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He waka eke noa

The New Zealand government is one of the countries that is under Voluntary National Review at the 2019 UN High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, and the report is up for a review tomorrow. The government’s report is titled  “He waka eke noa” which is a Māori proverb that means “we are all in this together”.

Image credit: WILPF
WILPF International Secretariat
16 July 2019

The New Zealand government is one of the countries that is under Voluntary National Review at the 2019 UN High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, and the report is up for a review tomorrow. The government’s report is titled  “He waka eke noa” which is a Māori proverb that means “we are all in this together”. 

In order for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be achieved, WILPF believes that there must be an integrated approach to addressing structural barriers and inequalities, including those affecting indigenous peoples. While the report outlines the State of New Zealand’s recent legislation and initiatives to realise the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, it also notes that the special status of Māori as tangata whenua, indigenous people of New Zealand, is of profound importance and fundamental to the country’s national identity.

Māori and WILPF Aotearoa


As a dedicated women’s peace organisation, WILPF Aotearoa (New Zealand) has had a long involvement in working alongside Māori on the realisation of their rights and remedying the effects of the violence of colonisation. 

“At WILPF Aotearoa, we understand that SDG 16 [on peaceful, just, and inclusive societies] is not achievable and that there can be no peaceful, just and inclusive societies, until the effects of colonisation are acknowledged and dealt with in partnership with those whose lands were colonised,” says WILPF Aotearoa president, Megan Hutching.

“For example, since 2017, WILPF members have been actively supporting Maori traditional owners of land in South Auckland which is the site of the oldest indigenous settlement in Auckland, to stop a housing development on that land which was confiscated by the settler government in the 1860s.”

Government of New Zealand’s Progress on the Sustainable Development Goals

In its review of SDG 16 on peaceful, just, and inclusive societies, the New Zealand report outlines some of the steps the current government is taking to address the consequences of colonisation. This year, the government of New Zealand established a new agency, Te Arawhiti – The Office for Māori Crown Relations in recognition of the need to facilitate and improve Maori-Crown relationships. One specific initiative to implement SDG 16 seeks to address the disproportionate incarceration rates of Māori people. Māori make up only 15% of the population, but approximately half of the prison population. 

The initiative as reported in the New Zealand report seeks to reduce incarceration of Māori as well as address the harm to those who have suffered directly from criminal justice policies that discriminate unfairly against Maori, including previously incarcerated individuals and their families. One goal of this initiative policy is to reduce the prison population by 30% in the next 15 years, by 2030. This policy is a concrete step to improve the lives of Māori, who have suffered structural violence at the hands of the state in New Zealand. However, it is just one step in an ongoing process to address the harms of colonisation. WILPF Aotearoa believes that the new office, Te Arawhiti, must substantively engage with Māori on their own terms, and must prioritise their demands, rights, and needs. 

History and legacies of settler colonialism in Aotearoa/New Zealand

The arrival of European settlers in the 19th century led to significant changes to Māori ways of life, Megan Hutching relates. From the 1860s onwards, there were rising tensions over disputed land sales and land confiscation in wars between European settlers and Māori. The arrival of European settlers in increasing numbers led to conflict, social upheaval, and disease epidemics, all of which decimated Māori populations. 

As with many other indigenous groups throughout the world, Māori currently face significant social, economic, and political barriers to living in a peaceful, just and inclusive society. One significant issue is disproportionate incarceration, as well as underinvestment in education, health, and jobs for Māori. There are ongoing campaigns led by Māori that call on the government of New Zealand to redress historical grievances, reduce present-day inequalities, and invest in Māori communities.

Engaging with Māori communities to address inequalities

“While all who live in Aotearoa (New Zealand) may be in ‘this’ together, WILPF Aotearoa recognises that ‘this’ was only possible because of access to indigenous land and resources, much of which was taken by forced sales, or confiscation after the New Zealand Wars of the nineteenth century,” says Megan Hutching. “The resulting inequalities are entrenched by the continuing legal and cultural mindset which reinforces white privilege.” 

It has long been part of the Section’s work to work alongside Māori to make known these injustices, and to increase the understanding of non-indigenous New Zealanders about these issues. They will continue to advocate for inclusive, intersectional approaches to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals that acknowledge and seek to remedy the ongoing, catastrophic effects of settler colonialism.

There has also been an alternate report, entitled “The People’s Report on the 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals – 2019” published to parallel the official VNR process. 

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WILPF International Secretariat

WILPF International Secretariat, with offices in Geneva and New York, liaises with the International Board and the National Sections and Groups for the implementation of WILPF International Programme, resolutions and policies as adopted by the International Congress. Under the direction of the Secretary-General, the Secretariat also provides support in areas of advocacy, communications, and financial operations.

Melissa Torres


Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani


Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo


Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

IPB Congress Barcelona

WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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