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Publisher Description

This special issue is a distant offspring of a State, Society and Governance in Melanesia Project workshop held in 1998 on 'Women, Christians, Citizens: Being Female in Melanesia Today' (Douglas 1999a). The theme of women's organizing was central to only a handful of presentations but emerged persistently during discussions as a crucial dimension of indigenous female experience, especially in local rural settings. The process of editing a selection of the papers given at the workshop, mostly by indigenous women (Douglas 2000, ed.), made it clear that the phenomenon of women's groupings in Melanesia demanded systematic study. (1) This was particularly so with respect to local women's groups, most of which are church-linked. Such groups are increasingly conspicuous features of the socio-economic landscape in communities across the region and are often part of elaborate district, provincial, national, and regional women's networks, but have so far largely escaped scholarly attention. Apart from Debra McDougall, who was then in the field in Ranongga, Solomon Islands, all the contributors to this collection had a link to the workshop: Bronwen Douglas convened it; Margaret Jolly, Martha Macintyre, and Alice Aruhe'eta Pollard attended; Anne Dickson-Waiko wanted to but had to cancel at the last moment; Anna Paini and Regina Scheyvens were unable to attend but distributed early versions of the papers included here. The collection took shape slowly but its lengthy gestation gave it a built-in historical dimension since the ethnographic presents of the contributions span more than a decade. This is especially valuable with respect to Solomon Islands, the focus of three of the papers and the site of recent political and economic convulsions. Having undertaken comparative fieldwork in Western Province, Guadalcanal, and Malaita in the relatively buoyant national political climate of the early 1990s, Scheyvens is optimistic about the future of women's organized social, political, and human rights initiatives. Pollard, a leader in women's affairs for more than a decade and a key player in the sombre aftermath of the violent collapse of public order from 1999, outlines the devastating impact of the prolonged crisis on women and their groupings, especially those dependent on external funding. Yet she and McDougall also illustrate a region-wide potential for women's groupings, both pre-existing and novel, to acquire enhanced moral and structural significance in hard times. In Solomon Islands, this has been the case both nationally, with the unparalleled political activism of the Honiara-based Women for Peace Group, and locally where from the mid-1990s, in serial settings of national fiscal stringency and political calamity, many self-financed rural women's fellowship groups have assumed increased responsibilities and attained greater visibility and credibility in their communities. Indeed, McDougall speculates whether the 'distinctive [Christian] vision of community' enacted by the United Church Women's Fellowship (UCWF) and the Women for Peace Group--as in principle dynamic, inclusive, and unbounded rather than territorially, religiously, or ethnically circumscribed--might not serve as 'an alternative model' more appropriate in Melanesian contexts than the modern global political norm of the nation-state (this issue, 61, 62). Experience across the region suggests, however, that men are more likely to appropriate this home-grown model to further their own interests than women are themselves to harness it effectively to wider political spheres.

September 1
University of Sydney
The Gale Group, Inc., a Delaware corporation and an affiliate of Cengage Learning, Inc.

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