Compare and contrast the roles of contemporary women with the roles they played in the past in South Pacific countries.

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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In South Pacific countries, gender roles of women have gone through three major phases: traditional, colonial, contemporary. Note that contemporary gender roles for women are far from stable; they are in a state of uncomfortable flux.

It is difficult to combine all South Pacific countries into one single, correct statement about women's gender roles because there are sometimes significant or sometimes subtle differences between the role customs in different communities. In traditional roles, often the Vanuatu people are contrasted against other groups, like the Kiribati. Among the Vanuatu peoples, women traditionally had land rights whereas among the Kirbati peoples, women did not have land rights nor were they allowed to speak in the maneaba, the traditional center for community decision making (Vanessa Griffen). In general terms, though, South Pacific peoples gave gender dominance to men who were traditionally considered superior while women were traditionally accepted as providing support to their husbands. One effect of this traditional inequality disfavoring women was that they had poorer nutritional provision and harder work loads resulting in correspondingly worsened health.

Under colonial rule, there was a significant disruption to women's traditional roles due to the introduction of European laws, such as those that removed land rights from those women who had them; the introduction of the Christian religion, which enforced changes to the ideas of sexuality, the position of women in the household, and women's decision making rights.

In contemporary times, colonial influence still holds power, in addition, the United Nations' UNICEF Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) advocates principles, directions and regulations that further degrade the integrity of traditional South Pacific conceptualizations and world views. For instance, a powerful undergirding principle of traditional South Pacific peoples' life is the concept that the individual yields to the community and the converse, that the community, and families that comprise the community, is more important than the individual. One demonstration of this principle is a disfavored one in that strict physical discipline and shame is used to mold children to community conformity. CRC recommendations would do away with this approach to child raising and simultaneously do away with the world view that values the whole and the person's place within the whole (Vanessa Griffen). 

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