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Women, Development and Empowerment: A Pacific Feminist Perspective


I am not an expert on this subject but will share with you some of my concerns and experience with women and development in the Pacific. The word “development” to me means growth or change. In the Pacific we are guided by what are called “development plans”. Each country in the region formulates what is called a five year development plan, with their goals and objectives. Most development plans are very similar in their format and contents. If we look at the development plans of Solomon Island, Tuvalu, Fiji, Cook Islands and Kiribati, you will see that the format is almost the same with similar sectoral developments. Development plans are usually concerned about raising revenue for the country or the government, and at the same time distributing the benefits of that development through economic growth, throughout the country.

If we look at the development strategies in these plans, we will discover that a lot of emphasis is directed at raising the Gross National Product (GNP), through the development of the commercial and private sectors, the export market and through raising foreign exchange. Low priority is given to development sectors which do not generate monetary resources, for example, the social sector.

Also in these plans are very small paragraphs on women and development. Again this is a sector (like youth development) that does not generate any revenue for governments.

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These development plans depend heavily on overseas loans and aid, because our countries do not have money for these development projects. Governments have to make sure that they pay back these loans; so revenue has to be raised to pay back foreign loans. The private sector also is reliant on foreign private investment to realise profits. These development strategies do not encourage self-sufficiency which is the direction most people would wish to see their countries head towards. Although development plans talk about developing their countries to be self-sufficient, development strategies do not really work towards self-sufficiency.

Also, although development plans emphasise raising the GNP, economic growth does not always lead to equal distribution of development benefits. A country may be making a lot of money from the tourist industry, for example, but that money goes towards building roads, hotels, swimming pools or improving the airports, and not enough money goes towards building hospitals, or improving health services, or the education system, to really benefit the maximum population of the country.

Black and white cartoon questioning the reality of foreign aid.

Foreign Aid: free assistance, loans, or rip-offs? (Source: Paul Cavadino, Get Off Their Backs)

Foreign reserves may be important but the social aspects of development have to be considered. These aspects are often given less priority.

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For example, the cost of living is rising all the time, an experience of development felt by many people in the Pacific. This pattern of development is not benefitting the people concerned.