Nur Farhanah (Hana)
“When I came here, I experienced discrimination.
I accepted it at first because I’d already experienced discrimination in Singapore as an indigenous Malay. I thought that it’s okay because I’m a foreigner here in New Zealand. But when I left NZ for two years, I came back older and a bit wiser. I was like, no, I shouldn’t take this! I’m still human. I still contribute. I pay taxes. I am a resident. I’ve been here for a long time. I have done so much for the community. I have spent more of my adult years in New Zealand so I’m more Kiwi than Singaporean.
But I officially had to change my name to Hana just to get job interviews. Also, in my culture, women don’t take the husband’s name. We maintain our father’s name. We are ‘so and so, ‘daughter of’ so and so. But when I got married, I took my Kiwi Pakeha husband’s name. I asked my parents for permission. I still have both names on my passport though because the name given to me is part of my culture. That’s who I am. Nur Farhanah – it means light of happiness in Arabic.
Changing my name helped. I started getting interviews but when they are for full-time roles, I won’t get it even when I have the skills. It is as if I was part of their DEI exercise “yeah, we interviewed an ethnic minority and it’s a woman, but she’s not a ‘culture fit’”. It was so frustrating.
That’s why I set up AMWA (Aotearoa Multicultural Women Association). I see many ethnic women with great skills. Many came with their husbands because their husband got jobs here or they are married to a Kiwi. It is already hard enough to be a woman, but then you add on other marginalised identities: they have an accent, they look different… They became so shy, so scared and their confidence levels dropped. Many felt isolated and depressed. I was like, you know what, we’ll come together. We will support each other. Through AMWA, I provide them opportunities. I organised workshops around CV writing, cover letter, interviews, networking. I also introduced new activities to help them socialize and feel less isolated. Some of them picked up gardening. I remind them that it might take a few years, but there is hope.
Knowing that there are other women who are going through the same thing really helped me. When I thought I was the only one, the problem became individualized. When I realized that it is a systemic problem, I knew that I wasn’t the problem and I felt better. Maybe we can’t change the system, but together, we are stronger than when we are alone.
New Zealand can only benefit from diversity in thoughts. Because being in one corner of the world with the same thoughts over and over again is not going to help progress. There are all these people with great skills who want to contribute to New Zealand and should be given the opportunity to.
When the women join AMWA, one of the first things that I teach them is te reo Maori, even if their English is not fluent. They learn their pepeha, mihi, how to say kia ora. I always tell them that we have to respect the people of the land, this is their land, they came first, and they have paved the way for us.
I say we cannot be fully multicultural if we do not respect the tangata whenua and their practices. We cannot ask people to respect our practices if we don’t respect theirs. Only when we have full acceptance and respectful trust of the people of the land that we can say, hey, you know we also bring benefits.
If everyone brings some food to the table, then the table is full.
I think a lot of people are shocked because they have a stereotype that Asian women don’t talk. I’m naturally more outgoing. I have always been since I was a kid. I like to step up and do what needs to be done. For example. I also set up Aotearoa Adaptive Archery to give tamariki and rangatahi with disabilities an opportunity to practice archery, and I sit on a couple of boards and committees.
If we don’t step forward, and we don’t bring ourselves into the mix of things, no one is going to know us. We cannot wait to be invited. Sometimes we have to invite ourselves. So, I invite myself and step forward. I hope, I too, am paving the way for other women, ethnic minorities, and marginalised communities.”