Empathy is at the core of human-centered design. This is a fact I knew to be true but did not necessarily understand the importance of prior to the Unbound Fiji program. For this Social Enterprise and Development experience our group chose to focus on gender, encompassing our personal knowledge of feminist movements and women’s rights.
Pre-reading prepared us for the patriarchal culture of Fiji with women having low decision-making power and significant disadvantage compared to men, however we quickly learnt that this would not always be the case. Experiencing their way of life first-hand, we were led to understand that what we saw as a negative result of patriarchal values, had created a culture that celebrated the skills and contributions of women to family life.
In staying in Waivaka and Namatakula we found that many women were more than comfortable in this position, and often enjoyed their caregiving role. Whilst there is action around gender roles in Fiji that advocate women’s rights and push for a voice and power, the forceful nature of such movements can give way for significant backlash, so we wanted to begin to look for solutions that would celebrate and empower these women’s strengths to build confidence and self-worth rather than focus on areas that were lacking. It is always important to challenge your perceptions and expectations!