Much popular and academic analysis of Pacific politics, especially on issues of gender, juxtaposes foreign “Western” norms and institutions with “traditional” beliefs and customs. Despite considerable scholarship debunking these caricatures, they persist and indeed have (re)gained salience in debates about the absence of women in parliamentary politics. In this article, we critique this framing by describing how senior women politicians practice a form of “quiet” or “implicit” feminism. Drawing on in-depth interviews with three senior politicians, Dr Hilda Heine of the Marshall Islands, Deputy Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata‘afa of Sāmoa, and Dame Carol Kidu of Papua New Guinea, as well as with other observers and supporters of their careers, we illustrate how these women position themselves as pragmatists—as neither the champions of liberal feminist principles that some local activists and international donors would like nor as conservative as most of their male colleagues. We further show that both their articulation of and their relationship to feminism are remarkably similar to those of other senior women politicians from elsewhere in the world who eschew the label but pursue substantive representation. In making this claim, we aim to reframe understandings of Pacific feminism by shifting the focus away from the Western/non-Western binary and instead toward a distinction between women who seek change from within established parliamentary systems and those who seek to push an agenda from the outside.


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 64-95
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.