Women, Development and Empowerment: A Pacific Feminist Perspective
A lot of projects in the last 10 years have dealt with family development. Much of this is on family planning. These types of projects have been designed with the page 82 assumption that they relate to women in families. The focus is on cooking, embroidery, sewing and the aim is to set up an ideal home. There is nothing wrong with this except that these projects play up the role of women as mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, without recognising that women also contribute in other areas of production. These projects have the effect of isolating certain aspects of women's roles and neglecting others. We, as women, are trying to put women's many roles together - these projects do not see a woman as a total person, but separate her economic role from her role in the family, which is over-emphasised.
There has also been an attempt, in family development programmes, to talk about women's health. But again, this is seen in terms of a woman's role as a mother, not in terms of her other roles and activities. Women also work in the fields, and have health problems related to their economic activities. These areas of women's health have to be addressed. This is not to say that such projects should be displaced. Rather, it is an argument for recognition of the many roles and activities women are involved in.
We must examine what sort of projects could be the models for success. Some of the work and experience in India have produced examples of successful projects. One example is an organisation of people normally unorganised who became self-employed. It was successful because there was a lot of group participation and self-management. The middle class women involved who had gone to these areas to work, saw their role as that of facilitators and page 83 did not take over and dominate. They realised that leadership actually begins in not being the leader of the low income women but to identify and facilitate the development of leadership among the self-employed women themselves. Other cases fail because once a person becomes a leader, he/she cannot give up his/her power base. Many groups face this kind of problem.
Another problem area to avoid is setting up a project as a showpiece case. A project must have the ability to spread meaning, so that if other women want to pick it up, they can do so. Often pilot projects create envy among the community because they involve a lot of money that only goes to a small group of women. The project's benefits do not spread to a wider group of women.