I: Power: Dis/locations and reclamations
1 Speaking Up! Speaking Out!
Naming the silences
Speaking Up! Speaking Out! Naming the silences: Women, power, authority and love in the Pacific
I write about power, authority and love, inspired by and drawing on the experiences I have had in the Pacific, many of which have come about through my work with UnitingWorld. I acknowledge with deep gratitude the land on which I am working, ever mindful of the First Peoples to whom this land belongs and who for times past, present and future continue to tend and care for this place, and whose wisdom we depend on and seek for well-being in the present and future of both human and non-human life on this earth, God’s Oikos.
My work in the Pacific revolved around two key themes: gender (specifically gender-based violence) and climate change. Both of these themes intersected with interpretations and abuses of power, authority and love in a myriad of ways—for example, the appeal to the authority of scripture to justify the subservient place of women which legitimises the abuse of and violence towards women (and children), the power assigned to men validated by both culture and scripture, the power of the colonial enterprise that continues to shape politics and the imbalance of power between the West and Pacific that impacts livelihoods and cultures, with one of the biggest impacts being the effects of climate change, not only on the slowly disappearing islands of Tuvalu and Kiribati but also on the whole of the Pacific. Climate change affects people disproportionately and differently. Climate change exacerbates poverty and gender inequality. The poor are particularly vulnerable to climate change, and women, who are over-represented among the poor, bear most of the responsibility for the survival and flourishing of communities.1 Women support communities emotionally and physically: as caregivers and nurturers, as well as providers of household needs, including food, water and sources of heating. Women are continually challenged to gain access to the available resources and to develop the needed skills. On the other hand, women possess practical understanding and coping skills to adapt to changing environmental realities, as well as to contribute to the solution.2 Unfortunately, women’s perspectives on strategies to deal with climate change are still a largely untapped resource. The intersection between climate change and gender is an important emerging area of research in the Pacific. It is a complex and multifaceted relationship that cannot be explored sufficiently in this chapter. But it is important to acknowledge that climate change in the Pacific is an added layer of complexity and burden on women’s lives, which, if not intentionally addressed, will keep women’s voices and perspectives silent and invisible.
The title of this chapter, “Speaking Up, Speaking Out”, takes inspiration from Audre Lorde, who advocated for the “transformation of silence into language and action”.3 Lorde’s powerful essay, a reflection sparked by her close encounter with breast cancer that led her to face her mortality, brought to light that a major regret was her silence. She asked, “Of what had I ever been afraid?”4 Her essay explores the uneasy dance between fear and silence: the fear of speaking up and speaking out, the fear of acknowledging injustice because then we have a responsibility to do something about it, the fear of offending, the fear of doing the wrong thing when intending to do the right thing. She wrote,
We can sit in our corners mute forever while our sisters and our selves are wasted, while our children are distorted and destroyed, while our earth is poisoned; we can sit in our safe corners mute as bottles, and we will still be no less afraid.5
Lorde argued that such “important” things “must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having [them] bruised or misunderstood”.6 She concluded by stating that “it is not difference which immobilizes us, but silence. And there are so many silences to be broken”.7 The question that arises is how do we continue to break the silences held by (mis)under-standings of power and authority as domination, competition and control and transform these silences into language and action? The tragic reality is that little has changed since Lorde’s essay was written in the 1990s, despite all the knowledge we hold. Similarly, in the Pacific—as Nicole George observed—despite 30 or so years of aid programming, specifically to address gender-based violence and redress gender inequality, there has been minimal or no change.8 Why is this so?
This idea of transforming “silence into language and action” sits within Rebecca Chopp’s “poetics of testimony”.9 It is Chopp’s conviction that there are times when we need to say what has happened and to say how we have responded. Chopp argued that we need to speak about the situations and events in which we find ourselves: as a discursive practice, the poetics of testimony “provides a strong critique of dominant cultural practices and provokes refigurations of the social imaginary, that is, the basic presuppositions, metaphors, and rules that frame cultural operations”.10 The poetics of testimony is “fundamentally concerned with human and earthly survival and transformation”.11 There is an imperative to bear witness to the things that happen in the public and formal ekklesial domain and how they intersect with the personal (autobiographical) side of life.
Following Lorde’s “transforming silence into language and action” or Chopp’s “poetics of testimony”, this chapter explores the turns and movements of Speaking Up and Speaking Out and what this means or looks like
Speaking Up! Speaking Out! Naming the silences 11 both in theory and practice. The critique is not only weighted towards the Pacific but also turns outward towards feminism. I identify Speaking Up and Speaking Out as two interrelated movements and turns. The first movement is inward within the cultural context. The work of leading Pacific women theologians of the 1980s and 1990s, Lisa Meo and Keiti Ann Kanongata’a among them, is significant, both for understanding this context and weaving new Pacific feminist theologies. The second movement is outward towards a critique and challenge presented by feminism and the imbalance of power and authority within gender and race in particular, although acknowledging the diversity along those continuums.