Advocating for a free, fair and safe Aotearoa

posted: 4:30 pm - 11th October 2018
Karanina Sumeo

Working towards a free, fair and safe New Zealand is the ultimate goal of the country’s newly appointed Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner at the Human Rights Commission, Saunoamaali’i Dr Karanina Sumeo (pictured).

At the end of October, Saunoamaali’i will start her new role, equipped with a background in advocacy for gender equity, inclusion for women, Pacific people and marginalised communities and of course, invaluable insight.

Aged just 10 years old, Saunoamaali’i travelled from the village of Vailima, Upolu in Samoa with her grandparents and one of her sisters to make a new life in Aotearoa. 

Growing up in New Zealand, and then throughout a career as a public advisor and social worker spanning two decades, Saunoamaali’i has seen disparities in society first-hand, which drives her to try and end these inequalities affecting many communities. 

“I have worked as a public advisor and social worker, advocating for the interests of children, women, families, the rainbow community, social protection, youth employment, gender equality, and an end to gender violence,” Saunoamaali’i says. 

With a motivation to place New Zealanders all on a level playing field, along with a wealth of experience, knowledge and networks, Saunoamaali’i is confident she will perform to the best of her ability when she starts her role as Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner.  

“I also bring experience in leadership, social work, research, advocacy, policy and investment to the role,” she adds.

Saunoamaali’i will soon leave her role as the Principal Practice Advisor (Pacific) at Oranga Tamariki, the Ministry of Children where she has worked alongside many to improve outcomes for Pacific children and families, and the children and families of New Zealand.

She truly believes in the work of the Human Rights Commission in strengthening human rights across all communities in New Zealand and says it is an honour and a privilege to have been given this role.  

“With my background in advocacy for gender equity, inclusion for women, Pacific people and marginalised communities, I feel I can add value to the work of the Commission and I am looking forward to working with the other Commissioners, the management and staff of the Commission to progress the work for a free, fair and safe New Zealand.” 

The proud Samoan-New Zealander and mother of three says it is important to have a Pacific voice at the Commission because Aotearoa is now home to generations of Pacific peoples, and their economic contribution to New Zealand's current and future prosperity is of significance.

Pacific languages, cultures, labour, success and leadership practices are visible and active in the workplace, in politics, the arts, media, services, and local communities, she adds. 

“Our perceptions of human rights are linked to dignity and ability to provide for ourselves and lead our own lives, and secure employment, good income and fair pay are essential to ensuring that sense of dignity.

“Unfortunately, there are a significant proportion of Pacific people, especially among women, youth and older people, who are struggling to get jobs, achieve equitable pay, or get more hours in low paying jobs just to get by.

“If discrimination is a barrier, then a Pacific voice speaking on behalf of Pacific voices is important in the work of this Commission.”

During her time as Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner, Saunoamaali’i has many goals, but the main one being to make a measurable contribution to the improvement of equal employment opportunities for cohorts of the New Zealand population suffering from discrimination in employment including pay inequity. 

Working closely with Pacific communities to lift awareness among Pacific peoples of their human rights and how to exercise them is also be a major focus for the new Commissioner.  

“Pacific people are very resilient and are great advocates for their identity, belief systems and communities, but there does not seem to be a great awareness of the role of the Human Rights Commission and the protections available through the Commission that people can use to counter breaches to their rights,” she says.

As her role at the Commission focuses on employment, it will involve efforts to lift awareness among Pacific peoples of their human rights, mechanisms for complaints, and how to use those mechanisms to address discrimination and exercise their rights, she adds.  

Visit the Human Rights Commission NZ for more information.