As New Zealand changes, traditional assumptions about families and whānau go out the window. At this year’s Evidence to Action conference (E2A) Professor Paul Spoonley outlined some of the transformations that have occurred over the past few decades. He even went so far as to question the “tyranny of biological relatedness”. Considering that nearly 30 percent of people in families are couples without children and a variety of approaches to procreating and parenting are possible, you‘d have to say that he had a point.
On the other hand, Dame Tariana Turia in her speech to E2A spoke of the centrality of whakapapa – connections between people and place, across generations. Dame Tariana went on to note the implications of different world views about families: “what works for some families with an individualistic, independent view of the world isn't the same as for collectivist, inter-dependent families”.
Dame Tariana’s words echo a 2017 Superu publication which described different cultural values and concluded that as Aotearoa New Zealand’s population becomes increasingly diverse, we need to consider a variety of perspectives on families so that policies and programmes can be relevant, inclusive and useful. An individualised approach may still work in some circumstances. For example, Superu has commissioned a study into the potential for removing the need for relationship-status testing entitlements to social assistance and welfare. If this change in policy were feasible (and affordable) it could enable people to plan their lives more flexibly, within the family grouping of their choice. We expect to publish the findings of this work just before Superu closes for good on 29 June.
Before then, on 29 May, Superu will be co-hosting a workshop with Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga, on whānau and whakapapa for public policy (Toi Tū Te Whānau). There is a widely-held view that whānau is more than simply an extended family – that concepts of whānau are central to what it means to be Māori. The workshop aims to support the development of a public sector better equipped to comprehend the nature of whānau and whakapapa within Aotearoa New Zealand society, and to positively respond to the unique characteristics of whānau in addressing the needs and aspirations of Māori throughout the country. I am sure that the workshop will make a major contribution to the wider, ongoing debate about the meaning of family and whānau in the 21st Century.
Dr Malcolm Menzies