Marshall Islands Project

Women at the market

Project goal: To enable Marshallese women to fully participate in democratic processes and address gender imbalance in all levels of decision-making.

Objective: To educate and empower 48 people, one woman and one man from each of 24 rural and urban areas in the Marshall Islands, by giving them the confidence and skills to increase gender and voter awareness in their communities, in the lead up to the next general election in 2008.

Background: UNIFEM NZ embarked on this project in 2004. At that time the number of women in parliament (Nitijela) had not increased in 10 years and there was only one woman MP in a parliament of 33 members. Similarly the number of women holding key positions in government and the public service was very low with a ratio of one women for every fourteen men – yet women make up 49% of the population.

Women in the Marshall Islands have historically had little access to resources, accurate information or further education and therefore have been disadvantaged and disempowered with respect to having ‘a voice’. Better understanding of their human rights and constitutional and civic rights, training on political and civic issues will raise women’s awareness about how their vote could impact on their daily life and improve participation in decision-making, and especially in the electoral process.

Donations received from International Women’s Day events throughout New Zealand since 2004 enabled UNIFEM/UN Women Aotearoa NZ to continue financing WUTMI (Women United Together in the Marshall Islands) as they concluded the final phase of mentoring workshops and community education programmes leading up to the national elections in November 2011. Money raised in this way was put towards a 4:1 subsidy from the New Zealand Aid Programme through the VASS and then KOHA-PICD scheme. The final KOHA grant was received in 2010 and provided funding until after the national elections.

WUTMI’s work on the project took place in communities, large and small, on all the widely scattered inhabited atolls of the Marshall Islands, as well as Majuro, the main island. One of the strengths of the project has been its inclusion of men with the women as educators on every atoll.

Throughout the project we have also been partnered by the UN Women Pacific office in Suva. One valuable contribution, for example, was their provision of training in the BRIDGE programme in 2010. BRIDGE is widely recognised as an effective tool for building awareness of the importance of women in decision making roles throughout society.

The project steadily increased general awareness among men and women, including young people, of the worth and potential of women as leaders from grass-roots to MPs.

Status: Completed in 2010.