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Women, Development and Empowerment: A Pacific Feminist Perspective

The Family

The Family

Women lived alongside men in the family, the extended family was a common structure, women sometimes had to be both mother and father in the family; there were some tasks that were done only by women.

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It was recognised women had most responsibilities for child rearing; men did not get involved (and were not expected to) in child care. Some participants were uneasy, feeling that critical views of the family were Western-oriented and did not recognise Pacific cultural differences. It was observed however, that regardless of cultural setting, the expectations of women as mothers, were strictly defined: in all cultures women were expected to fulfil obligations to their children first. Men, on the other hand, could choose whether or not to take responsibility, for example, when a child was sick. If a mother was absent, other women took over her child care tasks of feeding baby, changing clothing, etc. This happened whether it was in the village or in an urban setting. In the urban setting, though, men (eg a grandfather) might be asked to mind a child while a woman worked, but he would not be expected to know what to feed the child, etc. Whether women were mothers or not, they were expected to know how to care for children:

I have never been a mother, but I am certainly expected to know how to be a keeper of children, yet my brother is not expected to know about children at all.

One suggestion for looking at the reality for women in the family was to list all the things that could only be done by women and the things women are supposed to do. The list of things that only women can do is short: women bear children, and only women can breastfeed. The other activities women did could be done by men or women but were done by women because it is part of their role. Roles and experiences can vary for individual women, and in different families. Women's realities were complex, and similar also, in many ways. The discussion was directed at drawing out the general pattern of reality for women in the family:

Main points raised about the family:

  • women are given a specific role in families as wives and mothers

  • women are not expected to be heads of households

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  • there are other divisions in families, for example, there are rankings according to caste or status

  • there are different levels of privilege within society; between families, within families and between women. For example, women who came from better off families can pass on their housework to less privileged women, who were used as housemaids, child minders, and these women were paid or lived in the family and were not paid

  • there was disagreement expressed over whether oppression existed in all families

  • Questions were raised on the role of wife, and on the pressures placed on women within marriage to have children