A BRIDGE first for Republic of the Marshall Islands

7 December 2010

Men and women who participated in a three-day BRIDGE Gender and Elections Module had never thought that a workshop as such would even begin to change their thinking towards women’s issues in particular supporting women to national level and local level leadership.  

(quotes – unedited)

After watching the documentary on ‘The Iron Ladies of Liberia‘: At first I was one of these men out there that did not agree to promote women in Parliament. After watching the documentary and learning about the achievements and movements  that women from other States had made in their countries  and accomplished with good leadership qualities that they have, I now have confident over Marshallese women to be in Parliament – But only if they (she) will have similar qualities of the women in the documentary” .. said a male local government representative from Kwajalein Atoll.

“As a representative from the outer island I come to a conclusion to agree that women have equal qualities to work as a man. I have not known all of these qualities of work that women have until I got into the crowd here to study these presentations”…. said another male participant from Uotje Atoll…..

These were the sentiments at the conclusion of the workshop held 23-26 November at the International Convention Centre in Majuro, Republic of Marshall Islands (RMI), which is located in the northern Pacific with a population of around 60,000. The Republic has more than 24 Atolls and islands, all flat and low lying, on which people live. Many of these islands are served by either a village or local council. The Republic has a President and ministers as well as senators. It is a matrilineal society where women are the land owners or chiefs together with men having chiefly status as well.  English is their second language.  

Sixteen women and eleven men were the amongst the first to attend a Gender and Elections Module held in RMI, although five others had attended a similar workshop held in Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) in 2009. Among the 27 were one each participants from FSM and Solomon Islands.

The workshop was organized by Women United Together in Marshall Islands (WUTMI) and as part of its annual Conference with the theme Gender and was supported by Gender Equality in Political Governance Program (GEPG) of UNIFEM Pacific as well as UNIFEM Zealand. The Government of RMI also supported by sending participants from the Elections Office to attend the workshop.

Some of the immediate outcomes of the workshop include:

  • Participants – both male and female – recognized the importance of equality in gender and more specifically women’s empowerment in political governance, given that RMI is a matrilineal society where women and women chiefs own the land, but this leadership as well as others had not been translating to representation at National Parliamentary Level.
  • Workshop prompted participants to discuss and plan regional, national and state activities to further advance the discussions on women’s political empowerment. For example the male participants have come together to start discussions with the male folks at the Local Government Level in the outer Atolls and Islands about the usefulness of the workshop and what gender and gender equality and women’s involvement at Local government as well as national level meant. They had never attended a workshop as such and now see women’s participation at national level with a different view
  • Aspects of the Gender and Elections module, as well as lessons learnt will now become WUTMI’s as well its members National Strategic Five Year Development Plan discussed during the week-long Conference. 
  • A partially-accredited BRIDGE facilitator -Ms Tina Edmon – has now met with two other electoral officers who have attended the Gender and Elections Module to begin using the BRIDGE material in its translated form. This would start the process of further localizing relevant BRIDGE materials for RMI and to roll-out BRIDGE modules and other UNIFEM GEPG related training, awareness and advocacy activities in communities in each of the respective Atolls.
  • Regular networking between participants and BRIDGE facilitators of the workshop and BRIDGE International Office for updates and collaboration.
  • Further collaboration and partnership with FSM participant for its upcoming elections to help conduct BRIDGE (Women and Candidates Module) as well as other leadership and governance related workshops for candidates

Various female guest speakers were able to share their experiences in way of being a candidate (losing and winning as well as intending); having served as a Senator as well current voter education programs being undertaken by WUTMI. Another guest speaker shared her research work into the Issue of Gender Imbalance and Inequality in Parliament and recommendations.

The workshop was facilitated by Hamidan Bibi (Lead Facilitator) and Sadhana Sen (co-facilitator on behalf of GEPG UNIFEM Pacific.

Audience(s) for this workshop:
Modules used at this workshop:
Expected Outcomes: