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Women, Development and Empowerment: A Pacific Feminist Perspective


page 89


Listening to the discussions on projects, I feel in a peculiar situation because we in Kanaky are still struggling for independence and liberation.

In Kanaky, in the liberation movement, when we talk about projects and development, it involves land, cooperatives or alternative schools, not the approach that has been talked about here. Women's production is always seen in relation to cooperatives and the local markets set up by the liberation front. I will not be talking about the projects supported by the French government - that is not my affairs. In my community, we do not know these projects.

In our community, we did not start development from projects supported by funding agencies. There were no projects at home until last year, when we started to talk about development through the liberation movement. In Kanaky today, the people involved in the liberation movement talk about development, always linking it with the question of political independence. We do not isolate development from the struggle for political independence and getting out of the capitalist system. We link the development of our country and our people with trying to build a new kind of society. The liberation front has opted for a type of society and system which is socialist.

I would like to make a brief comment on socialism, and on feminism. Yesterday, I noticed that some of us were a bit scared of this term, feminism. I cannot understand this fear of certain words. In undemocratic or even liberal regimes, persons can be executed sometimes because of certain words used, or because we are women and we dare to open our mouths, or because we are blacks. If we want to share our role in

* Kanaky - the indigenous name for the French colony of New Caledonia.

page 90 society as women and as human beings, what definitions are we going to give to certain terms like “feminism” and “socialism”? Yesterday, we linked the term feminism with the “Western feminism” and “women's lib”, but we did not talk about the definition of feminism from the perspective of women's liberation struggles in some of the Third World countries like Nicaragua or Angola. I think we should try to understand what feminism is and not just think that it is a foreign word.

My main interest now is in the way we are trying to impose development in Kanaky through a liberation struggle that can change the role of women. For example, we encourage the full participation of the women in cooperatives and in an alternative education programme we have started, called the “Kanak Popular School” (an adult school), and we can see the results. A lot of young women can now speak in front of people, women now feel confident to attend political meetings, even in the presence of the French.

Our involvement in the liberation struggle is aimed at changing the attitude and behaviour of men towards women. This may not be a lot, but I consider it a big improvement when we consider the position of Kanak women before they became involved in the liberation movement, when they could not even speak at meetings because they were women. There is still a lot to do, to change the whole society however. The liberation movement is working as an alternative development for Kanak society that includes greater participation and involvement of women.

Questions and Answers

Q: You were saying something about your movement wanting to do away with the capitalist system and adopt a socialist system. Would women participate more in that sort of system (socialist), than in a capitalist system?

A: I think that under a socialist system, women will be able to participate more equally.

page 91

Q: Were you describing a process of social transformation taking place in the projects that you are involved in? Is that how women's participation has radically changed from what it used to be?

A: When you talk about socialism, it is not just a word or a term. In Kanaky, in our liberation movement, we are trying to change the structure of the traditional society dominated by the capitalist system.

Q: When you say that you are trying to change the structure of Kanaky, do you mean the traditional structure of Kanaky society as well as the structures that the French have imposed at the movement?

A: The traditional structure in Kanaky is completely dominated too, by religion or by external value, for example.

Q: Is the Kanak Popular School beginning to educate people about shared goals for men and women?

A: Yes. We have set up the alternative school to educate our boys and girls and to try to change attitudes.

Q: Are there any restrictions on what you can teach the students, and do the French impose regulations to control the education of your people?

A: The French schools exist but our school is the alternative school run by the liberation movement.* These two types of schools run side by side, but the Kanaks have withdrawn from the French schools and are not participating. The French try to disrupt our school, and try to blackmail parents with scholarships, to keep their children from enrolling in our schools.

* The anti-colonial struggle in Kanaky is co-ordinated by the F.N.L.K.S. Movement, an umbrella organisation of different political parties and groups.

page 92

One of the things not mentioned in this workshop was the contribution of women in liberation movements to Third World perspectives and definitions of feminism. Your experience in the Pacific is also a very significant and very different contribution to our definition of feminism. You have stressed that feminism is also about total change, a total transformation of society and it involves all sorts of struggles. It reminds us that when we talk about changing unequal structures we mean at all levels, regionally, within countries, within all sectors of the economy and right down to the family structure.

Following the presentations on projects, and the earlier discussions on feminism, Amelia Rokotuivuna helped the workshop make links between ‘women and development’ and a Third World feminist perspective, by drawing up a list of some possible criteria for feminist development in the Pacific. In that way the workshop used the experiences and analysis of women to move towards a feminist perspective of development. This was part of the workshop's second objective of developing a Pacific feminist perspective to guide Pacific women's vision, work and analysis.