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Women, Development and Empowerment: A Pacific Feminist Perspective


page 15


A lot of women throughout the world with similar experiences to women in the Pacific had begun to re-define feminism. The word “feminism”, posed difficulties and it was suggested that perhaps a simple word in a Pacific language could be used instead. One suggestion was that the workshop could perhaps decide on a new word coined from one of the Pacific languages, which would incorporate Pacific women's ideas of feminism. What was more important for the workshop, was to identify Pacific women's understanding of “feminism”, and not be prevented from connecting with feminist ideas, because of misunderstandings about the word “feminism”.

To avoid discussing “feminism” by saying that Pacific women stood for “women's issues and anything that helps women” would not help Pacific women in the long run, if the Pacific women's movement was to develop in new directions. A Pacific feminist perspective could broaden women's work in the region.

One example was given, of how a broader perspective and analysis could help women, using the area of health and providing health information for women. Women were often involved in health education. But could women's health be seen in isolation from the structure of society and a number of related issues, for example, inequalities between rich and poor women, and how that affected women's health? Also important were questions of who made the decisions concerning the health system, and matters related to women's health? These issues all affected women's health and women needed to have a broader perspective of all conditions affecting their lives in order to act effectively to change them. The next sessions of the workshop on projects and programmes, were designed to help in re-examining the activities Pacific women were engaged in, and the contribution of these activities to changing the status of women.

Another example was given of an issue affecting women - violence - that, if analysed, raised wider issues. In Pacific societies, the social view was that violence page 16 against women was a domestic problem, or that it was “part of Pacific cultures”. These views continued to go unchallenged in many Pacific countries. By redefining and supporting a feminist perspective, women in the Pacific would be able to state their views on Pacific societies and the social issues affecting women. It was stressed that the purpose of the workshop was to enable Pacific women to analyse their activities and develop a broader perspective for improving women's status and development in the Pacific.

The summary was intended as a conclusion to the first short session on “feminism”. However, as the session was closing, participants came forward and extended the discussion on “feminism”: What followed was a lively and friendly post-session commentary:

JULLY(SOLOMON ISLANDS) (Jully is a well-known Pacific poet) I just want to say that the word “feminism” scares me. I am not a feminist. What is it? We are quite happy with our lot in the village. It is only when people see my writing, they say, “So, you are a feminist. You are for women's lib”. Then I say, “No, I am not. I am just trying to point out that in our male-oriented society, women are regarded as being lower, but we are just as good as the men…”

Black and white photograph of a woman working.

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To be honest, I did not understand the word “feminism” until I read this handout from you people. During our school days, we used to call ourselves feminists. But now the word is really broad. I understand how the women in our society have to struggle for their rights, to get equality because I was influenced by my aunty last year. She is the leader of the women's group and when she opened the women's council officially in July, she talked about inequality in that women did not have the right to get the funds from overseas, and had to go through a channel to get money. We are trying to fight for our rights and we are entitled to this. It is very interesting to share ideas here.

Hilda (Vanuatu), reported that in the last 10 years, many Pacific countries had recognised women's projects, particularly during the UN Women's Decade, and a lot of assistance was given to women. But in some instances, women who were organising programmes and projects had misuesed the facilities and resources provided to them. Men had then pointed out that women had been given a chance, but had abused it. In her view, it was women's responsibility, therefore, to distribute the resources given for women's development in a proper manner. This was one area she thought needed to be examined after 11 years of women's development in the Pacific, if women wanted men to assist them in their programmes.

Naama (Tuvalu) said that “feminism” was a new word to her and she would be afraid to introduce it to her community. There were two kinds of women's groups in Tuvalu - one consisting of “educated” (in the formal sense) women and the other, “uneducated”. It was difficult for some women leaders to put their ideas across to women whowere very tied to their culture.

Black and white drawing of a woman collecting shellfish.

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But the two groups of women were getting together to see what they could do. She thought it was time that the views of the younger generation of women were accepted, and these were her thoughts on feminism:

I think in a way feminism is already in Tuvalu. It is not a problem with our menfolk, as we are working in co-operation with them. They accept our views and they accept us. We also know that the background of the village life and of everything else is the women, so there is a very strong attitude at that level.

Some women respect the men and recognise that men must be the sole head of the family and leaders on the island. But we the women's group do not accept that. We must put in our views and be among the men in our decision or policy making. So, we are trying our best to solve that problem.

We have the situation at home - the men work and earn the money. When pay day comes, they give the whole salary to the women. But then there is a problem. Most of the women are misusing this privilege. They are using the money to play bingo, buy new clothes and that sort of thing. We want to help them.

We have other problems in the outer islands, but it is not that much. So, if I had to put it, our community will accept feminism.

The discussion on feminism was brought to a close by summing up the negative and positive aspects of feminism that arose from the workshop.

Black and white print - pacific design.