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Pacific Island Women in Development

Issue date: 
Friday, 12 February 1993
The Hon Dame Catherine Tizard, GCMG, GCVO, DBE, QSO

Madam Mayor, Your Excellencies, gentlemen and ladies.

"Pacific Island Women in Development" is a very large theme for a conference to have.

There are questions it raises immediately. The first is, what is development? - what does successful development look like? Of course, giving a specific answer to this question is none of my business - this has to come from Pacific Island women themselves. All I can offer is a general suggestion, which I'll get to, later.

The other main question about development is, how does it come about? There's a convincing answer from Bangladesh. The example is the Grameen Bank - famous in development banking circles for a loan-repayment rate of 98 or 99 per cent. Other banks make a much greater percentage of bad loans - 30 to 40 per cent, not 1 or 2. No loan is greater than $NZ500. Nine-tenths of the loans are made to women. In general, the Grameen Bank's borrowers are better off after obtaining and using their loans than are the other development banks' borrowers. Yet this difference in performance isn't because of different goals. The Grameen Bank is not simply more "enlightened" - however you might define that - than more conventional economic development institutions. Most development banks want to do their best for the populations they serve. And the Grameen is as hard-headed a bank as any, when you look closely. The bank's chief innovation is to lend to individuals only when they are part of a supporting group, the other members of which also want to borrow. Then, the initial borrowers in each loan group have to be making regular repayments before the others can get credit themselves. Individual borrowers are the only ones entitled to benefit from these start-up enterprises, hence their motivation to succeed, but other members of their circle still have an interest in their success. The ultimate ingredient is that the Grameen Bank helps its borrowers to learn how they can help themselves.

Brilliantly simple - brilliantly effective - and all based on a few key principles that reflect a relaxed, non-judgemental view of human nature. The need to repay a bank loan at regular intervals means that necessary planning is done, and specific goals set, before loans are taken out. Weekly or fortnightly repayments mean no mucking about in getting results. Individuals have a strong incentive to succeed because there are short-term benefits for themselves and their families, but there is plenty of focused interest, and even coaching, from a group of supporters.

Speaking as Patron of Suffrage Centennial Year 1993, we can also learn about development from the events of a hundred years ago - the suffrage campaign raised the status of women right here in New Zealand. The suffrage campaign's activities were specific - women set goals and planned, organised and mobilised to reach them. And they were steadfast. They believed in what they were doing so they never, ever gave up - it didn't matter if it was often hard going. Again as in the Grameen Bank model, there was an education effort. The suffragists established the climate for their success by talking about the change they proposed. They took the strangeness out of it, both for themselves and everyone else. They publicised their cause in open meetings, in letters to newspapers and most important, face to face. They changed peoples' minds - this is a polite way of saying they changed men's minds, perhaps - and influenced their opinions. They built a climate of co-operation by proclaiming their goal and the reasons why the goal was legitimate, and explained the benefits, for everyone, of what they wanted to achieve.

The principles were effective then, and the Grameen Bank shows that nothing much has changed.

Women, by and large, are still underachievers in society. In spite of much higher participation in the workforce, very often women are valued solely as mothers, while their husbands are much more outward-looking and independent. Even as women work to change this status, it must be recognised that of all the things we do in life, raising children is probably the most important. But where is it carved in stone that only women are or should be, responsible for this job?

I said at the beginning that I was going to make a suggestion about a possible development goal for the women here, and all the women who are represented here. The goal could be the achievement of full partnership in family life. The benefits would be for everyone, women and men alike. To begin with, marriages are likely to be more stable when there has been a shared effort to build a full partnership. Partnership means that women, like men, should be expected to have interests outside the family - a career being one obvious one. Partnership means that men, like women, should be expected, by themselves as well as others, to make a commitment to the day-to-day running of their households. This includes chores. Chores are not a triviality when they take three to five hours per day, at an absolute minimum. Full family partnership means abandoning the now-outdated model of domestic life; of the mother who is in sole charge of the household and children's upbringing, with the father as a sort of executive or outside director.

This is not good enough in 1993. The benefits of organising family life in this way do not cover the costs. The biggest cost is the downgrading of the status of women, something that New Zealand women started to improve in 1893.

Men, women and children need a properly balanced home life and world view to thrive.

True development for women in New Zealand, including Pacific Island women, will be based on having equal opportunity and equal choice with men. This is not to argue that a woman's role is always the same as a man's. This would obviously be biological nonsense. Even though many women are likely to be full-time mothers at some stage in their lives, the development problem is to make sure that women are not left in this role exclusively, until the chicks fly off and the nest empties.

Development is a vague term: it's tough to pin down precisely. There are many other words you can use that mean pretty much the same thing: advancement, growth and progress for instance. Yet in spite of fuzzy definitions of all these words, you always know them when you see them.

So perhaps one goal for the 1993 PACIFICA Conference, is to visualise just what successful development might look like. Since this is something that you can do only after conferring, it is time for me to stop talking and sit down, but not before declaring the conference, "Pacific Island Women in Development," open.

Last updated: 
Friday, 9 January 2009

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