A Hamilton woman is calling for change within the Indian migrant community, and hopes to see better understanding about arranged marriages and domestic violence.
Sripriya Somasekhar moved to New Zealand three years ago with her husband and now six-year-old son, and saw an immediate need for service providers to have a better understanding of the complications Indian women face after migrating with their husbands.
She has conducted research for her community psychology paper at Waikato Univesity on Indian women who have suffered domestic violence after moving to New Zealand, and hopes the findings will be a catalyst for policy changes.
"[Domestic violence] is heavily under reported. Not many people know about the cultural aspect of it. There is culture and then when migration happens, it is an added layer that brings about a whole new set of barriers for women to seek help.
"Mainstream service provision needs to know things like dowry harassment, and it is carried over to New Zealand as well. People need to know what the different aspects are of an arranged marriage, what is dowry, what happens in a joint family and extended family abuse."
She said the biggest challenges women face in a domestic violence setting is the language barrier, being away from friends, and not understanding New Zealand's visa laws.
"That dependant visa status is something men use to their advantage as a power and control tool. In an arranged marriage set up, when you sponsor your wife, she comes [to New Zealand] as a dependant. You are the principal applicant. If there is a domestic violence case reported against him, he can withdraw the sponsorship.
"These are the kind of policy changes I want to bring about -- that she has equal status in the country in regards to her status."
In India, there are more than one billion people, every 29 minutes a women is raped and every five minutes a case of domestic violence is reported.
"And that's only the reported statistics.
"I was born in India, I belong to a traditional orthodox South Indian family, so my Granddad was the head of the family. I saw women cooking all the time. I have never seen my Granddad step into the kitchen in my entire life. You see these things going on around you, you see how women are being treated, you question it in your head but when you say it out loud you are shut down right away.
"When I came here and saw how different relationships are, people are equal and women are treated with respect, that stark contrast brings it back. I thought I have to do something for Indian women here."
Her desire to study psychology stemmed from her father's schizophrenia and the lack of understanding of it in India.
"My Grandma and my Granddad would just say he is an attention seeker, that's why he gets angry. I couldn't understand it."
She began psychology with the idea of studying the clinical side of it, but soon discovered she was fascinated about the community aspects.
"More than anything it's about keeping an open mind and accepting people for who they are. When I came here someone called out 'butter chicken'. I thought how can people treat others like that, but I think it has given me a foundation to broaden my world in general, about communities, how they work, what issues people might be facing and how I can contribute to that."
To help support her family here and in India, Sripriya she works at the Disabled Persons Assembly.
"They are an organisation started by disabled people to voice their rights and opinions about things, so I am a link between a community. I have been running empowered employment workshops for disabled people to get them out. There is a lot of isolation there."
Sripriya is one of five per cent in India who did not have an arranged marriage, in part due to her father's mental illness and because she herself did not want to be married that way.
"I've always been a romantic at heart. It was not easy at all because his family is Christian and my family is Hindu, so our families were dead against it. We had a house wedding at my house."
Sripriya is in New Zealand on a student visa, with her husband as her dependant, but said it is a constant struggle to fund their life and pay tuition fees.
"It has been quite difficult for my family since we came here because while I was working and studying when we first came here, my husband was looking for a job for a year, although he has an MBA and six years of work experience he had to start from nowhere. We were okay with that. We are young, but it has been an ongoing challenge to have enough money to pay my tuition fees."
Anjum Rahman, strategy manager for SHAMA - a social service agency providing support, advocacy and programmes for ethnic women - said one of the major issues they see is women who come to a new country do not have family or strong networks to support them. She said a concern for SHAMA is while there are ethnic women training in social work, there are not the funds to employ them.
"What we find is domestic violence is an issue across all communities, but the way it plays out and manifests can be different based on different cultural backgrounds and it is really important to have that cultural perspective to provide the best kind of support.
"That is what we do, we provide cultraully appropriate support. They can come to a space free of judgement where they will be understood. Even having a strong accent can cause self-esteem issues, when you're vulnerable and you're trying to get your story out and it isn't your first language that can be difficult.
"Funding is always the issue. Our social workers are overloaded and we'd love to employ more, but until we get more funding [we can't]."
She said it was important to provide information to migrants.
"We need to give information about domestic violence, what is acceptable, and the thing is laws in various countries are quite different so making sure they have the information available, both men and women."
Sripriya hopes to raise $6500 to fund her tuition fees in order to continue her studies and find ways to help Indian women and the community. For more information or to donate see www.sparkmypotential.co.nz/cause/tuitionfeesphd.