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Women, Development and Empowerment: A Pacific Feminist Perspective

Examining Our Own Structures

page 123

Examining Our Own Structures

Another thing about gaining control and power is that we must always question and critically examine our own structures, including women's organisations and their roles. For example, we have heard different experiences of the National Councils of Women. Some of these organisations work well and some of them do not. We need to critically examine our own organisational structures.

Some of these organisations are big and have the appearance of strong government support, for example, in PNG, an Act of Parliament enacted the National Council of Women and its structure. Is bigness always a strength? In the PNG case, the factor we need to examine is: who decided the structure? Resources were channelled through this large structure, which actually became an impediment to distribution of government resources to women's groups in PNG; it did not work very well. The question we need to ask is: Is the appearance of strength in women's organisational structures always a help? Sometimes it might be more effective and more empowering, and there might be more control and genuine advance, if we create working groups at all levels - to do what the women concerned want to do and have decided on. These small working groups might be more effective in mobilising women, in enabling better awareness amongst women and in organising action for women. Sometimes, a small and a particularly-defined group, working effectively, makes more sense than a large group or organisation whose structure hinders flexibility and real power for women. Genuine growth and effecting change may be more possible in smaller groups.

Therefore, on women's organisations and structures, to make sure that women gain power:


we should not always seek large organisations, but effective working groups;


we should be careful about our own organisational choices and relationships


we should be watchful of the power relationships in our own organisational page 124 structures. We have seen from examples given in this workshop that many organisations have power relationships that favour those at the top, rather than inviting participation for all women;


we need to have a leadership style that creates awareness and a sense of power for all women;


we need a sense of sharing, of “sisterhood” to help us all in a feminist struggle.

Not all women agree or will be able to agree on what they want to do or what they want to work on together. But we should not let these divisions weaken us, but keep our vision in mind to decide what is useful and worthwhile struggling over. I recall when working in the Pacific Women's Resource Centre in 1978, we used to worry about women's organisations that did not want to join the PWRC, or even opposed it. That was perhaps a false concern to be occupied with. What is important is the question of effectiveness, and gaining the commitment from women and groups who want progressive changes for women. If divisions exist, we can work on them but we should not let them weaken us as women in struggle. There is enough weakening us coming from elsewhere in the system and society.