MISS PETRICEVICH REPORTS ON
WOMEN in ASIA
Miss Miraka Petricevich, a delegate to the Pan-Pacific Women's International Conference held in Manila from January 24 to February 6, 1955, has described her impressions at the recent Dominion Conference in Auckland. Her report presents a new sense of fellowship between the Maori people and the peoples of Asia.
I WOULD like to begin my observations at home, where the idea of our representation became a reality. First of all, the very act of your decision to send a delegate overseas became a momentous occasion in the history of our people; momentous because it marked a forward step in our thinking, in the broadening of our horizons and the awakening to a consciousness of the need to participate in world concerns. In doing so you joined the rest of the world in this period of “man's awareness of mankind”. Secondly, the wonderful response from all members in achieving this objective which last year's conference had set the league was indicative of your sincerity and tena [ unclear: ] ity of purpose.
The theme which was selected for discussion at the Manila conference was Social and Economic Inter Dependence. It means simply that the countries of the world are now more than ever dependent on each other socially and economically, and we can no longer remain isolated and think only of our own needs. There must be greater sharing of the world's products and acceptance of the fact that other people's needs are the same as ours. Although countries of the world appear far distant, present day communications and inventions bring them very close together—so close that if there was another war no country would be too far away to avoid the effects of modern warfare. People go to war because they are not happy or satisfied with their lot—hence it is necessary for all people to be concerned with the problems of mankind.
This was the Seventh International Conference of the Pan-Pacific Women's Association (now called the Pacific and South East Asian Women's Association) which was unique in that it was the first international conference of women to be held in the Far East. For this reason, and for the fact that the Far East seemed to be a festering spot for future trouble such a gathering therefore had tremendous potentialities for unique achievement. Hence I had conjured up the idea in my mind that every vessel or aircraft carrying a delegate eastwards to Manila carried within it perhaps the most unique cargo that mankind has ever shipped across continents and oceans, not of precious gems, gold or silver merchandise, but of those most intangible substances called “hope”, “goodwill”, “understanding” and “peace”. For I did sincerely believe that every delegate proceeding to this conference carried within her a pulsating embryo of peace and goodwill and a sincere hope for greater understanding and sympathy among the peoples of the world. More so were these things
necessary for in Manila awaited a people whose history has been one of subjugation for over 500 years. Their feelings may best be expressed in the messages of welcome extended to us by their President and Vice-President.
Like the Philippinos, I too believed that this was the one objective which inspired all our greatest hopes and expectations and because of this fact I have chosen this particular theme as the focal point from which I have tried to analyse the conference, because of course it was the one objective which affected me most and which affects our people as a whole. If this objective was merely a statement of meaningless words to touch the gullible, then I am afraid the conference had no meaning for me and no value to you: in which case I could well be classed as a sentimental fool clutching at straws. But when I saw that the President of the Philippines and all his people were similarly affected as well as all the delegates from the Asian countries, then I felt I was not alone in considering this as the fundamental theme of conference and the real reason for our being there.
Hence the moment of arrival when hands clasped hands and east met west, only emphasised the hour when all would give voice to the burning desires which were common to all, i.e. security against want and war and a lasting peace based upon greater understanding, sympathy, friendship, and most important of all, justice. It remained with the conference then to bring about a unity of thought based upon sincerity of feeling and ideals which transcend all barriers.
Unfortunately in some ways the conference was not entirely successful and many of these hopes, desires, feelings of friendship, etc., nurtured for so long were unrealised. May I say that these are my thoughts and mine alone.
How Others Live
All this does not, however, overlook the fact that conference was attended by many brilliant women and we all had a mental feast of equally brilliant studies totalling altogether something like fifty papers. These were on all aspects of our stated theme Social and Economic Interdependence. In most of these papers we heard how women in various countries had struggled for equality, but more important still we learned their way of life and the standards of living maintained in the various countries and in so doing we were able to make comparisons. These studies were particularly valuable to women coming from the less privileged countries in showing them not so much ways to a better life, but ways of improving standards of living and creating greater opportunities for women to participate in the social and economic life of their various countries. In this sphere New Zealand was particularly outstanding as an example well worth emulating. Our standards of living, education and especially our Social Security system came in for much envy. So much so that I was asked to find out whether there were scholarships available to students to enable them to come here and study our Social Security system. One of the questions asked more often than any was “what is the percentage of illiteracy in your country?” Being accustomed to seeing all our children march off to school at the tender age of 5, the problem had never occurred to me and therefore I never took any time out to study the question prior to leaving. I could only say, if there were any illiterates the number would be so negligible it would not have been considered a matter worthy of statistical research. I hope I was not too far off the mark. In any case our compulsory education policy introduced in 1877 presupposes a situation of almost total literacy. In comparison free education in Manila was given only up to the age of 11 years.
Perhaps one of the most important things that women from countries such as ours derived from the conference was the realisation of our own great good-fortune in being blessed with so much. But may I say that being blessed with so much of the physical needs of man, we may yet be lacking in those things which bring greater satisfaction to the human spirit.
