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Women, Development and Empowerment: A Pacific Feminist Perspective

Project Problems

Project Problems

The problems that women have with projects dominated the discussion. Income generating projects were a common example, in Asia and the Pacific, of projects for women. Papua New Guinea had experience of projects set up by foreign experts who then left, resulting in the collapse of the project because the local people were not familiar with its structure. Community rather then individual benefits from projects were thought to be the preferred approach, if a project was to be a success.

Handicraft projects were mentioned, as the next common type of income generating projects developed for Pacific women. No clear analysis was given of the difficulties faced by women in these projects. In Tuvalu, one difficulty was finding an agent to market handicrafts overseas. Women also earned very little from their products - sometimes $20 a month or $5 a week. Questions were raised about the value of these projects, if they involved so much of women's time but earned women payment that did not relate to the much higher cost of living. Such cases pointed to the very marginal nature of women's projects.

Analysis of projects and how they helped women was difficult to make. One view page 85 was that questioning whether projects improved the status of women was perhaps the wrong approach. The question that needed to be asked was: in what ways did the project empower women? Projects could not be separated from development planning and the national framework promoted by governments. It was noted that women were often too busily involved in projects to analyse them in this way. Efforts needed to be made to advance the direction of projects in ways that would empower women.

It was recognised that projects alone could not change women's status. However, some of the positive benefits resulting from women's involvement in projects were improvements in their self-confidence, and women gaining experience in organising and working together.

Projects - Tokelau Islands - Mesepa Atoni The Tokelaus consist of three atolls, each of which has a women's committee. The aim of the women's association on my islands is to improve women's household management, and to help produce mats, handicrafts, etc. We also have a drinking water programme to ensure that the family drinks treated water. Twice a year, the committee inspects homes to see if families are living under proper conditions. The women expressed the need for money to help them with things like food, so a home garden project was started to plant pawpaws. The doctor's wife on the island is in charge of supervising the planting and teaching women how to look after their home gardens. When the Government changed recently, a few educated people from New Zealand took up positions with the Government as Director of Health and Director of Agriculture. The Director of Health is assisting the women's committees in trying to improve the diet of each atoll, and has given money to buy seeds and fertilisers from overseas to help with the project. He also undertook to find overseas markets for handicraft sales, so women would get improved prices for their fans, mats and other crafts. Last Christmas women were making jam out of their garden produce, and it was selling for $16 a litre.

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Projects - Kiribati - Kairabu Betaia
In Kiribati, we have some handicraft, sewing and cooking projects run by women's organisations and run by the women's centre. Some projects are run in the village, and involve vegetable gardens, and a piggery. Some funds have come from FSP. When the women make a profit, they buy things like plates, pots, etc. The handicraft project is run by the women, but the Ministry of Trade is now helping in this type of project. We have asked for training for women; a problem we have is looking for markets. We have a sewing project in the Centre and we help the island councils in the atolls, but we have run out of money in this project. Sometimes we also sew uniforms for the Police, and this helps with the running of the centre. We also have a take-away food project, and have just finished the building for it, but the take-away bar is not complete and we have run out of money.

Black and white photograph of women dancing.

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Black and white print - pacific design.

Projects - Cook Islands - Vereara Maeva Cook Islands women have progressed in promoting themselves, both individually and as groups, in certain areas. For self-employment, we have women working in agriculture, in projects they have initiated themselves. These women could not get jobs in the Government, so they grew their own vegetables and sold them in their own small shops. Women grow flowers or raise pot plants and also sell these. All this helps the family income. Some women own and manage their own hotels and lodges and provide accommodation. This is a lucrative area when there are many visitors to the island. Other women own and manage their own restaurants and take-away shops; some have their own boutiques and employ workers. There are women who have been educated and have worked in the Government but wanted to be independent and start something on their own. Women have taken up the responsibilities of looking after working mother's children; some women are working with their husbands in family businesses. Women are involved in a piggery and poultry business, where they raise their own pigs and chickens, and sell eggs. The National Council of Women initiates programmes funded by government, funding agencies from overseas, or by themselves. Through these projects, women are trained to enable them to develop their potential to organise their own fund raising activities. These activities are done in groups where we try to get the women to do things for themselves rather than depending too much on their husbands.

Black and white print - pacific design.

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We talk
as if
are new-comers
to the planet,
as if Women
are new arrivals
hanging in the wings.
are mothers
of humanity.
are teachers
of Society,
As such,
cannot lay blame
on anyone
for their nonentity
are party to
the maintenance
of an oppressive
macho status quo.
What needs
to occur
in the mind
and practice
of men and women
are these
To accept
as fellow humans
in the human society.
To accept
and recognise
the existence
of women
in the Human
and Society.
To accept
and respect
the Labour
of Women
and the product
of that Labour
as a valuable
to the Life
of Man
the Human
Human Society
and Humankind
accounting for
the product
of the Labour
of Women
as a valuable
and Integral
Input by Women
into Nation Building
National Development
National Life.

From: Colonised People
poems by Grace Mera
Molisa, Black Stone Publications, Port Vila, 1987