The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) is home to around 53,000 people. It is a matrilineal society where rights to land parcels are held collectively by a member of the mother’s clan, although men are usually delegated to exercise and control these rightsXLVIII
The Government of RMI is taking steps to promote and advance gender equality through its National Gender Policy. The purpose of the gender policy is to ‘guide the process of developing laws, policies, procedures and practices that will address the needs, priorities and aspirations of all women and men and effectively eliminate all forms of discrimination and inequality’.XLVIII
On 27 January 2016, Ms Hilda Heine was elected President of RMI, making history as the first woman elected as President of any independent Pacific Island country. Currently there are three women (9 per cent) in the 33-seat legislature, called the Nitijela.XLIX
Women’s economic participation is low. While progress has been made in women’s participation in formal employment, it is estimated that only one third of women are employed in the formal sector.L
In research undertaken in RMI in 2014, 48 per cent of ever-partnered women reported having experienced physical violence in their lifetime and 21 per cent reported experiencing at least one act of sexual violence in their lifetime.LI The Domestic Violence Prevention and Protection Act, making domestic violence an offence, was enacted in 2011 through the joint efforts of government and non-government organisational advocacy.
Project name: Progressing Gender Equality in the Pacific
Outcome: Enhancing agency
Project Partner: The Pacific Community (SPC) and the Republic of the Marshall Islands Community Development Division
Total Funding: $3,941,71216
Funding timeframe: 2013–2018
The Pacific may have the reputation for having a tropical climate, but RMI has a long history of low rain falls. During 2015–2016 the drought situation was so severe that the Governments of RMI and the United States of America declared it a disaster. Gender experts helped to ensure that the assessment and responses to the disaster took into account the needs and experiences of both men and women.
By May 2016, 21,000 people were affected by the severe drought, nearly 40 per cent of the country’s population. The Government of RMI led a post-disaster needs assessment to assist with developing appropriate responses to the estimated US$4.9 million economic loss.
SPC’s Gender Statistics Adviser, Ms Kim Robertson, participated in the assessment. Ms Robertson worked with Ms Marlynn Lakabung, Ms Genna Hansen, Ms Cheryl English and Ms Rose Minor from the Marshall Islands Community Development Division in the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Together, they ensured that the data collected in the assessment included qualitative and quantitative gender statistics so that the responses to the disaster considered the needs of women and men.
It was the first time such an assessment had been carried out in the North Pacific and the first assessment of an atoll country worldwide. The whole country was surveyed in just two and a half weeks.
‘The amount of work I saw being done by public servants was unprecedented’, says Ms Robertson. ‘I was very impressed with the Community Development Division talent pool.’
The final assessment was published in February 2017 and included deliberate consideration of gender and social inclusion issues.
‘While women and other social groups have been disproportionally affected by the drought of 2016, women’s contribution to the household economy is substantial. Women play a critical role in recovery and resilience; post-disaster recovery resources must strive to safeguard, restore and promote the economic engagement and participation of disadvantaged groups. Women’s economic recovery must be protected and accorded the same status and importance as that of men … Recovery efforts must redress gender inequalities or, at the very least, not perpetuate unequal access to power and resources.’
As a result of the data collection and gender analysis by SPC and the Community Development team, the assessment findings were underpinned by strong, sex-disaggregated data. The data also forms a solid baseline of gender statistics for RMI, which can be used in future programming and planning related to climate change and disaster risk management.
Project name: Iden Mwekun Program Project name: Iden Mwekun Program
Outcome: Ending violence against women
Project Partner: Women United Together Marshall Islands
Total Funding: $414,64717
Funding timeframe: 2016–2018
Study tours are an effective way for people from countries with similar contexts to expand their knowledge on development issues. The staff from Women United Together in Marshall Islands (WUTMI) travelled to Hawaii to share experiences and ideas with Hawaiian counterparts on approaches to ending violence against women.
The study tour focused on services, programs and tools used in Hawaii. It was an opportunity for WUTMI staff to hear how service providers in Hawaii operate and to consider if those approaches could be adapted to their work in RMI.
Tanya Terry is a caseworker at WUTMI and participated in the study tour. She says there were many approaches used in Hawaii that she could see benefitting clients in RMI.
‘The safety planning policy, I really like that. It must be done with every survivor each and every time you speak with her. They have guidelines they have to follow. We are not doing the safety policy yet, but it is part of the thing we are thinking of doing. I think it will be important for our clients here.’
Highlights of the study tour were a half day training on safety planning provided by the Domestic Violence Action Centre, a court visit with the Domestic Violence Action Centre court support worker and a site visit to the Ohia Domestic Violence Shelter operated by Parents and Children Together Hawaii. There were also opportunities to exchange with representatives from the Oahu Family Peace Center, the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii and the Keiki O Ka ‘Āina Family Learning Centers’ Healthy Marriages Program. Both Marshallese and Hawaiian participants appreciated the chance to build relationships with each other.
The group also had the opportunity to conduct community education workshops with the Marshallese community living in Hawaii. WUTMI staff agree there is value in continuing their partnership with the Hawaiian services for survivors of violence, including helping the expatriate Marshall Islanders know where they can go for help in Honolulu.
Back home, changes have already started to take place at WUTMI as a result of the study tour. Staff now greet clients to the service in a comfortable and welcoming client room. The after-hours emergency packages now include a welcome note with a quote about being a survivor. These actions are signs of bigger changes still to come.