The Honorable Eliuel K. Pretrick
Secretary (Minister) of Health,
Head of Federated States of Micronesia Delegation
FOURTH UNITED NATIONS WORLD CONFERENCE ON WOMEN
Beijing, China, September 4-15, 1995
Ladies and gentlemen
I have the honor and privilege of speaking today on behalf of the Government of the Federated States of Micronesia. I extend warm greetings from our President, His Excellency Bailey Olter, and from the people of the Federated States of Micronesia.
My delegation and I would like to express our Government’s gratitude and heartfelt appreciation to the Government and people of the People’s Republic of China for hosting this historical event and for the excellent arrangements to make this a memorable conference experience.
My country is a small country comprised of over six hundred islands, but with a mere 270 square miles of habitable land. These islands are scattered over an ocean area of more than 1 million square miles. Separation by such a vast expanse of water resulted in isolation and infrequent interaction between Micronesian islands. Consequently each island state developed unique traditions, customs and languages. Even in such a small country as mine these differences have often meant that special thought and effort are required before reaching a common plan of action or a consensus.
In the Federated States of Micronesia, women traditionally assumed the domestic responsibilities, including child care, care for the elderly, and providing support for the traditional extended families as well as the community in general. Although these were designated specifically as women’s responsibilities, they were complimentary to the responsibilities of the men. These complimentary gender roles dictated a mutual power sharing status between women and men in family and community relationships.
Although women were accorded a mutual power-sharing status traditionally, colonization and imported value-systems negated this prestigious position and initiated the disempowerment and marginalization of women in our contemporary society. This loss of power-sharing redefined the role and status of women from being active and productive to being passive and reactive.
The Federated States of Micronesia has just begun to meet the challenges of restoring women to a position of full and equal participation in all spheres of life.
Like many countries represented at this Conference, my country’s Constitution provides for the protection of women’s social, economic, cultural and legal status. My country has laws which protect women from domestic violence, sexual assault and other abuses. Thus, women in the FSM are guaranteed equal access to basic socioeconomic services, full legal and political participation, and partnership in policy and decision-making processes. This is a solid foundation upon which to safeguard women’s rights, but we must build upon these protections to improve the life of women.
In 1992, the Federated States of Micronesia Government created the National Women’s Program consisting of the National Women Officer and the Nation Women’s Advisory Council. They advise the national government on women’s rights and promote the advancement of women. These are small but necessary steps to enable women to achieve equal access and full participation in power structures and decision-making.
Economically, women in the Federated States of Micronesia are considerably less well represented in the paid workforce than men, and are generally in lower-level, lower-paying jobs. Gradually, however, there has been an increase in women’s employment, particularly in the employment of married women. There has also been an increase in the number of women running small businesses. This is reflective not only of the expanded opportunities for employment, but also denotes a change of attitude by and about women working outside their homes.
The recent transition from a traditional subsistence economy to a monetized system has forced reevaluation of the role of women within our island communities. Where once the necessity of a formal education by both men and women was a low priority, the Government of the Federated States of Micronesia now recognizes the urgency of developing its human resources to deal with the introduction of modern ideas and opportunities. To this end our government made primary education compulsory for all children irrespective of gender. In addition, the government continues to provide opportunities and access to higher education for all citizens on an equal basis.
But the efforts of the government to ensure access to education by women is met at times with resistance by the traditional practitioners in our society. While there are many factors contributing to this resistance, including the belief that formal education does not prepare women for a productive married life and its obligations, the Government has made serious efforts to educate traditional communities with respect to the need of changing roles of women in a modern context. We have seen an increase in the number of women seeking educational opportunities both locally and abroad. This is welcomed since women cannot become agents of change until they have access to education.
If women do not have access to, or cannot maintain their health, empowerment in other areas will be for nothing. Health is not just the absence of disease, but also requires a state of physical, social, mental and spiritual well-being. The majority of women in the Federated States of Micronesia who use health services do so, not because they are ill, but because the nature of their reproductive and domestic roles and responsibilities require them to safeguard and protect the health and well-being of their families.
