Academic journal article Hecate

Women for Aotearoa: Feminism and Maori Sovereignty

Academic journal article Hecate

Women for Aotearoa: Feminism and Maori Sovereignty

Article excerpt

The impetus for this paper, prepared for the Women's Studies Association Conference in Wellington in 1994, came after the publication in 1993 of Anne Else's book, Women Together: A History of Women's Organisations in New Zealand,(1) which did not include Women for Aotearoa. The paper concentrates on providing a history of the activities and political position of the group, relates them ideologically to the concept of Maori sovereignty, and seeks an explanation for our exclusion from Anne's book in the largely ignored position of Marxist feminist theory of Aotearoa/New Zealand.

Ten women met in Ponsonby, Auckland, on 17 August 1982 to discuss Donna Awatere's article on Maori sovereignty, which had appeared in the June issue of Broadsheet.(2) The women were Marvin Allen, Margaret Crozier, Camille Guy, Wendy Harrex, Joce Jesson, Alison Jones, Jill Newall, Gay Simpkin, Kitty Wishart and Jenefer Wright. Seven of those women - Alison, Camille, Gay, Jenefer, Jill, Joce and Marvin - continued to meet intensively, with other women members from time to time, until 1984 and thereafter sporadically until 1990. Women for Aotearoa was a group of women with a variety of feminist backgrounds who organised around the theory in Donna's articles. Why a group of Pakeha feminists should regard Maori sovereignty as critical, is the subject of this paper. Setting out the explanation necessarily involves an account of some aspects of Marxist feminism in New Zealand.

Donna published two further articles on Maori sovereignty in Broadsheet. They appeared in October 1982 and the January/February issue in 1983. The three articles were titled "The Death Machine," "Alliances," and "Beyond the Noble Savage" respectively. Women for Aotearoa spent the first four months of our existence reading the articles, we summarised and debated them with each other. As one member of the group puts it, reading and discussing the articles was the early focus of the group and a vehicle for arriving at some collectively held responses. Another member believes we explored Donna's articles to the limits of their potential at that time. All agree that those early days were a time of great intellectual excitement. We looked forward to the meetings and returned home drained. Later, action as well as theory became important and the group was involved in protests over Waitangi Day and in republicanism particularly in relation to the Royal Tour of Charles and Diana in early 1983.

What was it that appealed in Donna's articles and provided such stimulus? On November 11 we wrote a collective letter to Broadsheet and congratulated the magazine on publishing the Maori sovereignty articles. The contents of the letter explained our thinking thus far. We stated that Donna's totally Maori-identified politics challenged us as Pakeha feminists because for once we were forced to find our theory in New Zealand. The emphasis on Pakeha was important as that focused us on what made us New Zealanders and not how British colonial history defined us. We questioned individual property ownership and the social structures that control access to land and work. We connected this with feminist theory which we saw as relying on crutches and catchphrases such as 'the personal is political', 'women are a class', 'destroy the patriarchy', 'sisterhood is powerful'. The letter went on to state the political belief which was to distinguish our approach to anti-racism from those of many other feminist groups of that time. We said, "Effective political action comes from the proper identification of our own political interests, not from guilt." That is, we were involved with Maori sovereignty because it was in our political interests to do so not because we were outsiders feeling sorry for what we had done to Maori. We also mentioned Donna's question of a possible alliance between Maori and feminist groups, stating, "No alliance is possible until we feminists understand that Maori sovereignty is not just another issue. …

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