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Women, Development and Empowerment: A Pacific Feminist Perspective

Learning to Say “No”

Learning to Say “No”

I would like to give another example of the way women can gain control or gain power using another project we heard of in the workshop - the Women's Crisis Centre. In just a small area, women can gain power by learning how to say “No”. In the WCC case, the collective was pressured to change the word “Crisis” in the Centre's name, which defined the Centre and its work: Women's Crisis Centre. The WCC heard that Government transfer of its UNFPA funds was being held back because of the name Women's Crisis Centre which had been chosen to identify the centre and to define its role. The Crisis Centre collectively decided it would not change the word “Crisis” to suit the government. That was retaining control in doing just that: in not backing off, in women saying “no” to powerful institutions. It retains page 122 power and gains women power, when women are able to say: “No, we will define ourselves, we are not going to accept what the system has to offer us, at the price of changing our goals”.

Kairabu from Kiribati told me a story which also illustrates the power of saying “No”. Women said “no” to a project that had been imposed by a foreign agency on their women's group. The Kiribati government and the agency's assumption was that, in a small country, these women would not know how to say “no” to foreign experts who wanted them to do a particular project. But the women said “No” and the government was embarassed that the women's group which it had decided would be the implementers of the project, was not going to be available. The women retained that position, even though the Government had publically decided to sponsor the foreign agency's programme. In the end, the project was stopped, it had collapsed because the women said “no” to implementing it. There is a nice ending to the story too - Kairabu (and the women) got something concrete out of the experience too. When the project collapsed and the agency withdrew, the women kept all the equipment and the facilities left behind! These are some examples to show that often we have more power than we think.

Black and white cartoon of packing cases.

The Tribune, IWTC, New York, June 1989