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Empowering young women: Samoan-Kiwi teen inspired by trip to the United Nations

Grace Tinetali-Fiavaai, Te Rito Journalism cadet

An Auckland teenager has returned with newfound inspiration as a young Pacific woman growing up in New Zealand; after attending an international conference aimed at empowering women around the world.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Eseta Teugata Rasmussen was chosen to fly to New York for the 68th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW68) - a United Nations annual event on gender equality and women’s empowerment.

The 16-year-old was the youngest delegate to go as part of the P.A.C.I.F.I.C.A Inc delegation - a non-government organisation for Pacific Island women living in Aotearoa.

“I wanted to join the P.A.C.I.F.I.C.A delegation because Pasifika youth - especially Pasifika girls - are under-represented and face socio-economic inequities and injustices out of their control; from housing deprivation, racism, gender inequalities and mental health issues,” Eseta said.

“As a person who highly values education, it was disheartening to see the increase in rates of our Pasifika youth not in education.”

Eseta was raised in Samoa and comes from the villages of Leulumoega, Malie, Afega in Upolu and Sa’asa’ai and Vaisala in Savai’i.

She attended Robert Louis Stevenson School before moving to New Zealand with her family after the Covid-19 pandemic.

She is now a year 12 student at Auckland’s Marist College where she studies chemistry, biology, physics, calculus, English and religious education.

Her journey to CSW68 was not just about attending conferences, she said.

It was about amplifying the voices of Pasifika women and challenging the norms that hinder their progress.

She also got to visit many sites and world-famous landmarks in the city that never sleeps.

‘Seize every opportunity’

More young people need to have an understanding of the importance of education as a tool that can empower by providing the knowledge and skills for them to get to the decision-making tables faster, she said.

“More youth need to help raise awareness and be transparent about our rights to influence the decisions that ultimately affect our lives.”

At CSW68, governments, civil society organisations, experts and activists from around the world discussed actions and investments to end women’s poverty and advance gender equality.

Eseta said it was amazing to see and meet other driven youth delegates from all over the world.

However, she would like to see a larger youth presence and more Pasifika youth delegates in the future.

Supporting the voice of young people

“As a young person surrounded by such resilient and empowering women, it [was] so inspiring to see so much dedication and passion in one space.”

P.A.C.I.F.I.C.A president Repeka Lelaulu said Eseta represented the group’s teenage members.

“Exposing our young people to a global dialogue about women, gender and equality will instil in them the importance of their language, culture and faith to navigate and provide a solution to the issues that impact them directly.

“We continue to support the voice of young people in our movement and we look forward to Eseta sharing her experiences with our members, her school and the wider Aotearoa New Zealand community.”

Eseta has advice for future delegates.

“Be prepared to seize every opportunity at any given time or place - but most of all, be prepared to enjoy the experience. It will grow you as a person and build relationships that you will have for life.

“Lastly, looking for help, there are many opportunities and organisations - such as P.A.C.I.F.I.C.A Inc - that want youth voices to be heard.”

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