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Panel 26: Transforming the social? The ‘home side’ of gender and mobility in Oceania


Evelyn Marsters, Sina Emde

Session presentation

We invite papers that question the ‘home side’ of mobility, sociality, and gender in Oceania. This session moves beyond the literature that focusses on the patterns of migration, migrant livelihoods, remittances, and connections within and between the Islands States and the industrialized states of the Pacific Rim, towards the exploration of new gendered realities ‘at home’. Our vantage point is the question if and how gendered patterns of migration, e.g. nurses, military or security personnel, create new gendered socialities and experiences ‘at home’ . The panel would like to address the creation and construction of these new realities and environments and how the everyday lives of people in Oceania have changed as a result of these gendered patterns of migration. For example, what social and communal prices are paid for the material gains migration may bring? How is the constant out flow of people managed ‘at home’? And what happens to local systems when professionals in areas of health, security, and education migrate in high numbers?

Paper submissions are closed

Accepted papers

Gender research in the Pacific: Beginnings 1994 - 2014

Evelyn Marsters (University of Auckland)

Mobility plays an important role in the society of many Pacific Island communities, and this panel focuses on understanding how the impact of these shifts and changes to livelihoods are differentially experienced through the lens of gender. This presentation suggests that the research analysis contained within the report ‘Gender Research in the Pacific: Beginnings 1994 - 2014’ provides a good framework for opening up the discussion on home side gender and mobility specifically, and gender research in the Pacific more generally.

The Gender research in the Pacific: Beginnings 1994 - 2014 was initiated by a group of gender specialists based in Suva who were concerned about the need to strengthen gender responsive policy development in the Pacific and to continue to build research capacity in the region. The project was subsequently undertaken by Assoc. Professor Underhill Sem, Dr. Asenati Liki Chang Tung, Dr Evelyn Marsters and Dr Sarah Pene in 2015 and 2016. All researchers share Pacific heritage and the group was designed in a way to provide young researchers in the field of gender research access to consultancy experience under the guidance of more senior researchers.

A brief overview of the key findings will be presented from the eight thematic areas identified in the Pacific Platform for Action 1994: environmental change/climate change, economic empowerment, gender mainstreaming, leadership and decision-making, education, health, and violence against women.

Contesting Equality: Gender, Empowerment and ‘Development’ in the Pacific Islands

Kalissa Alexeyeff (University of Melbourne)

This paper examines changing configurations of gender, agency and equality in ‘the development era’ that has led to emerging conflict between locally- and globally-oriented values and aspirations. It explores how instances of ‘governance feminism’ are simultaneously adopted and negotiated by Pacific women ‘at home’ by focusing on specific donor-funded initiatives from the USA and Australia designed to optimise gender equity and women’s rights and the paradoxical, potentially disempowering effects of these transformative agendas.

The benefits and challenges of migration faced by a woman in PNG village.

Imelda Ambelye (James Cook University)

Migration and social mobility has affected gender roles in PNG. Two case studies of migration due to education and paid jobs are presented. One is internal migration and the other is external migration.
Any young woman or man who is sent to school is sent with greater and increased expectation from family and relatives to get a decent job with an improved lifestyle. They normally migrate out to other provinces or the urban. ‘ school separates the girl from the everyday transactions of the village…’(Sykes, 1996, p. 107). Since the education system cannot allow everyone to get through to completion, most of them return to the villages. The hardship and challenges in the changing roles they face is discussed using Kaka (not real name) as a case study.
The second case is Beta (not her real name), a woman who is the sibling of Numan (not his real name) a man who has externally migrated to Australia with his family because of education and job ( economic reasons). Beta’s role changes as she remains in the village to ensure the land, house and property in the village is maintained and kept on behalf of the family using the remittances sent. The impact of the constructed identity and the changing roles she experiences are explored.
This paper highlights the impact of such migration on the local systems that are in place.

Transforming the meaning of home: migration, gender, and women’s relationships between Chuuk and Guam

Sarah Smith (SUNY Old Westbury)

Chuuk, like much of Oceania, represents a space transformed by transnational migration. The reality of transnational migration back “home” is marked by empty houses sitting in family compounds, left now to the family elders caring for small children. Grandmothers often care for small children until it is time for grade school—which is not a new practice—but now those children are sent off to live with family in Guam for school instead of a neighboring island, their lives now left to the imagination of the grandmothers who raised them. As grandmothers imagine these children’s new lives, Chuukese women in Guam often speak of "back home" as a mystical place of their memories. Now, often stuck in Guam, women long for their vision of Chuuk where they relax, and “talk story” with their mothers, aunties, and cousins. Mobility and social life has thus shifted significantly in these transnational settings, as those “home” and “abroad” live in a liminal space imagining and dreaming of the others’ lives in Guam and Chuuk. This paper will explore the transnational lives of Chuukese women at home and abroad, and how gendered and age-based relationships in this context are both shifting and reinforced.

The presence of absent islanders in Chuuk, Micronesia

Rebecca Hofmann (LMU Munich)

Mobility is central to Oceania and cultural practice in trade, subsistence-gathering and clan-bonding. Nowadays, remittances allow people to eventually remain on their islands. Education, jobs and health-care meanwhile lure people into a translocal life with long absences from their home islands. While their life off-island is subject to many studies, the dynamics these translocals generate at home has been neglected. Based on a year of field research in Chuuk, FSM, this paper looks at the “home side” of mobility in Micronesia. It scrutinizes the experiences of those staying and those returning home, bedded against the background of Micronesian kin-relations and personal notions that especially play out in their experience of feeling socio-biologically related to their land. From there, the paper gives examples of how especially women who stay behind or come back deal with economic and social pressures that specifically arise through the phenomenon of migration.