By Mapihi Opai in Manukau
Indigenous Fijian women living in New Zealand are not benefitting from the higher level of resources available. In fact, they are worse off in terms of their awareness and practice of family planning, says a new research report.
Dr Radilaite Cammock, postgraduate programme leader for public health at Auckland University of Technology’s AUT South Campus has been studying the reproductive health of indigenous Fijian or iTaukei women for five years.
Her latest research compares the family planning patterns of iTaukei women in different cultural and socioeconomic contexts, New Zealand and Fiji. More than 350 women participated in the study – 140 in New Zealand and 212 in Fiji.
“We assume that Pacific peoples living in New Zealand would have improved outcomes. But, the idea that moving to a country with greater resources will provide better access to healthcare is not true,” said Dr Cammock.
The study found that iTaukei women in New Zealand have lower awareness of family planning methods compared to women living in Fiji. This is significant, given the relative wealth of resources in New Zealand, and raises questions regarding the accessibility of family planning services among Pacific minority groups.
Barriers to access and cultural sensitivities, including a lack of female providers, are pronounced in New Zealand. Lower awareness may also be related to lower engagement with mainstream society, resulting in limited exposure to information on family planning. The ability to make sense of this information can be hindered by language barriers.
In New Zealand, Pacific peoples are a diverse group with the fastest growing young population. They have high rates of teenage pregnancy, often double that of the general population.
The study shows that iTaukei women under the age of 24 years have significantly lower odds of being aware of family planning compared to those who are older. More than 20 percent of them had reported a previous unplanned pregnancy.
“For younger women, the likelihood of using contraception is lower, which has serious implications when we consider the statistics for teenage pregnancy,” said Dr Cammock.
“There are a lot of negative connotations and stigma associated with family planning. For young people coming here, they are often trying to balance traditional ways of thinking with the new norms they are exposed to in New Zealand.”
The study also revealed a strong correlation between marital status and the use of family planning.
iTaukei women who are married or in a relationship are 10 times more likely to use contraception compared to those who are single. The average age that iTaukei women begin practising family planning methods is 24 years.
Similarly, education is an important factor in raising awareness of family planning. The higher the level of education, the greater the exposure to information. And, having a tertiary education significantly increased the odds of iTaukei women having ever used contraception.
“Education opens your mind to different ways of thinking. It’s important, because – if you come from a traditional culture that is hierarchical and dominated by men – finding autonomy can be a challenge,” said Dr Cammock.
She is calling for a wider multi-sector approach to make family planning services more accessible to Pacific minority groups.
Mapihi Opai is communications manager of Auckland University of Technology’s AUT South campus in Manukau.