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Women, Development and Empowerment: A Pacific Feminist Perspective


Though this was slotted for yesterday, it actually falls quite well into what we would like to do later today, which is to talk about strategies. Yesterday, we talked about our vision, the ideals of the kind of society we would like to live in and the changes we would like, in very broad terms. For this session, what I am going to concentrate on is what we mean by empowerment. To me, the word simply means: adding to women's power. Why do we need empowerment? We acknowledge that women are a group (amongst many other groups) who almost universally have less power and are in a powerless position in many areas of society.

We need to define what we mean by “power”. To me, power means:

  • having control, or gaining greater control

  • having a say and being listened to

  • being able to define and create from a woman's perspective

  • being able to influence social choices and decisions affecting the whole society (not just areas of a society accepted as women's place)

  • being recognised and respected as equal citizens and human beings with a contribution to make.

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Power means being able to make a contribution at all levels of society and not just in the home. Power also means having women's contribution recognised and valued.

When considering how we can add to women's power in society, I have looked at this at two levels and attempted to be both practical and visionary.


The first level, the practical level, is concerned with ways of improving what we have now, and our present activities and ways of working with women in the Pacific.


The second level, the visionary one, examines how we can improve our work so that we make real inroads into changing structures, affecting decision-making and changing the way in which “development” and “progress” are defined in the Pacific. This means changing the unequal power relationships between men and women, governments and people, decision-makers and people, planners and people, traditional leaders and people, and gaining back power for those people in society who have less control over their lives, especially women.

How can we do this? Drawing from our own discussions here at the workshop, I have thought of small ways in which we can add to women's power. By examining what we are doing and our present activities, I would like to suggest ways in which we can develop them or push them a little bit further, in order to gain a little more power, even in the project areas where many of us are involved.

Take for an example, the project in Kiribati involving a women's group working, on a voluntary basis, to provide some of the health care services for the government. We can ask how the relationship with government in the project can be changed a little bit, so that the women have greater participation as the definers or creators of the health services? We can question the relationship behind the women's role and involvement in that project, so that they have more control and are not just the page 119 “doers” without ever being the “definers” in the health care services and delivery.

This is just one example from the workshop presentations. We could ask questions of the many other activities we are doing and ask for changes in women's role in these activities. One thing women could ask for is feedback into the system- - instead of women always receiving instructions or ideas from the system, and implementing them on its behalf. It occurred to me, in the Kiribati project, that the field experience of those women who were doing the teaching and the training in the health education programme should be used as a resource by the government. Their perceptions of the health problems, particularly of women, could go back into the system. To change their work relationship, women would need to think of ways of reporting back into the health care system. Another change could result from this in that the health care system would be more responsive to women's input, an important improvement. Thirdly, there could be a change in the sharing of knowledge within the project. Some of the information that the women are receiving and are being trained to transfer to the community could be broadened. Apart from transferring the health knowledge given, could women learn more? Can women in the project have more training and health knowledge if they want it? That would be an area the women could think about. There may be other types of health information women would like to have that the health service has not thought of.