Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Women, Development and Empowerment: A Pacific Feminist Perspective


page break
Black and white print of women working.

Taken from The Tribune, IWTC, New York, June 1989

page 67 DAY 2

The first day of the workshop had focused on an opening discussion of feminism and on the presentation of women's projects and programmes. In this session, the workshop focused on examining the type of development promoted in the Pacific, and the use of projects as strategies for the advancement of women.


In the Third World, women's advancement has mainly been in the context of “development”. Women's development and women's advancement have been linked to the provision of basic needs such as water, food, energy, housing and so on, which are the subject of development plans and strategies. It is easy to understand why overall development goals are linked to women's advancement, because governments are struggling to attain these development goals for everybody. But in this kind of context, particular concerns about women's status and women's conditions often take second place. Many women are familiar with the sort of arguments presented by political leaders or government leaders, in response to pressure for special attention to be paid to the concerns of women. This difficulty of gaining particular attention for women's advancement in the Third World is also a problem in traditional societies, which are concerned with resisting Western influence, even though “development”, to a large extent, has in fact meant Third World countries following development strategies promoted by Western countries and their economies. The page 68 fact that women in the Pacific are questioning development is not a contradiction since development patterns in the region are largely defined by our relationship to development patterns defined by the West.


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.

page 69

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.

page 70

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.

Women and Development Planning

One of the regional projects coordinated by the Pacific Women's Resource Bureau of the South Pacific Commission, was to examine the development planning process which takes place in the Pacific. We wanted to find out why women were not involved in the planning process. Generally we found that most countries had very small units of national planning offices which were mostly staffed by expatriates even though they often were headed by a local. When it came to drawing up a development plan, this was done by the expatriate staff supposedly with directives from the local staff. Often these plans were based on development plans devised elsewhere; also many expatriate staff would not understand the cultural background and community issues of the countries involved.

Planning also takes place in a vacuum away from the people. Planners sit in a planning office and do the planning - they do not consult the people who may be able to make valuable contributions to development strategies.

When people do not participate in the planning process, they are unable to interpret the concepts used by the planners when they attempt to implement sections of the plan. People's exclusion from the planning process also results in their immediate and basic needs not being included in development plans, and/or receiving no budget allocation for services people would find helpful.

For countries to develop in a positive way, we need to adopt a strategy whereby people participate in the planning process of the community and of the nation. Governments have to involve people in identifying development projects, participating in formulating development plans and in monitoring the implementation of these page 71 plans. They also should be involved in the evaluation of positive and negative impacts of development plans. Only they can we hope for positive development in our countries.

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.

page 73

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.

page 74

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”.

Summary of Development Discussion

Development is very growth-oriented, based on sectors or particular areas in the economy which produce or generate growth. Because of this, lower priority is given to social sectors, such as health, education, welfare, etc. This also means that resources distributed by the Government tend to be directed towards a very small percentage of population, the section which promises to generate more wealth (the business sector). Therefore, a country's resources, are directed towards a small percentage of population, and not distributed evenly. This seemed to be a trend in development strategies in the Pacific.

page 75

Dependence on foreign capital/foreign investment, and dependence on loans, also exists in the Pacific. Governments have also tended to become the providers of services and in doing so have become very powerful and centralised. Centralised government planning does not involve people in decision-making, women particularly. Women could get involved in development planning to try to influence its direction and to obtain some of the benefits of development.

It is important, however, for women to be aware of the types of development being promoted, when they participate. It would be effective for women to begin working at the local level, where women were very active. Planning participation at national level was harder for women.

Black and white photograph of a weaving.