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Women, Development and Empowerment: A Pacific Feminist Perspective

Key Leadership Positions in the Federation

Key Leadership Positions in the Federation

The key organisers in the Federation are successful women who are relatively secure and comfortable with their positions in society. This serves as a distinct disadvantage or barrier. What frequently results is the “What you are talking about?” syndrome. When questioned about what they have done to improve the status of women in Guam, a typical response is “Oh, we don't need to be liberated, we are okay the way we are”. This is a classic example of a singular application of the feminist principle “personal is political”, - meaning, women feel that if they are okay, page 57 then everybody else should be okay too. And if they are not, then it's their problem. That application of the feminist principle, “personal is political”, only to one's own experience therefore can be very limiting and self-centred, and is counter-productive to a collective improvement of the status of women. This is not done deliberately, by these women at the top. It is an unconscious discrimination against other women in less powerful positions. There is a need to recognise this problem: personal success and satisfaction often lead to complacency and inability to relate to the lot of other women in Guam, whose reality is quite oppressive. This discollectiveness with the collective sense of reality, is evident in the same way individuals view indigenous issues like self-determination and development. Some people think if they are successful in their own little businesses, then there are no economic restrictions affecting Chamorro people from growing economically. Dis-collectiveness is a real problem.

Returning to the Federation, it has the potential to become a thinking and nurturing environment in which women can assess their issues and ultimately grow with each other in a collective understanding of development and feminism. There are barriers that must be overcome: one of the most difficult is attitude. If women can overcome the battle of attitude, they will have won the war. The big question is how to germinate the necessary levels of consciousness and awareness in women leaders, organisers or activists, to direct the energy and power at their disposal towards the Pacific female vision of justice that we have gathered here together to understand and define. I hope we will come close to doing so in the next few days.

Questions and Answers

Q: What is meant by Chamorro?

A: Chamorro people, Chamorro language, Chamorro culture is the indigenous culture of Guam.

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Q: What does that mean in terms of population?

A: The Chamorro are a minority in their own country and in their own nation. They are threatened and put under great duress when they claim to be a “nation”. There are more Chamorros in the United States than there are in Guam; the same situation as American Samoa. Chamorros call themselves Guamanians. Guam was colonised first by Spain and then by America; it had 400 years of Spanish colonisation before American colonisation. The US gained Guam as part of the spoils of the Spanish-American War of 1898.

Q: What percentage of the Chamorro people speak their language?

A: It is relative to age. All children are now learning Chamorro in school. The younger children are learning to actually read and write and speak Chamorro. My age group - 37 - is really a threshold age group in the sense that when we were growing up it was good to speak Chamorro, but at the time that we were in school, there was a very strong movement against the teaching and speaking of Chamorro because it was felt that it would diminish our capacity for learning in English. Parents became very scared that if their children could not learn and succeed in English, they would not succeed at all in society. So, there was a very pronounced movement in the 1960s to erase Chamorro altogether from the public sphere. We were actually fined if we spoke a Chamorro word. All my lunch money and recess money was always put into this fine, as was everyone else's. If you could not pay the fine, you had to work after school, cleaning the school. Imagine what that can do to the psychology of a child… Anything Chamorro was then considered backward, anything traditional was backward. The idea was to try to urbanise the Chamorro and make the culture disappear.

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Now, because of revival efforts, Chamorro is becoming a very exciting language. We are exploring new ways to express the new things that are happening that we have no words for. We are actually creating and adding on to the language.

Black and white photograph of a beach.