These reproductive and domestic responsibilities have often had the effect, however, of creating heavy workloads, malnutrition, illiteracy, and decreased health status among both women and children. Education is required so that men would learn to respect women’s self determination and to share responsibility with women in matters of sexuality and reproduction.
Women must be provided with access to family planning services during all stages of pregnancy. Too many unmarried teenage pregnancies are occurring because young women have limited access to family planning advice. Teenage pregnancy is a major reason for girls dropping out of high school and college. Teenage mothers are also likely to have low birth weight babies. Efforts are being made to help women understand more about their reproductive health so they can make the most informed decisions about their own reproduction. We believe that healthy reproduction benefits the entire nation.
Having said this, the Federated States of Micronesia recognizes that population, economics and the environment are interrelated and all have consequences for women. Our annual population growth rate is over 3%. Care of children, the sick and elderly is a responsibility that falls disproportionately on women. This is especially true where, as in my country, population growth exceeds economic growth. In a country of limited financial and natural resources, environmental degradation has a direct impact on women. Women’s health and livelihood are threatened by pollution and depletion of coastal and marine resources. Those most affected are women whose livelihood and daily subsistence depends directly on sustainable ecosystems.
The Federated States of Micronesia is strongly committed to maintaining the harmony which has always characterized our people’s strong and healthy relationship with the environment. We want to continue to live in a healthy environment, and to be at peace with our neighbouring countries, and friends from afar. My Delegation joins other speakers from the Pacific countries in opposing further nuclear testing in the region, or in any other parts of the world.
The whole world is moving in a direction where countries must also assume responsibility for the waste they produce. We urge all countries to respect our desire for a Nuclear Free region.
Today, my country is faced with the challenge of ensuring that its economic and social development programs are sustainable. We must respond effectively and equitably to the multiple social, economic, political and environmental needs of our population, especially for women. In the Federated States of Micronesia we believe that adequate education, sustainable economic and social development, better health care, and a clean environment will contribute towards a better quality of life for our people, especially women and children.
I have briefly outlined some of the major obstacles facing the women of my country We recognize the women of many countries represented here today have vastly different problems which vary in both magnitude and type. My government wishes to express its strong support for the safeguarding of women’s human rights throughout the world, and to encourage commitments from all Governments for action to create a peaceful, developed and just world.
To this end, the Government of the Federated States of Micronesia is committed to the goals of this Conference – Action for equality, development and peace. The women of my country held their third national women’s conference in June 1995 and discussed and deliberated on the 13 critical areas of concern in the draft Platform for Action. I am happy to note that development priorities include the following:
Mechanisms to be in place at all levels to mainstream women’s concerns and issues in all public policy matters;
Participation of women in the economic and especially political arena;
Greater public awareness of human rights instruments;
Women’s involvement in the formulation of a national population policy.
I am also happy to report that in his June 1995 inaugural address, President Olter named the inclusion of women in our nation-building efforts and the adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) as a priority. CEDAW is currently being debated in Congress, and women have taken an active role in arguing for its adoption as an essential tool for social progress and equality.
I mentioned at the outset that although we are a small country, there are many unique traditions, customs and languages within the country.
Let me offer my island country as a metaphor for this gathering and offer this quotation from the preamble to our Constitution, and I quote:
“We affirm our common wish to live together in peace and harmony, to preserve the heritage of the past, and to protect the promise of the future. To make one nation of many islands, we respect the diversity of our cultures. Our differences enrich us. The seas bring us together, they do not separate us, our islands sustain us, our island nation enlarges us and makes us stronger.”
I appeal to all delegations to make one nation of many nations. A nation that will live together in peace and harmony and protect the promise of our future by ensuring equal rights, equitable sharing of responsibilities, opportunities and harmonious partnership between women and men.
In closing, I would like to express my delegation’s warm appreciation to the People’s Republic of China for the excellent facilities and arrangements, and for the warm hospitality and courtesies extended to my delegation.