'I'm sexy and I know it' - Ex-Gloriavale member speaks out about women's repression within the church

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Sunday

The woman wearing six inch heels, a figure-sculpting dress and very little on her legs, is unrecognisable as the teenager I met inside Gloriavale on the West Coast a decade ago.

Lilia Tarawa has undergone a transformation after leaving the Gloriavale Christian Community, and is speaking out about female repression within the church.
Source: Sunday

Back then SUNDAY filmed Lilia Tarawa making a lifelong commitment to God and the church, swearing to disown and damn anyone who wasn’t a believer.

It was the first time cameras had been invited inside the community, led by Lilia’s grandfather, Hopeful Christian.

She told me a woman's "place" was to be quiet, meek and subservient - in the laundry and the kitchen.

"What if a woman wanted to be a vet or a doctor?", I asked. Awkward silence.

"We’ve never had any woman like that", said Lilia. Meekly.

Fast forward ten years, we both remember how strange we found that encounter.

Lilia says she was intrigued by my lipstick and the fact that I dared to not wear a headscarf.

In her world such sins could see you heading straight to hell.

Now here she is, batting frosted eyelids, declaring to the world: "I am sexy! … I feel alive and I feel vibrant … and if other people find that attractive then awesome, but ultimately it's about me doing things for me."

She struggled making the transition to the outside world, throwing out everything she believed, learning new skills, building a career and overwhelmed by choices.

She has embraced her Maori ancestry, something she was forbidden from doing in Gloriavale.

"I'm still undoing my past … When I look at the girl that I was and how far I've come I'm really proud of myself and I know my parents are proud of me too."

Watch Lilia's full story on SUNDAY tonight at 7.30 on TVNZ 1.

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