Report – By Paul Kendon
Tales of deforestation, militarised disaster and recovery aid, human rights abuses, infanticide, discrimination and indigenous marginalisation were the focus for an international women’s campaigners conference at the weekend.
A highlight was the screening of the documentary Noho Hewa: The Wrongful Occupation of Hawai’i by independent film maker Anne Keala Kelly which struck a chord with participants from several Asia-Pacific countries.
While the place names change, the stories remain the same, says president Celine Kearney of the Aotearoa section of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF).
The organisation’s collective objective is to understand the causes of war from a female perspective, and to stop war being used as a way of solving conflict, she says.
“We take the experience of women into consideration. We aim to have women integrated into problem solving at every level,” says Kearney.
“We work for justice and for equitable standards of living for all people but particularly for women.”
WILPF was established in the United Kingdom just prior to World War I with the objective to end war as a method of conflict resolution. The main offices are in Geneva and New York, and there are more than 40-sections around the world with a close affiliation with the United Nations.
The film Noho Hewa highlighted the plight of indigenous Hawai’ians living with the military might of the US.
Hawai’i was officially annexed to the United States in 1898 after the overthrow of the native monarch, Queen Lili’uokalani.
Keala, using her Hawa’iian name, commonly bracketed by English first and surnames – a simple example of colonialism – says one of the most important things campaigners can do is make links between business and their interests.
Joan Macdonald, a WILPF stalwart who campaigns on West Papuan issues, calls on New Zealanders to buy Green Valley milk as the company does not invest in controversial palm oil plantations.
West Papua is losing rain forests to palm oil plantations at a dramatic rate, she says.
This threatens to make the orangutan extinct “within our lifetime” as well as affecting the indigenous Melanesian population’s access to traditional food, medicine and shelter.
“We need New Zealanders to know that the government is training the West Papua military and police who are committing human rights violations and atrocities on women, children and men,” she said.
“Our government prevents external relationships but Pacific women are rising up.”
One panel of three indigenous women spoke about the militarisation and “coup culture” in Fiji.
Paul Kendon is a Postgraduate Diploma in Communication Studies student journalist at AUT University.