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Women, Development and Empowerment: A Pacific Feminist Perspective



It was agreed that religion provided some of the sterotypes and restricting images of women. Women were expected to be pure or had to confine themselves to certain areas and avoid certain foods, according to the beliefs of many religions. Some disagreement was expressed over Christianity and its effects on traditional societies and traditional religion. The Christian faith, one participant noted, had strong strictures on wives being faithful and obedient; women in some churches also had to sit in places separate from the men. She added an interesting observation on the effect the missions had on women's role:

Somehow, I believe that the whole idea of having a woman do the housework was invented by the missionaries. At home, traditionally, a man knew what his role was and a woman knew what her role was. When the missionaries came, they took the men away to train them, and the women page 107 were left with all the responsibilities. Before that, the wife who cooked and did everything in the house, taught the men to cook and serve. The responsibility that used to be shared by a man and a woman had to be disrupted when the man was taken away by the missions.

A view following on this remark was that what is now called “traditional” - in the family and “traditional” society - are roles and responsibilities influenced by the missionaries and colonial contact. The missions had also been exploitative, and in some cases continued to extract work and money from the people. The church also changed the traditional concepts of marriage, institutionalising it, so marriage now took place in the church, where men and women were taught their roles.

Black and white drawing of a woman cooking.