Around 106,000 people live on Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei and Kosrae, which make up the four states of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). The country is ranked 127 out of 188 countries on the Human Development Index 2015 XII, a ranking system that draws on a composite analysis of life expectancy, education and per capita income indicators.
FSM is in the early stages of introducing a legislative framework for gender equality. It has a National Strategic Plan on Gender Development and Human Rights in place and consultations have also been completed as part of the development of a National Gender Policy.
While there are no legal barriers to women’s representation in government, FSM has never had a woman in parliament. Social barriers result in women being consistently absent from legislative and executive levels of government.
Fewer women than men participate in the labour market in FSM. Men outnumber women by almost two to one in formal employment and fewer women receive income from the subsistence economy than men. Research reports that employment levels for men surpass women in all fields of work.XIII/span>
One in three ever-partnered women in FSM have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by a partner at least once in their lifetime.XIV Counselling services for survivors of violence in FSM are limited. Some churches provide counselling to their members and the general public, including emergency refuge for women and children at risk on a case-by-case basis. In 2014, Kosrae passed its Domestic Violence Act, being the first and only FSM state to have such legislation in place.
Project name: Progressing Gender Equality in the Pacific
Outcome area: Enhancing agency
Project partner: The Pacific Community (SPC)
Total funding: $3,941,71212
Funding timeframe: 2013–2018
The four states of FSM span nearly 2,700 km of ocean. In her work to progress the adoption of a national gender policy, Ms Norleen Oliver knows first-hand the challenges and rewards of working in an environment of geographically spread, semi-autonomous states.
Ms Oliver is the National Gender Development Officer and Chief of the Social Affairs Unit in the Department of Health and Social Affairs. She oversees the implementation of the gender matrix from the National Strategic Plan on Gender Development and Human Rights and coordinates human rights convention reporting for FSM.
Pacific Women’s support to SPC’s Progressing Gender Equality in the Pacific program assisted with consultations to develop a gender policy for FSM.
The consultations that I was part of was not only informative but provided an opportunity for capacity building to be able to conduct these consultations in the future should the need to update arise’, explains Ms Oliver.
However, it is not always easy to undertake consultations like this in an environment of semi-autonomous states.
‘This is very difficult and costly. The national government is the body that makes commitments at the regional and international level on behalf of the whole of the country in which the FSM states are the ones to implement. Then it is up to the national programs like my program to work with the states counterparts to get their support to comply with the proposed activities to meet the regional and international commitments.
This needs close collaboration with the states to either travel to the FSM states or to fund their [representatives’] travel to a national meeting in one agreed location, which is very costly, but required.
The main challenges in my role is bringing the national mandates to the state level for their buy-in and to coordinate the needs and requirements of the four states into one national goal, compounded with my lack of budget / resources from the national government.’
Despite these challenges, the work to progress women’s empowerment in FSM has resulted in many achievements.
‘We have completed the gender policy consultations, scoping mission on human rights institution interviews, FSM Women Conference 2016 in Yap, consultations on the Convention on the Rights of the Child and many others … These are some of our humble achievements, but with rich experiences to move our quest of gender equality in the nation.’
Project name: Supporting CEDAW Shadow Reporting
Outcome area: Enhancing agency
Project partner: FSM’s non-government organisations
Funding timeframe: Feb–Mar 2017
As a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), FSM reports regularly to the CEDAW Committee on the country’s progress towards gender equality. With support from Pacific Women, FSM’s non-government organisations were also able to present their shadow report to the 66th Session of the CEDAW Convention (Feb–Mar 2017).
Shadow reports are a method for non-government organisations to present additional or alternative information to that provided by the states.
Ms Yoslyn Sigrah, a lawyer from the state of Kosrae and adviser on women rights issues, was nominated by women’s organisations to present FSM’s shadow report at the United Nations in Geneva. Workshops and consultations had allowed the organisations to provide wide stakeholder input and ultimately produce the shadow report, through assistance from UN Women and International Women’s Right Action Watch Asia Pacific.
Ms Sigrah has worked as an attorney in the public, private and non-government sectors. She recognises the need for a variety of different players to contribute to women’s empowerment in FSM, but sees a special role for non-government actors.
‘I love doing work with the NGOs because we get things done – we get things done faster!’ she says.
‘[Staff of non-government organisations] are not afraid to speak out for fear that we may lose our jobs because we are trying to push forward something that we really care about and we know is good for our people – human rights, women’s rights, youth rights, disability rights. We push because we are passionate about our issues and we believe in our issues. From experience working for the Government, I believe in progress achieved under the rule of law. However, in the public sector our title or status may limit us to do just enough. Whereas with the NGOs there is no limit to what we can do and achieve.’
Ms Sigrah concentrated on three topics during her presentation to the CEDAW Committee: lack of a dedicated women’s ministry, the absence of women in parliament and the prevalence of violence against women and children. As well as discussing where there is more work to do be done, Ms Sigrah also noted the achievements in FSM, such as the passing of Kosrae’s Family Protection Act in 2014 and the amendment to the Code of the Federated States of Micronesia to provide paid maternity leave for public servants, noting that those in the private sector also need their paid maternity leave.
‘It was important to note in the CEDAW shadow report that all of the key bits of legislations that were passed and the government pointed to in their report were spearheaded by the NGOs. Between the government and the NGOs, we NGOs get things done, but we need to work together. We depend on each other.’
The report’s impact was significant, with the CEDAW Committee’s Concluding Observations and Recommendations for FSM referencing several issues raised only in the shadow report.