Rez Gardi lived in a refugee camp in Pakistan, coming to New Zealand under the refugee quota system at age 6.

After spending nearly 20 years in Auckland, which she now calls home, Gardi says she still feels like a second-class citizen.

"Legally speaking, I am no longer a refugee, but that title sticks. I'm now a New Zealand citizen, but I still have the label of refugee," Gardi said.

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"Even when I'm quoted in the media, they've always referred to me as 'refugee' and that title, I think, comes to define me.

"It doesn't make me feel like an ordinary New Zealander like everyone else, and sometimes it makes me feel like a second-class citizen."

Gardi, 25, a solicitor at Chapman Tripp, said women from ethnic minority groups in New Zealand also faced "double discrimination".

"There already exists inequality against females in all aspects of social, economic and political aspects of society, and there's that added barrier to accessing full rights as a citizen when you're from an ethnic minority," she said.

"Personally for me, we know the statistics, we get paid less, are less likely to get promoted than males, we're under-represented in the economic and political spheres and academia."

Gardi was the first in her family to get into university, where she graduated as a lawyer.
"The legal industry just seems like a different world, it's predominantly male, predominantly white and middle class," she said.

"At times it feels like I'm getting into this world that I don't belong in."

But Gardi feels there's a lot more interest now in addressing gender and ethnic inequalities, and she is hopeful for the future.

She has signed up as a member of a new organisation, launched today, which is dedicated to championing the rights and achievements of women from indigenous and migrant backgrounds.

Super Diverse Women has more than 120 foundation members, many of them leaders in their chosen field.

Lawyer Rez Gardi says that even after 20 years in New Zealand she still feels like a second-class citizen. Photo / Doug Sherring
Lawyer Rez Gardi says that even after 20 years in New Zealand she still feels like a second-class citizen. Photo / Doug Sherring

A survey commissioned by the organisation to mark its launch found that the workplace, in particular, still poses gender and ethnic equality issues.

Conducted by Pauline Colmar, the survey asked about 300 New Zealanders to assess their experiences of discrimination and diversity.

Inaugural chairwoman Mai Chen said Maori, Pasifika and Asian respondents were looking for more role models like them, particularly in governance and management roles.

"[With] an understanding that being different visually and in culture and accent can make them a target of discrimination," Chen said.

"Super diverse women generally remain chronically under-represented in the leadership of company boards, and local and central government."

AUT University Professor of Diversity Edwina Pio said ethnic women sometimes faced "triple discrimination" based on the simultaneous interlocking of their gender, ethnicity and minority migrant status.

"Despite the concept of fair go, good faith and legislation, the chasm between words and actions is frequently rather wide," she said.

Pio said migrant women had to negotiate themselves beyond perceptions of not only the majority population, but also their own migrant communities.

"This discrimination is a mix of both reality and perception - real in that there are fewer such women in the top echelons of organisations, and perceived in that the dominant population generally looks through a stereotypical view of these women," she said.

Respondents to the Super Diverse Women survey said the discrimination was often subtle, and that by and large New Zealand was still a friendly country.

"There are certain segments of society that are casually racist towards Asians, but it's certainly not unique to New Zealand," one Chinese respondent said.

A Maori participant said white middle-class and upper-class New Zealand still believed in their dominant hegemony.

"My issues are related to my workplace and subtle forms of racism which some of my benevolent Pakeha colleagues practise - and take it personally when they are called out on it."