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Sari Sailing through boundaries

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Sari Sailing through boundaries & barriers

Syed Akbar Kamal


The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. The adage amply personified the setting at AUT Business School where the celebratory launch of the book ‘Sari: Indian women at work in New Zealand’ by Edwina Pio was graced by a crowd of about 150 predominantly sari wearing Indian women.

National party leader John Key who launched the book, published by Dunmore Publishing, observed “sari celebrates not only the diversity of our country’s population but also the diversity within the cultural groups that make up the New Zealand population.”

It is not often one gets to read the book before launch but the aspirant to the coveted PM post had the priviledge of reading the book in its entirety. The book had been a grueling exercise for Edwina, Associate Professor at the Business School of AUT University; 6 years, interviewed more than 100 women and had more than 600 conversations with other women.

Edwina Pio


Statistics New Zealand said from among a total of 77178 total people of Asian Ethnic Groups, there were 24018 Indian women who were at work according to the 2006 Census.

Mr. Key paid rich tributes to the author who he said captured the Indian women’s range of experiences, aspirations and values and added that they cannot be stereotyped.

He lauded the contribution of Indian women to New Zealand as being varied as their history. “In sari their contributions are documented across several fields; through entrepreneurship, creating jobs and business for our country.”

“There are tales of courage of determination and overwhelmingly there is a real sense of aspiration flowing through the stories of these women”, said Mr. Key.

He particularly stressed on the essence of the book and highlighted “Edwina has captured in her book a sense of the possible, the sense of how great we can be as individuals and how great our country can be.”


What is it like for Indian women who enter the world of work in New Zealand? Their presence is all pervasive across several business sectors-from business to sports, from medicine to mentoring, Sari showcases their lives through four generations, in their own words and through official data. Stories of fabulous success merge with underemployment and no employment.

Memories of Maori friendships and Maori relatives intertwine with mentoring by Pakeha women.

Sewn into the stories are the spangles of an Indian patriarchal system which supported these women and at the same time created very strict demarcation lines; and the shaded sequins of in-laws who might manipulate them as they sought to carve out their careers and gain an education.

This book, Edwina says, is a tribute to the life and work of these women, but it also poses questions and makes recommendations for policy makers, employers and Indians in New Zealand.

She said “this sari has been woven on the looms of employment trajectories of Indian women betwixt history and the future. Sari is a skein in the life of ethnic minority women, a thread in managing an organisation, a tantalizing ingredient in policy development, a deeply embroidered pattern mingled with the filigreed designs of four million people."

Speaking on her coming work she revealed that it might be concerning the over 3,000 Maori Indians and the blurring of boundaries.

The Indian High Commissioner K .P. Ernest spoke about the sari which is 6 yards of an unstitched garment, a garment that has been around for thousands of years.

He pointed out that “the sari is an Indian fashion statement which has stood the test of several millennia and has come to symbolize the unmatched elegance and reticent resilience of Indian women.”

“We are immensely pleased that the Indian women at work in New Zealand have had the good fortune of their role being interpreted by an outstanding scholar of exceptional sensibility as Dr. Edwina Pio,” he added.

Sir Paul Reeves, AUT Chancellor & former Governor-General of NZ painted a portrait of the changing landscape of New Zealand and noted the growing contribution of the Indian women in many spheres.

He said “the Indian women display, as Edwina shows us, diversity; they have merged, they have fused, they have changed and some have remained the same.”

With reference to the 3000 Maori Indians and the overall diversity of the ethnic mix that Aotearoa has come to symbolize, he said it is the indigenous people of this country who provide one of the threads that binds us together.

Professor Ray Markey director of the Centre for Work and Labour Market Studies felt that the book’s launch was an important contributor to the people in their understanding of the growing diversity & complexities of New Zealand society especially in the work force.

The book was launched under the auspices of the Centre for Work and Labour Market Studies.

National party MPs Pansy Wong and Dr. Jackie Blue were among a host of dignatories who attended the launch.


Syed Akbar Kamal is producer/director of current affairs programme Darpan-The Mirror on the World Wide Web.

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