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Women, Development and Empowerment: A Pacific Feminist Perspective



As we have heard, the Kanaks have taken the socialist perspective in assessing their society - new and old. Socialism is the perspective with which they visualise their new society. We could say that feminism is about women's point of view of the world, our point of view. The question facing us is: What will it be? What is our feminist view of the world?

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Feminism has to do with how we wish to deal with or respond to the world. It is important for us to know that feminism did not develop just in our heads - feminism developed from the conflicts and the experiences of women who are oppressed. What Third World women have given to feminism is a widening of the view of feminism, to cover many forms of oppression. It is no longer called “women's liberation” because feminism looks at the whole of society. The development of a feminist ideology or thinking has not only come from reading books; women who have written books have done so from personal experience - be it in the home, or out there in working with women or in liberation struggles. In Mozambique, Zimbabwe and in China, women have added to the definition of feminism. So, when people say that feminism is an idea borrowed from somewhere else, it is not. Feminism is an historic thinking, because it comes from the experiences of women.

What we have to think about when we attempt to define feminism is this history, and the fact that our feminism springs from our experiences in the Pacific. Most of us have worked for the improvement of women or to improve the conditions of women, and we will have done so because our experiences, either in the home or in working as women, or in meetings in the villages, (where we as women were not allowed to talk). All these very personal experiences are historic and are relevant to our concepts or ideas of feminism.

We should remind ourselves that feminism and feminist action take many different forms. Sometimes some of us feel that if women go out in the streets demonstrating they are standing up to society. But there are different contributions: research is important as it is important to have information on a theory. Like any other liberation movement, we must practise and then enrich our theory with the practice. This is what feminism is about. It is about thinking, practising, and that is why we have discussed projects. We must try to reflect on our practice so that in the next project we do, we add more to the impact of that project. For example, if we have new toilets and better kitchens, we could start talking about other things - such as page 94 women being able to sit on the village committees, and being able to make suggestions about local affairs. In this way, the role of women becomes enlarged and women participate more fully.

Feminism tries to work against the authoritarianism in a society. Yesterday, we heard of a women's collective, which had no President, or Secretary, and in which the women all take turns to lead. This is a new kind of leadership. In the Pacific Island countries, we have chiefs, and a person is lower down in status if she/he is a commoner; a women is lower still. A woman who is a chief, on the other hand, is better off. We come from fairly rigid societies where our roles are defined and we know when we can and cannot speak. Feminism is aimed at breaking down these kinds of structures, to allow more people to participate equally and to allow women to try different roles.

Feminism also concerns itself with the welfare of society as a whole, not just women. If there is better distribution of both the benefits of development and the means of getting those benefits of development, then we as women are more likely to support such development and to participate in it fully. When there is a structure that does not allow equal distribution, not only for women but also for other sections of the population, it is very likely that women will not participate or realise their full potential in such a society.

Feminism perhaps, of most other ideologies, is both personal and social, because we talk about our positions in the home, where women learn other roles, and where the attitudes of men towards women are also learnt. It is very important for women and women's organisations to look at the family and the home, and at the society at large, and women's place in there. That is broadening our women's perspective to a feminist one.

Feminism also means activism. It is a new event for people to see women demonstrating. Women have realised that dialogue, writing letters and so on, may page 95 not be enough. We also need public dialogue with those in power, and sometimes we need to demonstrate the voice and power of women.

Feminism is to do primarily with the empowerment of women. The title of our workshop is “Women, Development and Empowerment”. After our discussions today and yesterday, we now need to impart a vision of our society. Projects are a small proportion of the work women do. Even in small projects, we need to have discussions to help women change their thinking and to encourage them to question all aspects of society affecting their lives - culture, family, traditions, government, the church. Projects are a way of improving the material conditions of women. We need also to look at other aspects of our lives, women's lack of power, and what can be done to change that.

I would like to summarise some of the criteria of feminism we might wish to adopt:


  • Feminism abhors violence

  • Feminism reasserts the importance of community

  • Feminism is a belief in sisterhood, that actions with lasting effects are actions taken collectively

  • Feminism stands for equality - not the equality of women and men, but the equality of all people in society

  • Feminism stands for social justice.

With these remarks, Day 2 ended. The workshop participants were invited to think about their Pacific Women's vision of the society they wanted - a feminist vision - which the workshop would attempt to define the next day.