Accepted paper:

Force of circumstance: feminist discourse in a matrilineal society


Eleanor Rimoldi (Massey University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper analyses the appropriation of Bougainville women during a complex civil war, peace process, and the current aid/development phase in ways that serve ideological, political and economic interests of outside agencies but undermines the matrilineal structure of their society.

Paper long abstract:

My paper will discuss some of the ways feminist discourse was articulated on Bougainville during, and after the secessionist war that took place on the island between 1989 and 2000. Inspired by feminist discourse, NGOs have appropriated Bougainville women into newly organized spheres of influence (as moral agents, peacemakers or victims) that have in turn the potential to distort the matrilineal structure of their society which is the true source of the women’s power and authority. The feminist analysis of male-female relationships is at odds with the way in which these relationships are traditionally negotiated in Bougainville society and expressed in their central significance in the mutual construction of kinship, clans and authority on the island. Gender mainstreaming has become a major platform for social and political change managed by outside agencies in what is now the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea. However, there is often little understanding of the traditional power of women by political and economic advisers which frequently results in a tokenism which falls far short of their central position at the very heart of Bougainville culture. The problem for feminist anthropology is the recognition that many contemporary Bougainville women now advance their own, and their family’s interests through and with such agencies, along with education and business enterprise. The contradiction is in the potential for a dissembling of the traditional obligations that both privilege and constrain Bougainville women in a society built on matrilineal principles where women were secure as “mothers of the land”.

panel P35
Gender mainstreaming: the appropriation of feminist discourses in development?