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Women Speak Out! A Report of the Pacific Women's Conference. October 27 – November 2

New Hebrides

New Hebrides

My topic is down as ‘Women in the Struggle for National Liberation of the New Hebrides’. As introduction, I would like to put into your heads a picture of what the situation is like that the New Hebrideans are facing at the moment. I'd like also to point out that New Hebrides is a unique country in that it is the only Condominium country in the world. That means it is ruled by two different governments - two completely different-minded people with different ideas and aspects of life. The two governments are the British and the French. As a result of the two existing governments, we practically have two systems of everything, two systems of education, two different hospitals, two police forces. If you come to the New Hebrides, you'll see two New Hebrideans in two different uniforms and then two separate government departments. And then there's the Condominium office where both governments work hand in hand in matters regarding the water system, electricity, maintenance of roads and sanitation.

At the moment not only the women, are still struggling to get up, but also our men, are struggling to get into power, because without power we can't be recognised as New Hebrideans. page 95 The two governments want to be rich and be better themselves, so they keep the New Hebrideans under their thumbs because they want to be the big bosses up there. They are white. That's why they think they can keep the brown, black or any colours under them. They tell me and my fellow country-women or men to do this or that or else you know what will happen. So we have to do it.

On the other hand, I'm glad to say that education has led a larger awareness where some New Hebrideans are now looking into the situation more closely and trying to shake things up. Nonetheless, we can't change the whole system in a matter of hours or weeks or months and what's more, without having independence or a legislature in the country. But there will be a Legislative Assembly by the end of November.

My speech is “Women in the struggle for National liberation of the New Hebrides”.

I'm going now to the present political situation and the struggle against colonialism. I've already mentioned earlier how the two colonial governments are treating the New Hebrideans. In the French system of education, they've planned our syllabus whereby New Hebrideans can't get to Forms 4 and 5. About one or two get to the top, if any. Then the excuse is - the New Hebrideans are lazy, not clever, that's why they fail their exams. This is all nonsense. The white French colonialists themselves make sure that no New Hebrideans get to their level. But the few who manage to get to the top are taught in such a way that they become black French people with white French thinking. Looking at the British system of education, I can't say that it is better either. Better only in that New Hebrideans get to Form 5 in the secondary level, then to University if they are lucky. But the government still says it can't get anymore children into the secondary level or for further training because there won't be enough jobs for everybody, because the government knows that if it allows these students to progress, they will have a wider, more diverse knowledge that will decide what to do and will be a useful source in the years to come. They make excuses so that they can put a full stop to it all.

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Because of this unsteady progress the New Hebrideans are saying: “Yes, we got two foreign bodies in the country, but we are not moving fast enough”. Changes have come out slowly. We have now in the New Hebrides, four political parties, three of which are led by the expatriates and one of which is the National Party to which I belong.

The National Party started in 1967 but changes came about in rather a slow manner. Up till 1973, it was shaking up the country and some changes began. As a result, another party was formed. This is the U.C.N.H. (Union Communite de Nouvelles Hebrides), the French Expatriates Party. M.A.N.H. was also formed but it had its installment in Santo - Mouvement Autonomiste de Nouvelles Hebrides - this is also the French planters' party. These two parties came about because the National Party was drawing up its forces to declare independence in 1977, no matter what happens, and to take back our lands that the white man robbed us of. If they gave anything at all, it was a stick of tobacco, a bottle, for so many acres of our land. And this is why the whites don't want to move away from our lands. They are very rich now that they're in the New Hebrides because the land is prosperous. Because land is the very first of our securities in the New Hebrides, we feel we are part of the country, and people can survive if they've got land even if they haven't got a single cent.

This year, 1975, is history for the New Hebrides because it's the first time, ever, that we have our first test of voting. We had the Municipal election which was in August. During the competition different parties came up with different policies. But the French Planters' Party and the French Expatriates Party, so they would stay on in the New Hebrides, worked on a bribery basis. U.C.N.H. won most seats in Vila Municipal Council and likewise M.A.N.H., in hand with a new Party which was formed just before the Municipal elections campaign, won all seats but one in Santo. However, all these tricks came out at the elections and as a result a lot of people have lost hope in the two parties.

Now we are looking forward to this coming elections in November, which is the representative elections. But again, page 97 the expatriates have made a law saying only people over twenty-one can vote, because if it were eighteen years and over, a lot of school students who can vote would vote for us [the National Party.] And the expatriates want to win and stay on in the New Hebrides.

Can changes for women be achieved within the struggle for national liberation in a country where colonialism exists? To me, it would be a hard task to tackle but in a Melanesian society people work to get what they want or to achieve their goals. They don't just sit and wait for it to come because it will never come. This is part of the struggle. Since the New Hebrides National Party started in 1967, the women were not involved within the circle, but rather involved indirectly. During rallies and public meetings, women were not involved in this. If ever they did, they asked one or two questions and that was as far as women could go. This year, the International Women's Year, and with elections being held in the New Hebrides, we, the women, the National Party Women's wing, we felt that this is the time for the women to speak up. This is not a movement but it is only a branch of the National Party. We feel that the women would sometimes want to discuss some matters where they wouldn't want the men to be around, so this is where they can turn to. But this National Party Women's Wing will eventually shift into the one National Party. As it stands now, we have four women in the New Hebrides National Party executive committee and this is where we help our women by going around and explaining to them how to vote, etc.

Is liberation of women just a change in role? I don't think it's the change of role, but rather that your opinions and ideas be put forward as women, - so that women feel they are part of something or part of the country. We are human beings so we have the right to voice our ideas to the public just as we are equal in the sight of God. That's why, this year, in August, we put up one woman candidate in the Municipal elections and she won the seat. So she's in the Council but this doesn't mean that her role as housewife and mother will be taken away.

We have actually put up another candidate for this page 98 coming election and we have high hopes that she'll get in. Since we have now a woman candidate in the Municipal Council we can now put forward our ideas and views to her and she takes them to the council to be discussed.

We must not only educate our women but our men too. We must educate our men in such a way that they see our reason because if they don't reason with us, we won't lead a happy life, those of us who are married. Tell your husband, or your boyfriend, “O.K., you're the big boss, but can you reason with me about this or that?” Make him understand you and trust you.

To conclude, I'd like to say that I've come across a few men who told me that women's decisions are not usually put into practice. I'd like to say that decisions and opinions are there to be considered whether they are good or bad.