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Leading a feminist Pacific

Written By: - Date published: 3:19 pm, March 28th, 2019 - 63 comments
Categories: Deep stuff, International, jacinda ardern, Politics - Tags:

In September last year, Prime Minister Ardern appeared in the United Nations with her new baby.

It was a strong symbol, but it’s one that hasn’t been converted through New Zealand’s attitude to foreign development in the Pacific.

Symbols need to be backed up with coherent policy, or they turn into shallow memes real fast.

Now, the Prime Minister has had a bit on, so there’s no heavy critique going on here.

However, the Pacific is one of the worst areas in the world for how it treats women.

New Zealand delivers the majority of its aid and development funding to this area.

The legacy policy framework for New Zealand’s aid and development is economically focused:

The purpose of New Zealand’s aid is to develop shared prosperity and stability in the Pacific and beyond, drawing on the best of New Zealand’s knowledge and skills. We support sustainable development in developing countries to reduce poverty and contribute to a more secure, equitable and prosperous world.”

The treatment of women in countries that we provide substantial funding to has some pretty common really negative themes, including:

  • Low levels of women’s political representation
  • Violence against women
  • Increased risk of HIV/AIDS and STIs
  • Declining access to customary lands
  • Low levels of literacy about rights to land and property, and
  • Culturally-enforced discrimination and inequality of women

“Feminist” may feel like a leftie buzzword to stick over a bunch of funding. 

But the poorest people in the Pacific are women.  Our framework is well overdue to fundamentally respond to New Zealand’s new political leadership, including how it frames aid and development funding.

You get a sense of the Australian development (‘AusAid’ as it was formerly known) approach to gender in development here:

There’s also some lovely case studies of useful change occurring in this Australian evaluation report.

Australia has an explicit women’s empowerment strategy in its development programme.

So does France.

And Canada.

The question is: what would a gender-focussed framing of state development look like if our Prime Minister could convert her massive symbolic gender capital into real change with real state money?

Well, one answer comes from Sweden.

Sweden has a feminist foreign policy. That’s what they call it. It’s led by the returned Prime Minister Stefan Lofven. It puts the promotion of gender equality and women’s rights at the centre of its diplomatic agenda. The policy consists of three laudable R’s:

  • rights (promotion of women’s issues including gender-based violence and discrimination)
  • representation (support for women’s participation at all levels of decision-making from Parliaments to the legal system), and
  • resources (more equitable allocation among people of all genders in government budgets or development projects.  

Now, the symbolic capital of one Prime Minister can get spent on a limited set of policy tasks. I get that. But if Ardern is to get a good few terms, this government needs a bunch more policy wins than the very few it is getting out of transport, housing or health. 

Development in the Pacific is also good for the Labour voter base, and Ardern has the capacity to gently build that “Pacific Reset” to sound political and development ends, not just keeping Winston busy imbibing Pina Coladas on tropical islands. Soft capital needs to be built, and spent, with values that are more than economic. We don’t just need to stick to the old primarily economic development framework to get good happening.

Sweden’s Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom explained in an interview in the New Yorker in March 2015 that a feminist foreign policy meant “standing against the systematic and global subordination of women.”

Anyone can do cute rhetorical aphorisms. Few back it up with policy frameworks that direct the cash. But that is what Sweden have done.

The approach has been critiqued, as it should, in a paper called: “Hiding Behind the F-Word”.

It has also been criticised for not being consistent. For example, Sweden’s government facilitating arms exports to authoritarian regimes with records of human rights abuses and its temporary suspension of the right to family reunification for refugees.

The true test of Sweden – or any country’s – feminist foreign policy will only be answered with further implementation and evaluation, which requires consistent and sustained support.

But it does turn upon New Zealand’s accidental newly-found global positioning on all things liberal in the world. Our Prime Minister is explicitly trading on its global banks of empathy and emotion and gender equality – as only a female Prime Minister can.

Her time to focus on this kind of stuff is so constrained now that she even cut her China trip down to one day. 

