As a Māori woman, I draw strength from all aspects of my identity while simultaneously being aware that the odds are stacked against me. I was reminded of this recently after checking out the website for the Government Women’s Network where the homepage detailed the inequity between the earnings of women and men. It also boldly noted that the statistics are even worse for Māori, Pasifika and Asian women. It’s not the most empowering thing I could read. But, this is the tightrope that I walk along and I will continue to walk it as others have before me and as others will after me. It is easy for me to find spaces where I do not feel represented either as a woman or as Māori or as both. There have also been times that I have found myself in spaces that inadvertently require me to choose between these two aspects of who I am. In this instances if spaces are unable to understand that it’s problematic to make me choose, then I know that it is not a space that I want to be in. This is the complex reality of what life looks like for me, but this will not be the same for all Māori nor will it be the same for all women.
That is why diversity is so important. It is a pathway to understanding an experience that is different from your own. However, diversity is not an answer in and of itself. It needs to be championed by people and it is the people in positions of power that need to champion it. These champions are allies of minorities, they are aware of how people came to be disenfranchised or oppressed or exploited or objectified, and are not afraid to speak up about it. Crucially though, allies must not speak for other people. All the empathy in the world does not give you the right to silence someone by advocating over the top of them. Just as crucial is understanding that walking a tightrope is a forever thing, though allies have safety nets that the disenfranchised do not have, what is important to us is that you continue to walk with us. Continue to walk with us when the heat is on, continue to walk with us at times of reprieve.
When diversity is seen as a loaded term or a buzzword, its power is undermined. That’s why diversity is more than a buzzword, it is as vast as its meaning and every aspect of it can be enacted to ensure that the disenfranchised are heard, consulted, represented and respected.
I will continue to walk this tightrope and I will do it with my allies beside me, speaking with me, but not for me.