Women, Development and Empowerment: A Pacific Feminist Perspective
PRIMARY HEALTH AND THE NATIONAL WOMEN'S FEDERATION IN KIRIBATI — Primary Health Care in Kiribati
PRIMARY HEALTH AND THE NATIONAL WOMEN'S FEDERATION IN KIRIBATI
Primary Health Care in Kiribati
In Kiribati, primary health care is handled by the Kiribati Government through the Ministry of Health and church groups. From 1963 to 1972, the primary health care extended to family heath care. The government provided funds to a women's organisation for fares to travel around Kiribati to carry out a programme in family health care, nutrition and sanitation. The Women's organisation also had a radio programme on women's issues and health education.
The Kiribati National Women's Federation was formed in 1977, under the supervision of the Ministry of Health and Family Planning. The Ministry handed over the responsibility for family health to the organisation. From August 1981 to 1986, the FSP (the Foundation for the People's of the South Pacific) provided financial support for overall running of the health programme.
When the women's organisation started the programme in Kiribati, it faced a lot of problems. The people in the village did not accept the nutrition programme because they felt that it was going to change the value of their food. The women's organisation tried to make people aware of the health side of food and nutrition and to concentrate on having a good diet. It went to the older people and tried to introduce the benefits of good nutrition. But people didn't want the women to talk about nutrition, they wanted them to cook and taste the food first. So the women did that. When the people could see that the women were all right after tasting the food first, only then would they eat it too, and then talk about nutrition. People were also informed through radio about sanitation. Slowly, people were changing.page 31
The KNWF (Kiribati National Women's Federation), working together with the Ministry of Health, has run many workshops in the outer islands at the women's centres. Workshops are on sanitation, nutrition, home management and home economy.
Through these, women of Kiribati gained confidence in their health and diet and are making use of the health services available. They are also encouraging their children to eat green leaves and local food.
Problems the organisation encountered were that they had run out of money. Luckily, to the women in the outer islands and all the women in Kiribati, money was not important - they wanted to continue to learn about health services and other things anyway. So, the work of the Women's Federation in this area continues, though it is mainly voluntary now.
Questions and Answers
Q: Did the Kiribati diet traditionally include greens or not?
A: In the olden days, people lived on local green leaves, coconut and fish, etc. But that has slowly changed. Nowadays, because the soil is not so rich, people did not have so much green leaves. The Federation project has started that again - encouraging growing these foods.
Q: Was the project funded by FSP (Foundation for the People's of the South Pacific)?
A: Firstly, it was funded by Government, but when Kiribati gained independence in 1982, FSP came in and funded it and then left the project.
A: Not by the Government. But the Government supported some of the women's workshops and training.
Q: The favourable response to the nutrition programme in the village - was that anything to do with the fact that it was the women who were organising it?
A: The response from the community was that they needed the women to write up the recipes and also needed information on local medicines. People are encouraged to use local leaves. It was also found to be better when people used local medicines once a day, replacing bought medicines.
Q: What is meant by local medicine? Is it bush medicine?
A: For example, girls in Kiribati are not allowed to eat raw fish from a very young age. There are times when they have a period, that they must use certain leaves in the morning and evening, for three days. The leaves help control the body's smells and make the face nice and shiny.
Q: Why aren't the young girls allowed to eat raw fish?
A: When you sweat, you smell very bad. When we are dancing - we are very strict on this - you have to go without fish for two weeks before dancing in public…
Q: Does that apply to men and women too?
A: For dancing? Yes, both men and women.
Kairabu added a comment on her experiences with the project:
When we visited our village people, it was very difficult for us to talk in the meeting house. Women are not allowed there. We asked the village leaders for permission to talk. Now, they allow us, when we talk about the project.
Q: But are women allowed to be at any meeting in the village meeting house?
A: Yes, but we are not allowed to talk. The women priests can talk there now…
Q: Do you think that is an improvement?
Women dancing, Northern Province, Papua New Guinea