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Women, Development and Empowerment: A Pacific Feminist Perspective



This session was presented by Laura Souder-Jaffery whose warmth, skill and eloquence, in sharing her own thoughts on feminism, invited the kind of participation and sharing that was needed for a successful conclusion to the workshop.

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What I would like us to do is to generate our collective sense of what feminism is and how we understand that sense in our Pacific context.

We clearly established the fact that we have certain allergies to the word “feminism”. What we will try to begin with, is to grapple with the allergy and see if we can remedy it by understanding it.

Part of the problem, perhaps, was something she called “feminist rhetoric”. Participants were invited to talk about realities in the Pacific, and by doing so, to develop some kind of collective dream about the society women wanted to see develop. First of all, however, women needed to learn to see realities, through their own eyes - and not be dependent on the vision of anyone else. By looking at reality and daring to dream of different ways of shaping it, Laura suggested, the workshop could begin to approach a definition of feminism. This perspective would be a bridge between what women were now experiencing and their vision for themselves as women and people in a new Pacific.

The process required women seeing their realities clearly, and being able to communicate their views to the world, Laura explained. Presently, women were prevented from seeing the world through their own eyes, and were forced to accept a view of women defined by others. Women needed to see the world through their own eyes; sometimes, this meant putting on a new pair of glasses.

Think for a minute that for the last fifteen years I have borrowed my brother's glasses or my father's glasses to see anything that is important. These glasses are not prescribed for me; they have nothing to do with my vision but I have been wearing them. So, everything that I see in the world, everything that I beging to understand in the world, is understood through the glasses that have been prescribed for my brother. Then one day I get a pair of glasses prescribed for myself. And I wear them for the first time- and the world is different. I see different colours, different shapes, and every- page 99 thing takes on a whole new definition. Why? Because I changed my pair of glasses, But more importantly than that, it is because this pair of glasses reflected what my vision needed.

This is one way of looking at feminism as a concept. Feminism is our pair of glasses through which we can look at the world. Feminism is our perception, our world vision. It is a world vision that is female; it is a world vision that works from ourselves, from our being female people in our different Pacific societies. And it is our way from the stomach up, or from the gut up, of saying, “This is the way I see things”.

When we talk about this view on a personal level, (the way we as individual women see things,) that is different from trying to look at things generally from a female centre or perspective. To use another example, feminism is like lighting: if someone is interested in focusing on the floor then he/she would light up the floor; if someone else is interested in lighting up the ceiling because of beautiful carvings on the ceiling, then a different set of lights would be used.

The lighting of history has been with male experience and using official male-dominated forms of power and politics. The lighting that we are talking about here is the lighting that emanates from our roles - first as daughters, wives, mothers, sisters, working single women and so on. Our perspective will go further and further out, as long as we are willing to extend the light.

I invite you to embark on a journey to discover a vision of justice for ourselves as Pacific women. We need to think seriously about taking off those glasses that belong to our brothers or our fathers or our husbands or our lovers - and putting on our own pair of glasses. You may say: “But we do not know what our vision problems is”. Well, we have been going to the doctor for the last two days, to determine exactly what those pair of glasses can give us. Let us think in terms of our vision as we take this journey, and use feminist rhetoric (feminsit words and ideas) to think and discover what that rhetoric is and what it can be used for.

page 100

Let us look at feminism then as an ideology, a set of ideas. If the words are strange or irrelevant and you would like to explore them, or change them, do so.

Feminism, she concluded, was an ideology or a female philosophy of liberation. The liberation was not meant just for women - but for everybody. Only in that way could real liberation occur. Liberation could mean many things for women - being free from having to do everything in the home or being solely responsible for child rearing for example. Emphasis was placed on feminism as a way of looking at the world:

Feminism is a way of looking for, and of seeking, answers. From that point of view it gives us analytical tools through which we can challenge conventional wisdom - conventional wisdom being the way things are supposed to be, especially for women.

Women in the Pacific would each have different views of the world, depending on their culture and class (economic position). The third day of the workshop was a journey towards creating a framework or outline of a feminist vision, which women in the Pacific could use to identify their world, from their everyday experiences. A framework would help Pacific women to plan for changing the world according to their needs.

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Black and white photograph of workshop participants.

Workshop Participants
Front row (L-R): Dewe Pourouin, Fungke Samana, Amelia Rokotuivuna, Aiffe Mionzing
Second row (L-R): Louise Aitse, Sadie Bogotu, Noeleen Heyzer, Laura Souder-Jaffery, Shaista Shameem (hidden)
Third row (L-R): Se Nellie Singeo, Jully Makini, Moana Bentin, Naama Latasi
Back row (L-R): Shamima Ali, Arlene Griffen, Hilda Lini, Vereara Maeva, Mesepa Atoni, Claire Slatter, Lata Soakai
Absent: Kairabu Betaia, Vanessa Griffen, Alamai Manuella, Donita Simmons, Prem Singh, Joan Yee