Academic journal article New Zealand Sociology

Na Marama iTaukei Kei Na Vanua: Culturally Embedded Agency of Indigenous Fijian Women - Opportunities and Constraints

Academic journal article New Zealand Sociology

Na Marama iTaukei Kei Na Vanua: Culturally Embedded Agency of Indigenous Fijian Women - Opportunities and Constraints

Article excerpt


" The limited role of women's active agency seriously afflicts the lives of all people - men as well as women, children as well as adults. While there is every reason to not to slacken the concern about women's wellbeing and ill-being, and to continue to pay attention to the sufferings and deprivations of women, there is also an urgent and basic necessity, particularly at this time, to take an agent-oriented approach to women's agenda." (Sen, 2001: 191)

This article includes findings from a doctoral thesis on the cultural constructs of health and wellbeing of Indigenous Fijian women or Marama iTaukei. This qualitative study of 23 participants was conducted in two geographical locations, one in Fiji and one in Aotearoa. It was not, however, a comparative study; the study in Fiji enabled an exploration of how perceptions and experiences of health and wellbeing have evolved as Fijian women have migrated to Aotearoa (Meo-Sewabu, 2015). Ethnography was the overarching methodology was combined with the Vanua1 methodology2 (Meo-Sewabu, 2014a, 2014b; Nabobo-Baba, 2006, 2008). Methods used included talanoa3 (Farelly & Nabobo-Baba, 2012; Vaioleti, 2006), participant observation and photovoice.

The concept of 'culturally embedded agency' presented in this article argues that there needs to be an agency-oriented approach to women's agenda. Culturally embedded agency calls for social policy that incorporates full participation of women in society, inclusive of indigeneity goals, cultural wellbeing and fairness. The study identified forms of culturally embedded agency that empower women in tasks contributing to overall wellbeing. Dolan, Johnstone-Louis, and Scott (2012: 38) state that at the core of empowerment is agency, citing (Malhotra, 2012: 9) and defining agency as the ability to "formulate strategic choices, and to control resources and decisions that affect important life outcomes specifically in areas that have marginalized women" (Dolan et al., 2012: 38). For Dolan et al., agency means:

"...a shift from instrumental notions of empowerment as something a woman does or does not have and instead focuses on the processes by which women come to perceive themselves as able to act, and the condition under which they do so within the contexts of particular social and cultural systems." (2012: 38)

This article focuses on some of the cultural systems, practices and processes associated with women's wellbeing. These are referred to as forms of culturally embedded agency as they are processes within the culture that contribute to overall wellbeing. The article also discusses the limitations, tensions and opportunities within this agency in relation to gender and impacts on health and wellbeing. This article explores culturally embedded agency using Rowlands' four concepts of power as "power over, power to, power with and power within" (1997: 13). Here power relations, how power is being exerted and how empowerment is realised, are discussed. Power over and power being exerted has been interpreted as power that women gain at the expense of men.

Gaining this power can be seen as inherently threatening for men; therefore men's fear of losing control then becomes an obstacle for women's empowerment. "Power to ", according to Rowlands (1997: 13), "creates new possibilities and actions without domination" (p. 13). "Power with", requires working as a collective to deal with the issues, and "power from within" is about spirituality, the power and strength that participants referred to which allowed them to cope with their daily realities. Forms of power within were referred to as commitment to a spiritual being and or their God through daily prayer or reliance on a spiritual being.

The 'triple burden' of women articulated by Moser (1989), expresses the need to see women as active agents of change rather than as passive victims or beneficiaries of development. This article explores the layers of complexity that are also referred to as women's triple burden as associated with, the reproductive, and productive and community links. …

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