practitioners working towards transformative social action.

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Feminism is described in terms of certain distinctive characteristics and its impact evident in various aspects of NZ society. In 2005, Payne stated five different categories of feminism: “liberal, radical, socialist, black, and postmodern” (p. 253). In our current male dominated society, feminism acts as an advocate for women standing in vulnerable positions within families or communities towards social justice and equal rights outside of social norms (Butler-Mokoro & Grant, 2017). In particular, feminists fight against gender inequality in education, employment, and health care (Butler-Mokoro & Grant, 2017). For example, the gender pay gap between males and females for the same job in New Zealand has been a social issue for a while. According to StatsNZ in 2018, the gender pay gap was 9.2% this year following a 16.3% reduction since 1998. Moreover, women working in NZ are “11% more likely to have receive a promotion in 2017” compared to their Australian counterparts and only “12% more likely to think that equal career opportunities are open to them” (HAYS, 2017). In spite of the growing consciousness in contemporary society, gender discrimination is still prevalent in our workplaces. Essentially, the opinion of feminists is that the construction of this patriarchal social structure is due to the hegemonic power being held by men in multiple fields such as politics, economics and education (Popple, 2015).

The next section evaluates feminism in terms of how it can be applied to the wider community development.  Feminism provided groups oppressed from mainstream society with power to form communities inspired by the women’s movement to advocate for “equality, social justice and autonomy” (Briskman, Pease, & Allan, 2003, p.107). This theory empowers communities to fight against inequality not only regarding gender but also race and sexual orientation. It gives groups having inferior status in economy, politics, and society (such as Maori women, refugees, and sexual minorities) to improve the quality of life and community wellbeing.

Following on, the Tangata whenua concept will be examined. Mana wahine, which is a theoretical and methodological approach, comprises recognition of authority, self-esteem, and mana of Māori women (Simmonds, 2011). This theory highlights the position of Maori women where they stand at the intersection of being both Maori and female. As Simmonds (2011) states, Maori women face various oppressions stemming from discrimination based on sex, race, and their colonised position. This theory containing Maori-centred decolonisation aims to empower Maori women to re-build their mana from the negative, misleading image of wahine as unhygienic savages. They have long suffered having a low status in society formed by those who uphold power with the colonial view of what women should be (Pihama, 2001). It resists liberation from the Western approach which excludes Maori beliefs, values and practices – often considered as dissimilar to Western concepts and ideology due to cultural differences. Wahine Maori, are oppressed ethnically and sexually by groups that dominate women. This has caused them being overpowered and excluded from their honours, putting them in an undesirable position. The oppression based on race and sexuality against human rights led Maori women to lose their mana, which resulted in increasing suicide rates.  Research conducted by Ministry of Health in 2016, revealed the Maori suicide rate to be greater than non-Maori. That of Maori males was 1.4 times higher than non-Maori males, and for Maori females the suicide rate was 1.5 times greater than non-Maori females

The suffering Maori women receive from unfair treatment against human rights; therefore, this issue must be addressed for social justice and we, as future social workers, should advocate rights for Maori women to regain mana. Also this will certainly promote mana wahine as an exciting theoretical transformation that enables Maori women to claim their knowledges, experiences, and practices.

There are distinctive characteristics among feminists which depend on culture, time, and place, whereas mana wahine has a collective voice for self-determination. Feminists fight against racial, sexual, hierarchical and age-based discrimination embedded in our society through collaborative discourse and group work to achieve consciousness of issues affecting women’s social relations (Payne, 2014). On the other hand, mana wahine claim the dignity of Maori women and cultural autonomy by applying Maori strategies for Maori by Maori. The holistic perspective towards history, language, and culture encourages Maori women’s movement for decolonisation. This is done by resisting existing systems created with hegemonic colonial masculinist ideologies to reclaim their mana as women and indigenous people in New Zealand. It protests against the oppression and imperial domination that Maori women underwent which resulted in the loss of dignity. Unlike mana wahine, feminism focuses on the establishment of equal rights and legal protection for women. The prime contrast is that mana wahine accepts gender differences in biological characteristics and takes their gender roles as their own privileges; therefore, they take a stance against genetic modification because it is against their beliefs, notion and tikanga (Hutchings, 2004). By contrast, feminists demand the individual determination for their own sexual identity and expression.

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In conclusion, feminism and mana wahine confirmed that they are women’s movements to publicize injustice latent in society, stemming from biases and dominant ideas derived from the notion of superiority of one perspective, and to change institutions and regain women’s rights. In order to provide clients transformative social work practice we, as social work practitioners, should acquire indigenous knowledge including theories formed from various cultural perspectives. These theories, as embodied in the Code of Conduct (Social Workers Registration Board, 2018), will guide us to support them to meet clients’ needs for their wellbeing and promote social change by altering behaviour patterns and cultural values and norms. I believe that respecting diversity is a cornerstone to obtain transformative leadership for positive change in direction, and to achieve authentic social justice rooted in human rights with embedded notions of fairness, equality and equity.



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