But every PM has a lot on.

Even with other countries showing the way, it’s time to convert Ardern’s massive global symbolic capital into a lasting legacy for the Pacific. It’s time for a feminist international development policy.

63 comments on “Leading a feminist Pacific”

  1. Rae 1

    Awesome, bring it on. Sean Plunket will have a complete meltdown.

  2. Stuart Munro. 2

    It’s not that it isn’t worthy, but after thirty years of economic savagery, we have quite a few domestic issues that are much more important to me.

    I recognize that much of the appeal of identity politics is that it doesn’t have much in the way of budgetary consequences; the things that need doing more do.

    One of my students has just finished her masters on tourism based poverty relief programs for women. Supporting interventions of that kind should not consume terribly much political capital, though typically that would be a job for energetic junior ministers rather than a PM.

    • AB 2.1

      Yes. But not if you regard feminism as a useful spearhead in the attack against neoliberal economics. Such as saying that the lives of women can never be what they should be without taking the essentials of life (health, education, housing etc.) out of a market system.

      • Stuart Munro. 2.1.1

        I’m not sure how I regard feminism. But I am not keen on poverty, and impoverished women mean impoverished children. If we work on poverty and health issues, even conservative societies will often welcome our participation.

  3. Mark 3

    New Zealanders rightly or wrongly take issue with countries like China supposedly peddling their soft power.

    Yet what is proposed here but an attack on the traditional cultures of the Pacific.

    That is not to say Pacific countries are guilty (or not guilty) of all the things listed relating to gender inequality. But let them decide their own path, based on tradition and authentic Christian belief.

    Most nations and cultures have survived for very long periods and done very well, without having fanatical Western feminist strictures rammed down their throats.

    • Rosemary McDonald 3.1

      “That is not to say Pacific countries are guilty (or not guilty) of all the things listed relating to gender inequality. But let them decide their own path, based on tradition and authentic Christian belief.”

      Hmmmm….Can you unpack that for me Mark? Pretty please? Exactly how is it possible to have the expression ‘authentic (whatever that means in this context) Christian belief’ in the same sentence as ‘…own path based on tradition…’ when discussing whether or not Pacific women should have ‘fanatical Western feminist strictures rammed down their throats.’

      After that you can toddle off back to your cave.

      • In Vino 3.1.1

        “Authentic Christian belief”… Correct me if I am wrong, but was not the Bible brought to the Pacific with reinforcement of British guns? Some on British gunboats, I suspect..

        • Rosemary McDonald 3.1.1.1

          Yeah. I’m struggling with the ‘authentic’ bit too. Perhaps when Mark has eaten his haunch of aurochs he can help us out?

          • In Vino 3.1.1.1.1

            Nice..
            I doubt if he likes our questions. By the way, I should have added that there were French, Dutch, and Spanish gunboats as well..

            • McFlock 3.1.1.1.1.1

              And American.

              I recall Ian McKellan talking about doing movie promos in Singapore (I think it was), or at least a South East Asian nation where homosexuality is still illegal. He asked the camp morning TV host, on air, if he knew of any gay bars. Cue outrage about judging the country’s cultural norms. McKellan pointed out that the anti-gay law was implemented by the British colonial authorities in order to stamp out native acceptance of homosexuality.

              Apparently someone else showed him where the local gay bars were…

      • left_forward 3.1.2

        Well unpacked Rosemary.

    • … authentic Christian belief…

      After all, there’s nothing more “authentic” and “traditional” to Pacific cultures than Judaic monotheism modified by Greeks to suit their and Roman sensibilities, right? That’s just gotta be the really authentic Pasifika shit, amiright?

      • In Vino 3.2.1

        The only vague justification I have ever heard is that Pacific people have a lot of ‘spirituality’.
        If so, does that mean any other religion would do?
        I share your ‘spirit of inquiry’ PM.

    • Maggie 3.3

      “authentic christian beliefs” – umm which ones are those? The ones that still hold to the ridiculous notion that the quality of a woman’s character and her value are determined by how she uses her vagina, that she is a guardian, not an owner and ought to ‘give’ herself only to a worthy male? Yeah, nah.

