Understanding Global Issues
In celebration of Commonwealth Day on 10 March, Diplomat interviews New Zealander Katherine Mcindoe, senior prize winner of the Commonwealth Essay 2013
Congratulations on winning – your essay was fantastic and hard-hitting. What were your reasons for choosing this topic?
Thank you very much. I have always been interested in addressing gender inequality, whether it is manifested in violence, discrimination, or the oppression of women around the world. As I mentioned in my essay, a number of incidents towards the end of 2012 (in particular, the shooting of Malala Yousafzai and the high-profile rape case in New Delhi in December) had brought a lot of these issues under increased global scrutiny. At this time, I was reading a lot about the actions of others around the world in addressing ingrained violence against women, and I felt like I wanted to get something on paper and add my voice to the movement, in whatever small way I could.
Using the letter format to surround your facts made this essay extremely personal. Did you find it difficult to acknowledge the difference between your own life and that of the ‘lost girls’?
It is certainly fairly confronting to compare my life to the lives of the girls that I was writing about – it is easy to feel very guilty for the opportunities that are so easily available to me, but are unattainable for so many women. For me, this drives me to take all the opportunities that are open to me, particularly in terms of education, and to learn how those opportunities can be made available to all.
This is obviously something you are passionate about. Are you doing anything in your daily life that is associated to this?
I am majoring in Development Studies for my Bachelor of Arts at Victoria University of Wellington. A lot of the study that we do is concerned with addressing the issues that I wrote about in my essay, and how central equality is to true, sustainable development.
At Wellington Girls’ College, you were involved in fundraising activities. Can you tell me which charities and causes you supported, and why?
The most fundraising that I did was for World Vision, largely because this organisation is very focused on schools, and is set up well for students to devise and lead their own fundraising initiatives. I think that often it is difficult for young people in New Zealand to feel like they can affect change in places around the world where poverty is most extreme, but World Vision allows students to be ‘global citizens,’ and to contribute to fundraising efforts in seemingly distant and inaccessible corners of the globe.
In my 7th form year we also fundraised for IHC, which is a fantastic New Zealand charity working for people with intellectual disabilities. We chose this charity because of its extraordinary work advocating and supporting individuals and their families, and because it allowed the girls at our school to contribute to a charity that was working within our own communities.
You are currently pursuing what you call a ‘slightly unusual’ degree at Victoria University of Wellington. Why did you choose to pursue both your passions through to University level?
Music has always been a huge part of my life, and I couldn’t really imagine giving it up. I love singing and performing, and chose to study classical performance to develop my voice, and see how far I can go with performance.
I chose Development Studies because it is very different from anything I was able to study at school. We are encouraged to think about how the world works, and how the inequalities and imbalances that exist globally can be removed.
I have always had lots of different interests, and find that a balance of very different subjects keeps me passionate and excited about both.
You have had the chance to travel to Canada and South Africa. Do you think that travel is important in opening peoples’ eyes to the problems in other parts of the world?
I certainly think that travelling gives you a much more comprehensive and real sense of the place than you can ever learn from a textbook. I am quite uncomfortable with the idea of travelling to a poverty-stricken country to look at the poverty as if it were a tourist attraction, but I think that it is also difficult to attempt to understand the problems of very different places, and seek to address them, without coming into contact with them directly yourself.
Would you like to travel more, and if so where?
I would definitely like to travel more, and I’m particularly interested in the Pacific due to the region’s strong links with New Zealand.
You clearly have a very bright future ahead of you. Do you have any idea what you would like to pursue when you are older?
Thank you so much! At the moment I’m still figuring it out. At some point I think I will have to make a choice between pursuing performance and development – if I were to go further with development, I would love to work for a non-governmental organisation, or be involved with policy-making for a multi-lateral organisation like the United Nations.
What do you think is New Zealand’s greatest diplomatic challenge?
I think that aid is a major concern in New Zealand diplomacy – how we administer it, to whom, and what we expect to get out of it. As a large proportion of our aid goes to Pacific nations, where New Zealand has a lot of historical and colonial ties, I think that a big challenge lies in ensuring that the aid goes to the places that need it the most, rather than places we wish to support for political reasons
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