Mercy Ah Siu-Maliko says that her main purpose in coming to the University of Otago was that it “was able to offer postgraduate opportunities especially for women in areas that were mostly dominated by men”.
When Mercy completed her Master of Theology at the Pacific Theological College at Suva, Fiji, her husband, who had completed the same programme, was appointed as a lecturer at Piula Theological College in Samoa. Mercy however, did not get a job – there were no female lecturers with postgraduate qualifications at Piula. A friend at Otago University directed Mercy to send a PhD proposal to the Department of Theology and Religion. Mercy sent a proposal to the Department in an area that no male Pacific Islander had written in, which was to become her PhD topic – ‘Public Theology, Core Values and Domestic Violence in Samoan Society.’
Mercy was given a scholarship to do her PhD at Otago. She, her husband, who was also given a scholarship to do his PhD, and their three children all came to Dunedin.
There were a lot of hurdles and challenges for Mercy as a Pacific woman studying theology because theology in the Pacific Islands is seen as a male area and a male calling. There were challenges for the family as both she and her husband were studying for their PhDs and raising three children as well.
In spite of the hurdles and challenges, Mercy says, “being at Otago was such a blessing – it was a place where you could concentrate on living your dreams. The environment allows women to focus on achieving our goals.”
“Otago offers postgraduate students a warm environment not only for learning but also a family-oriented space, where you are not just part of an institution; it’s like a close-knit family.”
“We were part of a group of postgraduate theological students who looked out for the well-being of one another. Also the support services in place for postgraduate students are very good – everyone was always willing to offer time and help. It was a holistic, supportive environment.”
After Mercy completed her PhD in Theology, she was awarded a postdoctoral scholarship as the Harold Turner Research Fellow at the Centre for Theology and Public Issues at the University of Otago. She is also lead researcher for a project with the New Zealand Institute for Pacific Research. The research project is ‘Fola le ta’ui a le Atua: Rolling Out the Mat of Scripture: Church Responses to Gender-Based Violence Against Women in Samoa: Supporting Church Capacity for Transformative Social Leadership’.
Along with her research, Mercy is also a lecturer at Piula Theological College in Samoa, the first woman theologian at the College. In fact Mercy is the first Samoan woman ever to attain a PhD in Theology. Mercy and her husband, who is also a lecturer at Piula, together are developing a partnership in Ministry.
Mercy can be described as one of the pioneers of Pacific Women’s Theology.
“This is a challenging area for a woman, but God in his own way makes things happen for us when we are passionate about it.”