      • left_forward 3.3.1

        At least St. Mark added to this discourse, by outlining the pivotal role of the Church in the imposition of strictures on women and their families throughout the Pacific.

        • Maggie 3.3.1.1

          Yes. It’s disappointing that more men don’t weigh in constructively on conversations like this. Disagreeing is fine when it’s rational and intelligent. Instead we either get hysteria or silence. How are we (people) supposed to navigate an uncertain future without open and honest discourse?

  4. BM 4

    What a load of typical paternalistic know all white liberal bull shit.

    Having said that, I wouldn’t be surprised if this sort of wankery became the number one focus for Labour, it’s the sort of thing you’d expect from this crop of clowns

    • Sam 4.1

      So are you saying that transforming New Zealand into a haven for woman from all over the pacific is some how objectionable or pornographic or some shit? I mean that’s just [off].

      [Homophobic insult deleted. Last chance, Sam. TRP]

      • Sam 4.1.1

        I called BM a homosexual. So what. Are you trying to argue that there’s something wrong with being a gay, TRP. Or are you just fragile.

        • BM 4.1.1.1

          Are you cruising for some arse? Sam.

          • Sam 4.1.1.1.1

            I was implying that you coming out all hard and pathetic over a feminist policy agenda was homo in nature. So are you or nah. If you are then that’s and understandable position to take. But if you are not homo then your reaction to a feminist forign policy is debatable. So what are you?

            Edit: hey TRP, isn’t that like the 3rd last chance. What are you trying to prove?

            [I do apologise for the delay. I’ve been out for a walk along the banks of the Taylor River in Blenheim. Lovely this time of year, especially at twilight. Speaking of the dying of the light, your own dim bulb is being extinguished for the time being. Banned till May 1 and much, much longer if you try it on again. TRP]

            • Rosemary McDonald 4.1.1.1.1.1

              @BM&@Sam….courageous attempt at sublimation fellas, but sadly, no cigar.

              • Sam

                I wouldn’t exactly call it courageous. Intermediate track meet maybe but nothing top tier.

              • Ad

                sometimes a cigar is just a cigarette

              • Robert Guyton

                “@BM&@Sam”
                Those two labour to pollute the generally convivial atmosphere here with their provocations. While they have arguments as reasonable as some others, they aren’t aiming to progress them for the purpose of the greater understanding for commenters here, more they beaver away to sow discord and elicit bad-faith, frustration and anger. Still, their periodic banning will make many here smile and enjoy a sense of freedom from irritation. Thanks, Te Reo Putake, for your timely intervention and wise decision-making 🙂

                • Maggie

                  “Still, their periodic banning will make many here smile and enjoy a sense of freedom from irritation. ”

                  😊😊😊

            • McFlock 4.1.1.1.1.2

              Damn. I was curious as to what “fall back” was supposed to mean.

    • left_forward 4.2

      Equality for women!! Pffft.
      Typical Lefties… comin’ round here with their university education and high falutin’ ideas.

      • Maggie 4.2.1

        Exactly! Is no one thinking of the socks? We’ll all be walking around with one bare foot or worse; mismatched! 😉

        • RedLogix 4.2.1.1

          Or worse little short white ones …

          • Maggie 4.2.1.1.1

            Napoleon sock complex…

            I read an interesting article about the apparent difficulty some men have with remembering basic things in the home like where to find socks when they aren’t in their usual place. Apparently it’s a skill they’ve never really had to learn because there’s always been someone to do that for them. It’s much the same with young ones and their reduction in long term memory. Easy access to information means they no longer need to retain it, just know how to find it.

            • left_forward 4.2.1.1.1.1

              ‘How do you take your tea luv?’

              ‘Ow would I know? you’d better ask the wife!’

  5. WeTheBleeple 5

    If women are the poorest in the pacific – and aid can help elevate their opportunities – it stands to reason this would ‘raise the game’ of the region entire.

