Equitable development? : good governance, women and micro-enterprise initiatives in the Cook Islands : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Philosophy in Development Studies at Massey University
In light of the importance that development agencies have placed on good governance policies, micro-enterprise initiatives, and the role of women in development in recent years, this thesis addresses the question: Have the incentives for Cook Islands women to begin micro-enterprises under good governance reforms led to equitable development? It begins by examining the ways in which good governance policies could both stimulate and detract from equitable development for female micro-entrepreneurs both in theory and practice. An evaluation of the impact that the Cook Islands' Economic Reform Programme has had on equitable development for former public service employees who began a micro-enterprise follows. In accordance with Longwe's (1994) Women's Empowerment Framework, equitable development is measured in terms of material welfare, access to the factors of production, society's willingness to alter the gendered division of labour, participation in decision-making processes, and control over both the factors of production and the benefits of development. This thesis argues that an expansion of the micro-enterprise sector of an economy will not automatically follow the implementation of good governance policies. While the land tenure system could favour smaller businesses in the Cook Islands, Western-style business practices have sometimes conflicted with cultural norms, and micro-entrepreneurs have been disadvantaged in international and local markets by their limited resource bases and poor economies of scale. In addition, by reducing the amount of cash available to consumers and stimulating significant migratory outflows, the economic reforms have further fuelled regional inequalities by making it more difficult for entrepreneurs residing on the outer islands than those based on Rarotonga to begin businesses. This thesis also concludes that the operation of micro-enterprise initiatives has had a mixed impact on equitable development for Cook Islands women. More men than women have benefited from Government business incentives and Cook Islands women have typically been restricted to industries that yield low returns because of their skill mixes. In addition, while many have enjoyed increased flexibility in their time use, fewer Government services coupled with the effort required to manage their businesses have increased some women's workloads, causing poor health, reducing the time that they have spent with their families and precluding some from participating in decision-making processes. On a positive note, the growth in tourism has supported the micro-enterprise ventures of Cook Islands women. In addition, successful female micro-entrepreneurs have been empowered by improvements in their self-confidence, personal income, and access to credit, together with more equitable divisions of labour and greater control over family businesses and household incomes.