A Migrant Woman in New Zealand
The story of a migrant woman – the issues
It was winter of 1999; Movina (not her real name) had just arrived in New Zealand with a young one and a new born. Movina had bachelors of science in chemistry from a reputable university in India but had limited English skills. Movina accompanied her husband to New Zealand when he was granted residency on the basis of being a chef.
On arrival, she had a limited social circle and no family. Her husband worked long hours. Her baby suffered from colic; money was scarce so she had to be always very careful with it. She was home alone with the children for long periods, had no one to talk to and when her husband got home from work, he was always very tired. Monday was the only day she interacted with the outside world because that was her husband’s day off.
As migrant woman in New Zealand, Movina did not know where to go, what to do. She was a prisoner in her own home. She was lonely; depression was setting in, life was not as rosy as she had thought it would be in this foreign land which was to be her new home. Then she found she was pregnant again. She was barely coping with being a mother of two and had few parenting skills.
Her husband was nice but was of little help as he expected her to manage it all. He held the view that a woman’s place was in the home to look after the family and listen to her husband. He was out of touch with her wants, needs, dreams and aspirations. She conveyed he had controlling tendencies, was suspicious and behaved jealously. He did not approve of her connecting with anyone else.
So life was not easy. Movina so very much wanted a happy existence, a united family and ultimately she wanted to do well.
Movina wanted to learn English as she knew this was the key to her survival. She wanted to earn money, she loved the way the ladies dressed here, the way they put makeup on but she knew her husband did not approve. She was in a hurry to learn fast and nothing was going to stop her.
Finding help for migrants
It was then we got connected through a volunteer organization I had just started called MAMTA – an Asian women’s support group. The thinking of this group was that woman is is the glue in the family and if she is supported and empowered then the family greatly benefits, as in turn does society, the country and the world at large. The group appreciated that there were many valuable services available, but the available help for migrants is not always accessible to the intended audience. It is not that help is not available, but rather that migrant women such as Movina are not aware of it. Movina was lucky to find it.
One service not available then – ‘Language Line’ administered by the Office of Ethnic Affairs – is now available free to any organization. This is particularly useful for lawyers if English is the client’s second language and if the lawyer is unsure whether the client or their spouse fully understands the matter being discussed.
Movina and I used to talk over the phone in Hindi and English; she took to English like fish to water. I connected her to the many services that were available despite her husband’s disapproval which somewhat subsided when I met him and he learned that I was not trying to influence her against him or break up their family unit.
Movina was introduced to MCLaSS, a multicultural learning and support service in the Wellington region, where she received formal English lessons and was able to master the language; she learnt parenting skills through help offered by Plunket; she was connected to the City Mission which assessed that she had some family issues and assisted her in these.
Movina eventually undertook a Barnados course relating to child care in the home; I attended her graduation. It was a very proud moment for her, her husband had a big grin. She made friends and started learning the New Zealand way, the lingo. Her confidence grew. She started looking after other children in her own home which gave her an income stream, she helped her husband to buy a business, learned how to drive.
Overcoming the challenges of migration
Recently I received a call from Movina asking me which website she could refer, to incorporate a company. I put the phone down with a smile. What a journey!
Therefore, for some women, the challenges have a different face; the aspirations to be treated equally are a far cry from the immediate issues of survival in a foreign country.
Hopefully a day will come in the near future that these challenges will be overcome and she will be in a space of an even playing field. A world where we are all equal, gender, race, religion, social standing is an issue of the past, where there is understanding that we are interconnected, interdependent and part of one global community, where the good of one is the good of all. That the journey between birth and death is in our hands and it is up to us to make what we make of it, whatever cards maybe thrown our way. That nothing tangible is taken when this journey ends; where then is there room for being treated differently because of your gender?