    Woman are also the primary caregivers of the regions children.

    As a proponent of leftie wankery and occasionally snowflake soliloquies it is my opinion right comments may be a bit hasty opposing such ideas.

    I think it’s the F-word that scares them to be honest. They’ve never been able to swallow certain words.

    So the concept of feminism gets thrown out as ‘hysterical’ – that even more loathsome word used to mansplain all these women who are ‘a bit lippy.’

    Imagine more empowered women like Jacinda. The horror aye guys.

    • Maggie 5.1

      “As a proponent of leftie wankery and occasionally snowflake soliloquies…”

      Pure poetry…

      It certainly seems as though they’re scared. It’s all so different. I struggle to reconcile what I believe about men, that they are brave, strong, adventurous entrepreneurs, with this fearful clinging to the apron strings of old ways that I see. Perhaps I was wrong.

  6. RedLogix 6

    The idea of focusing development aid toward indigenous women, creating opportunity and the often very modest resources needed to get people out of absolute poverty is a well established and respectable idea.

    Our next door neighbour in Ballarat worked in exactly this field for many decades, and we had a number of excellent conversations on her experiences. There is a lot going on around Asia and the Pacific already, and many experienced people to tap into. No new wheels need inventing, although more funds and energy will be welcome.

    However she was also pretty scathing of projects she knew of that fell over very badly due to an overload of ideological baggage of various kinds. If you are going work with communities to bring about constructive change, without unintended consequences, it has to be done at a pace they are comfortable with. There are plenty of error types that are already well known to the professionals in this field; there is no requirement to repeat them all.

  7. I feel love 7

    Interesting post Ad.

  8. Grumpy 8

    Already been done. In a previous life, putting together bids for Asia Development Bank and World Bank, it was a requirement to have a WiD ( women in development): WiDs were bloody hard to get and in international demand. Needing one for a particular project I rocked up to University of Canterbury Feminist Studies Department and found a fantastic PI woman. Some months later she called in to thank me. She was on her way to the UN and had obtained major contracts.
    The thinking at the time was that unless you took the women along in these projects, they were doomed to failure.

    • Ad 8.1

      I pointed out with links that it continues to be done multiple times across multiple countries.

      But not with an explicitly feminist leader in the South Pacific.

      Still, good to see the earth change, one consultant contract at a time.

    • left_forward 8.2

      Grumpy… and cynical!
      Best to step aside and let others get on with it.

  9. SHG 9

    So what you’re saying is, only those who can bear children are real women?

    • So, what you’re saying is you’re looking to both derail the thread and start a flame war? Ambitious goals.

      • RedLogix 9.1.1

        So what you’re saying is that because you got a smart comeback, the rest of us should find a kitchen and get pregnant?

        • Psycho Milt 9.1.1.1

          Seriously: when people follow “So what you’re saying is…” with an egregious misrepresentation of what was said, you have to wonder whether they’re malicious, stupid or just trying to start an argument – by which I mean “argument” in its colloquial sense, not the philosophical one. And this instance has the additional feature of including the flame-war generating term “real women” in it.

  10. left_forward 10

    Thanks Ad – I like it.

  11. Rosemary McDonald 11

    Seriously, now…

    …just yesterday Natrad featured a story about the ‘Pacific Women In Power’ forum held in Fiji this week, and when I saw the heading for this post I assumed Ad was inspired to write this post by this event.

    https://www.radionz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/385809/pacific-women-target-equal-representation-at-leadership-level

    That the event was help in Fiji rather than in Samoa was interesting as Samoa is the only Pacific nation to implement the Temporary Special Measures (TSM) that seek to ensure at least 10% of elected representatives are women.

    “The Cook Islands’ Health Minister, Vainetutai Rose Toki-Brown, said the theme of the Forum: “It’s About Time: Women Changing the Pacific” was fitting.

    “I believe that the Cook Islands has stood up to the challenge of this bold statement with six women MPs out of 24 members and a woman speaker – this being the highest numbers ever,” she said.