Asia Learns About the Maori
Both Mrs Bennett, an executive member of the league who also attended the conference, and I presented papers at conference, Mrs Bennett's paper was on Maori handicrafts and mine was on our organisation. These topics were selected for us by the programme organisers. Although Mrs Bennett spoke of our handicrafts we had little to contribute from the point of view of their economic value since our handicrafts have never been commercialised to any great extent and certainly not to affect the economy of the country to any noticeable degree. What was required at conference were new ideas of developing home industries in order to help supplement the family incomes of country dwellers, as well as the social and cultural values of such activities. We have never utilised our handicrafts in that way since the need has never arisen in a system of economy which enjoys full employment.
The idea of our Maori Women's Welfare League as an organisation principally based on self-help was to my mind a sufficiently interesting example for any similarly situated groups of women to follow. The fact that it also receives a degree of government assistance showed that any such selfhelp projects of a very practical nature do require government assistance in their initial stages, particularly when they concern the immediate family and the community as a whole.
The other perhaps more important point is that our organisation does not exist because of segregation, but because of the very fundamental needs of our women, the most important of which is the need to identify themselves as self-determining individuals with the right to choose what is best for themselves in this ever-changing world or the responsibility of creating better lives for themselves in their own way.
[ unclear: ] ords We Remember
Apart from our own papers, I would like to [ unclear: ] uote what I would call “pearls of wisdom” from papers presented by various delegates at conference.
This comes from Mrs Tara Ali Baig of India, speaking on handicrafts:—
“Handicrafts utilised a creative artistic genius of the people that could have no place in industry. Also that the ‘greatest human happiness lies in accomplishment’ for handicrafts and creative arts do provide for the satisfaction of a deep-rooted human urge and the fact that hand-work is so highly prized in industrial countries is a recognition of the artistic and human values inherent in individual craftsmanship. Handicrafts are a potent form of freedom.”
These are the underlying ideas in the revival of our own handicrafts and arts.
Also speaking on handicrafts, Mitsuko Amamuro of Japan said:—
“Handicrafts which are an outward expression of the living warmth of the heart will be absolutely essential in the family and society, today and always.”
Dr. Shina Kan, again of Japan, speaking on the Right to Work—said:—
“Nowadays man seems to work under the sanctions of hunger, coercion or from motives of profit or prestige, but work is necessary for selfrespect.”
And quoting Luther she continued:—
“There is nothing low about the work of a housemaid. The housmaid, the farmer, the cobbler, the industrial worker, have as true a title to divine nobility as the judge, the abbot, the artist or the king if they do their work as for God. This new conception of vocation, therefore, ennobles the common man and his working day. The work done by the body for the body is in no way degrading or unworthy of man.”
These thoughts from Japan will, I am sure, bring you happiness in the work you are doing.
It was a wonderful and invaluable experience to meet the individual delegates from all parts of the Pacific and South East Asia. And I do sincerely hope that the good feelings we were able to share in our dormitories and the friendships made in our social contacts will be remembered by those delegates for whom a belief in our sincerity is vital and imperative particularly during this critical period of world effort at co-operation and peaceful co-existence. And I hope in some measure the social side of our conference may make up for the absence in conference itself of that spirit of unity and oneness in hopes, desires, and feelings so very necessary for the creation of a spiritual fellowship which transcends all barriers—race, colour or creed.
In conclusion, however, I would like to say that our visit to the Philippines was a wonderful experiene. The social contacts and friendships made there, I am sure, will be remembered by all delegates. The friendships, sympathy and understanding fostered among the delegates are to my mind, the worthwhile things about such conferences. However much we learnt of the local problems of various peoples and their economic conditions and returned home bearing such news, our efforts at alleviating such conditions although well meaning, would have little effect on the hungry millions of the world. Such discussions as carried on by voluntary groups which do not make recommendations to governments or the U.N.O., do not feed people in a hurry, although they do bring about better understanding. To my mind time is too short and the economic needs of people too great to be so delayed. Therefore, the assistance of governments and the U.N.O. must be enlisted in order to bring about immediate and effective changes. Perhaps conference considered that these bodies do help in any case and did not need our urging.
The point that I am trying to make is that the most effective work of such conferences is the establishing of friendships—ties which would be remembered by Europeans, Asians and Polynesians should there be another world war.
Both Mrs Bennett and I were privileged in being able to present papers at conference but the greetings of our people were given by the leader of the New Zealand delegation. Although this was the usual practice, nevertheless, we felt that no one but ourselves could convey the thoughts and feelings of our people. The Maori people have suffered throughout their history and would therefore well understand the sufferings of other people.
One of Wellington's well-known citizens and welfare workers for many years, Mrs H. D. Bennett, was awarded the O.B.E. in the Queen's Birthday Honours.
Mrs Bennett is president of the Wellington district council of the Maori Women's Welfare League, and a member of the Dominion Executive.
She was one of the earliest organisers of the Ngatiponeke Association, whose first meetings were held in Mrs Bennett's home in Wellington.
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Other awards in the Honours List of interest to Maoris were: the M.B.E. to Miss Lilian Ada Hill, of Auckland, for public health nursing and for work among Maori people as Nurse Inspector for New Zealand from 1950; and the M.B.E. to Miss Elsie Smith, of Wanganui, for 25 years' service in the Maori Anglican mission at Koroniti.
Among recipients of awards in the Military Division was Flight Sergeant Pare Tewai, Royal New Zealand Air Force, Auckland, who received the British Empire Medal.