Having planted her roots in the Labour Party over a decade ago, MP Priyanca Radhakrishnan now holds a place in the Prime Minister’s cabinet, making her one of 20 major parliamentary decision-makers – and the first person of Indian origin to be represented there. Priyanca talks about her passions, portfolios and personal journey.
I was born in India and grew up in Singapore. My parents had migrated from India to Singapore, and they were, I guess, the quintessential migrant family who worked really hard. They instilled in me a passion for social justice from a young age. That’s what drives me, and it always has.
I saw my parents both volunteering, and they brought me and my sister up in an environment where we were encouraged to read, whether it was newspapers or current affairs, and to debate the issues at home, think them through and challenge the status quo. My parents were also my first volunteering role models. I was reflecting on that recently, as it was National Volunteer Week. It’s just something I’ve always done.
Singapore was my comfort zone, but I wanted to move somewhere that I didn’t know anyone. New Zealand ticked a lot of boxes for me. I’ve worked in the women’s rights space basically all my life. The fact that Aotearoa New Zealand is where women won the right to vote first in the developed world was a huge drawcard for me. I also met Kiwis in Singapore and really liked them and what they had to say about New Zealand. Also, the fact there was scenic beauty and a reputation for work-life balance – a bit of a joke now, given my job.
I just wanted to go somewhere and chart my own course, so I came to Palmerston North in the middle of winter 18 years ago.
Being brought up by a feminist
My biggest inspiration as a little girl was definitely my mum. She was the first feminist I ever met. She brought me up on the fact that being a woman or a girl, there wasn’t anything you couldn’t do. She challenged a lot of stereotypes in her time as well. I come from a long line of strong women. We actually come from a part of India that is matriarchal and matrilineal, so, traditionally, property was passed on through the women in the family.
I’ve worked in the family and sexual violence space for much of my life. That is still a significant issue facing ethnic women in New Zealand. I’m so excited that, in the current budget, we got funding to work on primary prevention, particularly in the ethnic communities space. That’s an area that we’ve never really had much of a focus on. Equally, I think there’s more we need to do in the secondary space, so responding to violence.
I have grappled with imposter syndrome a fair bit. Even though I had a really supportive childhood and upbringing, I’ve always struggled with self-esteem issues. I guess going into Parliament and then becoming a minister… it’s just classic imposter syndrome, right? When you walk into a room and suddenly you have this little voice at the back of your head that’s like, “Any time now, everyone’s going to know that you don’t know what you’re talking about or you don’t know what you’re doing”.
I worked for a while at the Ministry for Women where I was often, in a lot of those spaces, the only woman of colour. Thankfully, that has changed to an extent in the past 10 years, but at that point in time I really struggled with that. I was there to raise issues around family violence intervention for ethnic women and I was the only person flying that flag. It got difficult.
I actually got some coaching, which was really helpful and it gave me some tips to be able to own that space and know that I did have a perspective that others didn’t have. I had a role to raise those issues because otherwise they wouldn’t be raised at all.
I’ve had mentors along the way. I feel quite strongly about mentorship and the importance of it. It’s not something that I’d ever thought of previously or taken seriously, but now that I’ve benefited from it, I think it’s incredibly useful.
Again, like everything else, you just have to quieten that voice sometimes and say, “No, I do have something to share here”, and just share it! Even in Parliament I have people whom I look to now as mentors and I’ll check in with them.
Staying at home these days is quite the luxury. I try to catch up on some sleep, spend some time with my husband and my two dogs and just switch off for a bit.
One of my most favourite things to do always used to be reading for pleasure. Now that I have to do so much of that for work, I find I don’t get to read for fun much – the last thing I want to do is read something else!