    “Another historical development for Cook Islands women is that for the second time only, the Leader of the Opposition is the Democratic Party’s Tina Browne. The role of the leader of a political party has been a male dominant position for 53 years – but not anymore.

    “We also made history with the election of a 22-year-old woman MP, Te Hani Brown, who is the youngest MP ever in the Cook Islands and in the Pacific.””

  12. beautox 12

    You are holding Sweden up as a model of feminist government, yet it has the highest rape rate in Europe and the third highest in the world?

    • WeTheBleeple 12.1

      “However, widely differing legal systems, offence definitions, terminological variations, recording practices and statistical conventions makes any cross-national comparison on rape statistics difficult”

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rape_statistics#Sweden

      People with one fact and no links are typically misleading.

      ” there’s a strong correlation between higher levels of gender equality and disclosure of sexual violence”

  13. Jan Rivers 13

    Really supportive of this idea and the amazing impact it could have, Women certainly need more power than they have. ANother perspective would be in designing policies and services, Caroline Criado Perez’s recent book addresses how in everything from car safety to how the use of data in policy making men are regarded as the normative model and algorithms only reinforce this bias.. Women need to be in positions of influence to raise and focus policy in the right areas.

    Given the way liberal feminism has focussed on doft personal issues self-empowerment and not hard issues like structural inequalities I’m worried somewhat whether we are precioulsy ill prepared to get this right/ See https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/feb/28/invisible-women-by-caroline-criado-perez-review

  14. Jan Rivers 14

    And then I re-read the blog piece and saw this “resources (more equitable allocation among people OF ALL GEN)DERS in government budgets or development projects. ”

    The term is code for the kind of feminism where biological men who think they are women have primacy over actual women. But most people neither in NZ or in the Pacific believe in gender ideology. And like me on the first read most would not have seen the coded message or understand what it means, Not only that transgender women in this world view are more oppressed than women in general.

    In my opinion no feminist analysis worthy of the name gives primacy to gender, a concept whose meaning is most closely related to “sex-role stereotype. Women are oppressed not because of gender (how they dress and act) but because of their sex – their biology.

    • Rosemary McDonald 14.1

      There is still a lot of confusing ‘sex’ with ‘gender’.

      I am perfectly confident this is mere escalating, almost infectious ignorance of the difference because the alternative…that it is a deliberate and planned campaign…is a little bit scary.

      • Jan Rivers 14.1.1

        Thanks.

        I’m not confident at all and believe there is mounting evidence that there is covert work to replace sex with gender from the UN to government and event in councils and NGOs like Amnesty NZ and the NZ National Council of Women. Here is an article outlining the extent to which is it already happening by women who have tracked what is happening and who are gearing up to try to rfeverse the trend,

        https://speakupforwomen.nz/global-declaration/

        The ESRC in the UK has put a lot of money into a project called the Future Of Legal Gender in the UK which presupposes that gender / sex are fluid and chosen

        https://futureoflegalgender.kcl.ac.uk/project/

        But the point you raise is valid – that this is happening largely below the radar and supported by people who are by and large unaware of what they are endorsing,i

        • Incognito 14.1.1.1

          Don’t you think that sex is such a loaded word with so many connotations that it could hinder rather than help? I remember a talk once – death by PowerPoint – in which a slide was inserted that read SEX and nothing more. It was intended to keep the audience attentive and suffice to say it worked a treat. A slide with GENDER would not have elicited such a response.

  15. Jan Rivers 15

    Well the word sex does of course have an emotional charge that gender does not. But the issue here is of an initiative to replace biological sex (physical bodies) with gender (a feeling that you are male or female) in international law, national law as well as our common understanding of what it means to be male or female. This has massive implications for women’s (natal women) rights.

    The way that this issue is playing out in NZ included the covertly introduced, (but now well exposed) attempt to include gender self-id in legislation. Here is the reference https://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/births-deaths-marriages-and-relationships-registration-bill-be-deferred

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