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Women, Development and Empowerment: A Pacific Feminist Perspective

Summary of Workshop Discussion — What is Development?

Summary of Workshop Discussion
What is Development?

It was noted that to speak out against the philosophy of development often meant being branded “anti-progress”. It was often felt that “development” was good, to criticise its effects meant being “backward-looking” and “anti-progressive”. It was presumed that “development” meant “progress” and “traditions” meant “lack of progress”. The answer to that was consulting the people: their involvement in development planning would solve these dilemmas.

In Vanuatu, women had been very vocal in demanding participation in planning. The Government decided to include women and youth teams in the planning of the future five year development plan and held regional planning sessions in which people were able to discuss their needs and the five-year development plan. This process of involvement of women and youth had come about through pressures for greater participation.

In PNG, having women in the planning office was not necessarily a positive benefit because they did not relate to women at the grassroots level. The PNG participant also pointed out that the system of government was still very foreign to most of the people and contradicted the traditional leadership system which ensured distribution of wealth rather than accumulation. One of the problems of modern government was that leaders had become corrupt and were involved with foreign businesses and governments, making “decisions that do not even reflect the feelings of the people”. It was observed that this was a trend happening elsewhere in the page 72 Pacific, where leaders were making the wrong decisions regarding resources. An example from PNG was of government taking control over water resources - forcing people to pay for water, a resources they previously used freely.

The women in PNG are very critical over Government's control over water resources. The national Government passed a bill in Parliament which in effect said that when rain touches the ground, it belonged to the state. The people had no rights whatsoever. Even if you are in a water district, you are not allowed to put up a tank. If you put up tanks you can go to goal for six months or pay a fine of K1000 (kina).

Men, women and children in PNG had demonstrated, demanding control over their water resources while the Government argued that it would provide them water - but at a cost.

These examples raised questions: Was this “development” - when government took charge of water resources because it had the power to do so? In the PNG example, the added disadvantage was that the PNG Government had borrowed 30 million kina from the Asian Development Bank for water services; the loan would have to be paid back with a high interest rate using the people's money.

Examples such as this highlighted the questions posed by “development”: What is development? Does it always benefit the people? Who pays for development? Who gains from it?

In some countries, women had pressured to have a say in development planning, but had been ignored by the government. The sections on women in some development plans were often written by the planning office - without any consultation with women.

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In PNG, women's participation has been more formally institutionalised: that is, it happens on a regular basis, and not just once every five years. Women are involved in all levels of the planning process. At the community, district and provincial levels, there are women's representatives, who are not just formally educated women, but village women. Since 1980–1985, emphasis has been placed on building the infrastructure for development - roads, communications, etc. and women's representatives have played a part in this decision. The 1986–90 Development Plan aims at economic development and decentralisation, and the 1990–1996 plan emphasises industries in the rural areas.

Black and white photograph of a woman weaving.

The Morobe provincial women's association has training courses on the system of government and on planning, for women representatives. At the national level, women had no influence and decisions were made by the National Planning Office. Therefore, in a province in PNG, a method of including women in development planning had been formally set up or institutionalised, a positive change.

In Vanuatu, women were also participating in a committee set up to look at development plans. The National Council of Women was also concerned with national development planning. The Government and National Development Office were receptive to women's participation.

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Development plans with strategies for women had to be monitored, to ensure government implemented its promises. Once carried out development strategies for women also had to be evaluated or judged, to determined whether women benefited and in what way.

Development plans had to be assessed by women. There was a need to analyse the type of development the plans promoted, and the impact of development on the people and the culture of a country. A Government's allocation of resources also decided whether the community and women could develop productively. One participant remembered being told by the Minister for Rural Development in Fiji, that the Reserve Bank, which advised the Government, believed that only a small section of the population could contribute to economic growth, therefore government money was given to that sector to develop the country. The sector receiving funds was the business and commercial sector, while the rural village sector where most people lived, was not regarded as a viable economic unit. Villages were left out of development, by not being allocated funds to contribute to economic growth. Many people felt they had no control over development, and that it was “inevitable”. People outside the power structure - where development plans are devised and resources allocated - were faced with the problems of “development”.