The photo above hangs in my dining room and evokes lovely memories of my holiday to Auckland 10 years ago. My daughter played on Devonport beach as a 9 year old. We had soft sand, sunshine and lots of laughs which is why the photo hangs in a prominent place in my home.
However, that is only half the story about my connection with New Zealand. I am married to a Kiwi and lived there for 1.5 years in the late 1980s. To put it simply, I found it to be a really difficult experience because of my gender and race. I also found the way Maoris were treated to be very worrying.
There was a common narrative about how wonderful the country was and any attempt to question its ways was quickly shut down in the name of patriotism. You weren’t one of ‘us’ if you didn’t buy into the ‘paradise’ thing. There was also a macho culture which seeped into so much of everyday life.
The purpose of this blog post is to make the point that labelling any country as ‘paradise’ is an unhelpful and misleading one. It gives the impression that everyone ought to be happy there and that ‘paradise’ somehow offers an invisible arm of safety. Countries labelled as ‘unsafe’ are ones in which women ought to be ultra careful, not in ‘paradise’.
Unfortunately, while the risk may be higher for women in ‘unsafe’ countries there are no ‘safe places’ for women while male violence exists. Male violence is universal. ‘Paradise’ isn’t a ring fenced area within which women are kept safe.
The murder of Grace Millane is seen as doubly shocking because she had travelled through South America, which has very high instances of violence, before reaching the shores of New Zealand where she was killed. The rules of a liberal country were broken, according to popular opinion, and these dictate that crime happens in other countries.
People are questioning how this could have happened in a country known for the glamorous America’s Yacht Race, cafes by the sea and old colonial England style homes. Why not? These things are not signifiers of women’s rights.
The following was reported in the New York Times:
New Zealand has one of the highest instances of domestic abuse in the world. The full scale of it is laid out in a report published in recent days.
You may be wondering why any of this matters to an Indian woman living in London? It is because my daughter is a Kiwi passport holder and has citizenship rights. She may well end up living there one day. I really don’t want her to experience the stullifying culture which I experienced when I lived there.