President of national P.A.C.I.F.I.C.A. women’s organisation talks 45 years of advocacy

Advocating for Pasifika women across Aotearoa New Zealand is one of many platforms the national Pasifika women’s organisation has committed to providing over its 45 year history. The National President for P.A.C.I.F.I.C.A. Inc. (Pacific Allied (Women’s) Council Inspires Faith In Ideals Concerning All), says she is proud to see the work and the commitment from P.A.C.I.F.I.C.A. women throughout the motu continue to offer support for their sisters, mamas, and families.

Tofilau Bernadette Pereira MNZM has been at the helm of the non-governmental organisation for the past four years. “Tough”, is how Tofilau describes 2020 and the impact of the global pandemic COVID-19. She says Pasifika women and their families felt the full impact, not only economically, but spiritually. Despite the nationwide lockdown in March 2020 and the second lockdown in Auckland in August, Tofilau says a lot of work went on behind the scenes to keep close contact with their P.A.C.I.F.I.C.A. members. “We utilised social media, through Facebook, our website, and connecting through meetings electronically on zoom where the executive meet constantly so we were able to keep a tab of our movements.”

With support from the Ministry of Social Development, P.A.C.I.F.I.C.A. received resources and support that allowed them to reach out to their members, focused on the women and their families providing short term support for families that were struggling, primarily to get food on the table.

A lot of our women lost jobs during that time so there was a lot of anxiety and stress.Tofilau Bernadette Pereira

Tofilau says while in the midst of this dark period, a positive consequence of COVID-19 emerged with the formation of two new P.A.C.I.F.I.C.A. branches. She says their members rallied together to make sure that their families and friends had support. There was particular emphasis on providing outreach support especially for those who had limited contact with the wider community. “I think it was really important to just make those phone calls so that people felt connected especially for our elderly .”

Tofilau believes P.A.C.I.F.I.C.A. held their own during this time and as a result some of the major organisations reached out to their group to see if there was any support that was required. P.A.C.I.F.I.C.A. was able to provide a snapshot for the Ministry for Women that looked at the impact on Pasifika women and their families of the two lockdowns.

Education is another platform P.A.C.I.F.I.C.A. is committed to as part of their annual scholarship programme. Tofilau says despite the pandemic P.A.C.I.F.I.C.A. national communications officer Malia Tua’i Manuleleua and national secretary Marie Laufiso continued to push out the application forms. Tofilau says it was important to get the messages out that while women are looking after their families, once we came out of the lockdowns we wanted to ensure those opportunities for education were still available.

As an NGO, Tofilau says the organisation relies totally on the goodwill of their membership on top of the countless volunteer hours that go into their organisation. She says there are benefits to being an NGO, giving them their independence to voice their views and advocate on behalf of the needs for Pacific women, their families, and children.

She recognises the importance of policy, and building and maintaining strong relationships with government organisations. Tofilau represented the organisation on several boards in an advisory capacity. Through the Ministry for Women she sat on the National Council On The Employment of Women.

With a lot of our women being affected, unemployed, being made redundant, it’s escalated those social issues and economic problems. Women are losing jobs and in some situations they are the key earner for those households. They’ve lost jobs, they’ve lost two jobs, three jobs.Tofilau Bernadette Pereira

The United Nations “The Impact of COVID-19 on Women” brief, analysed the effects of COVID-19 on all sectors of women’s lives and most of their living experiences. It focused more on urban settings in developed and underdeveloped countries than on rural areas and natural disaster situations.

Tofilau says the brief found that Pasifika women fared badly as a result of COVID-19. “There’s all those injustices. It’s almost like, oh my gosh where does that one begin?”  She believes that P.A.C.I.F.I.C.A. Inc. has a place to provide a voice to raise issues and the need to be at the decision making table, even though they are an NGO.

Sometimes we get forgotten by the very powers that be, or you hear things spring up but we haven’t been consulted, or at least been invited to come to the table.Tofilau Bernadette Pereira

She says alongside their work with Ministry for Women they are also in discussions with the Ministry for Pacific People to foster a similar relationship that their sister organisation, Maori Women’s Welfare League, has with their Ministry, Te Puni Kokiri.

Tofilau is proud of the work P.A.C.I.F.I.C.A. does to support women who are entering into local and central government politics. She says it has been a driving force for the organisation. “We are so proud to hold claim that quite a significant number, and when I say significant I mean in quality of our women, are leading in some of those local boards. You’ve got the chair of the local board of Mangere, Lemauga Lydia Sosene. She’s a P.A.C.I.FI.C.A. member. Chair for Papatoetoe Otara, Lotu Fuli also a member. City councilor down in Dunedin, also part of our executive. Marie Laufiso, and many members throughout the country representing their region.”

Tofilau adds, “in central government, P.A.C.I.F.I.C.A. women feature highly. The likes of Hon. Carmel Sepuloni, Hon. Jenny Salesa, Louisa Wall, and Hon. Poto Williams–the first Pacific woman Minister of Police. It’s great to see Pasifika women represented here, in community, public, and the private sector.”

She says while they have great women in roles of influence, more work needs to be done.

We still need to keep the advocacy up. In Samoa we say, ‘e fagu fagu pea‘; keep trying, keep pushing. Don’t be complacent because it’s when you become complacent we lose the plot, and then we’re not there.Tofilau Bernadette Pereira

Tofilau acknowledges the pioneers who founded P.A.C.I.F.I.C.A. 45 years ago and places a great importance on creating strategies to sustain the organisation and support emerging Pasifika women leaders coming through the ranks. “The advocacy is so important we must not lose sight of that, because that’s all we can do given the limitations of our own work. There’s not really much resources around and we’re not providers per se.  We are an organisation that really is about the representational voice and face of P.A.C.I.F.I.C.A. women going forward.”

She also accepts that P.A.C.I.F.I.C.A. does not claim to represent all Pasifika women. “I think we would not be in this space if we did not recognise that, and we also recognise that we are not the be all, end all for Pacific women. But we are a voice, one of the voices of Pacific women, and 45 years is a testimony to that.”

As she prepares to step down from her role in 2021, she reflects on the role P.A.C.I.F.I.C.A. Inc. has played in the lives of Pasifika women since it’s creation in 1976 by founding member, the late Eleitino Paddy Walker.

Pacific women are proud contributors to every facet of life in Aotearoa. We have made our mark, so we’re no longer new. We have every right to be in this nation, and so while we celebrate the success of our Pacific women we are also very steeped in our culture, in our Pacific identities as women. I think this organisation is really important for that to continue for future generations.Tofilau Bernadette Pereira
  • You can find out more about P.A.C.I.F.I.C.A. Inc. here: www.pacifica.org.nz
  • For authoritative information about COVID-19 in New Zealand, please visit: covid19.govt.nz
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