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Christian Citizens: Women and Negotiations of Modernity in Vanuatu

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Title: Christian Citizens: Women and Negotiations of Modernity in Vanuatu
Authors: Douglas, Bronwen
Keywords: Christianity
rural villages
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LC Subject Headings: Oceania -- Periodicals.
Issue Date: 2002
Publisher: University of Hawai'i Press
Center for Pacific Islands Studies
Citation: Douglas, B. 2002. Christian Citizens: Women and Negotiations of Modernity in Vanuatu. The Contemporary Pacific 14 (1): 1-38.
Abstract: This paper seeks to unpack the ambiguous intersections of gender, Christianity,
and kastom, together with place, island, and nation in a modern Melanesian
state. It does so through a series of verbal “snapshots,” mostly of mundane settings,
which chart the ambivalent, mobile interplay of individual and community
in the self-representations and actions of ni-Vanuatu, particularly women. The
snapshots juxtapose local and wider aspects of ni-Vanuatu women’s past and
present lives as Christians and citizens, locating them successively in the remote
island of Aneityum and in urban and national contexts. Arguing that women’s
agency deserves the same scrutiny as that of men, I problematize the romantic secularism
that slights indigenous women’s engagements in apparently banal Christian
settings and activities, especially fellowship groups and sewing, because they
seem to advance hegemonic agendas of conversion, domestication, and modernization.
Instead I see the growing social and economic significance of Christian
w o m e n ’s groups inVa n u a t u ’s villages as potentially empowering for rural women.
By contrast, women are generally absent from authority positions in the churches
and in the nation-state—the latter a mainly male domain experienced as ineffectual
by most ni-Vanuatu. Notwithstanding widespread indigenous suspicion
of “western feminism,” women’s issues and gender relations are kept uneasily on
the national agenda by the women’s wings of the mainline churches and particularly
by the umbrella women’s organizations, the Vanuatu National Council of
Women and the Vanuatu Women’s Centre.
ISSN: 1043-898X
Appears in Collections:TCP [The Contemporary Pacific ], 2002 - Volume 14, Number 1

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