Fulbright scholar to examine women's health laws in US

NEW STAGE: Branwen Millar, a Circa council member and 2012 Fulbright award recipient, is off to study in New York.
NEW STAGE: Branwen Millar, a Circa council member and 2012 Fulbright award recipient, is off to study in New York.

Branwen Millar was a 17-year-old Wellington East Girls' College pupil when she stood alongside director Peter Jackson to receive a Wellingtonian of the Year award in 2001.

Now, at 28, the Circa council member and playwright is heading to the world hub of theatre in New York, where she hopes to scout for new plays to send home.

But her main focus will be in putting her US$25,000 (NZ$30,700) Fulbright general graduate award towards a two-year masters in international affairs at Columbia University.

Ms Millar, who was Youth Wellingtonian of the Year in 2001, has a particular interest in women's rights after working for Family Planning International, a sexual and reproductive health and rights organisation that is based in Wellington.

More than 2000 pieces of legislation were passed in the various states of the United States last year that restricted women's access to reproductive health, such as abortions, she said.

"It baffles me that it's still controversial. It's going to be a very interesting time to be in the US, with the prolonged attack on women's rights and reproductive health."

While Ms Millar is nervous about a return to study and exams, she is excited about being among students from about 107 countries to look at the "big global issues of our time".

"When there are inequalities in a country, women have the roughest deal."

Along with her Fulbright scholarship, she has received a Sir Wallace Rowling award enabling her to complete an internship in Washington DC during her studies.

"I hope it will open some doors there. It's the next big step in my life. It's going to be a buzzy place to see out the rest of my 20s."

But she would miss Wellington's coffee, as New York was not known for its flat whites, Ms Millar said.

She hopes to return to New Zealand and use her degree to help the country "punch above its weight" in human rights throughout the Pacific.

"I certainly have no desire to be prime minister, but I think what Helen Clark is doing now is pretty great."

Ms Millar leaves for America on Saturday.

There are 26 Fulbright scholars this year, eight of whom are from Wellington.

The Dominion Post