From a policy perspective, the Government of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) is committed to ensuring gender parity. Recent efforts have included the ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 2004 and the Pacific Leaders Gender Equality Declaration in 2012. Furthermore, the Government endorsed its National Gender Policy in 2018, and provisions in the constitutions at both the national and state levels do not discriminate along gender lines.
But while policy has been robust, progress has been slow, with a lack of both resources and of capacity cited as the two principal challenges.
The impact is hard to miss. It wasn’t until 2021 that a woman was elected to the congress; as second was elected in in March of 2023. Very few women serve in leadership and decision-making positions at the local, state or national level. And social norms are such that women and girls are often confined to their homes, with a majority spending their time caring for and nurturing their families, principally providing domestic and unpaid care work. In a country where roughly 50 percent of the population is female (50,000), this imbalance makes it extremely difficult for women and girls to become equal partners with men and it is stymying the Government’s efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals aligned with its national development plans.
In 2020, the Government, in partnership with UNDP, launched a new initiative to advance women’s economic empowerment and improve access to modern technologies. With the support of the India-UN Development Partnership Fund, the project focused on three core pillars: engaging women, girls and key partners in efforts pertaining to gender-related policy advocacy; income generation; and access to necessary small-scale infrastructure.
In this latter area, the project is working with traditional community leaders in four states, with a focus on improving women and girls’ access to and control over clean water and sanitation services, which, according to the World Health ealth rgannizationOrganization, lack of which are two of the leading causes of mortality among children under five. Despite fairly steady declines over the past few decades, the country’s childhood mortality has remained stubbornly high and, at 22 per thousand births, is among the highest in the Pacific Island Countries and Territories (see Macrotrends 2023).
At the policy level, key activities include the embedding of gender specialists within the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs to ensure mainstreaming within national and sector-based plans and new gender-equality policies and legislation to address sexual harassment in the workplace. In 2022, the National Gender Commission held its first meeting, with the second to follow later this year , and Where We Stand, a publication looking at the country’s gender statistics, is soon to be released.
An upcoming Women’s Mock Congress will help to build capacity and skills by encouraging women and girls’ interest in running for political office. In addition, 18 women and girls, 2 representing each of the 4 states as well as 2 at the national level, will participate in the Women’s Voices platform as part of the Commission on the Status of Women.
In an effort to strengthen community-based income generation and needed sanitation initiatives, the project is also supporting the procurement and construction of an ecological purification system as well as training at least 15 households in targeted communities in related income-generation and livelihood activities.
For all the seriousness of the project, it has not been without fun. In an effort to foster both gender equality and national pride, the project supported the Scholastic Gender Equality Games for Youth, more popularly known as the March Madness Tournament. Between 1 March and 18 April 2022, 15 basketball teams (the country’s most popular sport), six comprised of girls and nine of boys, competed in an intermural competition.
“By providing the same opportunities to women and men and ensuring no one is left behind in our activities, a sustainable and inclusive path of development can be achieved,”👤 said Kevin Petrini, UNDP Deputy Resident Representative and Country Manager for Micronesia.
The significance of gender parity is of tremendous importance to the young women. According to Sylvileen Tom, voted the MVP in the female division games:
“Gender equality is when people of all genders have equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities. Equality for all women, men, trans and gender-diverse people, and families. It impacts people of all ages and backgrounds.”
Importantly, the message resonated with the boys as well. “Maybe one day, as time goes by, we can become great leaders, standing up and fighting for gender equality. Basketball is not just an ordinary game; it helps us build relationships with one another,” said JT “Oppa” MIngil, the boy’s division MVP. “The March Madness Tournament is not only about playing together on the court but also the connection that it makes between the players and our community.”