President Panuelo Advocates for Gender Equality, Announces Expansion of Maternity Leave from Six to Twelve Weeks, at the Inspiring Women’s Advancement Through Collective Action Project Launch & Inception Workshop

 

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President Panuelo Advocates for Gender Equality, Announces Expansion of Maternity Leave from Six to Twelve Weeks, at the Inspiring Women’s Advancement Through Collective Action Project Launch & Inception Workshop

 

PALIKIR, Pohnpei—On March 18th, 2021, His Excellency David W. Panuelo—President of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM)—attended the project launch and inception workshop for the new Inspiring Women’s Advancement Through Collective Action (IWA) program. Funded by the Government of the United States of America and implemented through the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the IWA is a $2,200,000 program with the intent to contribute towards increased local understanding, and demand, on removing barriers to gender equality in the FSM, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau, through diplomacy and galvanizing coordinated actions.

 

The intended outcomes of the IWA program are, firstly, that gender discrimination towards women in the workplace, women in business, and entrepreneurs, is reduced through community awareness and socioeconomic empowerment of women. Secondly, the IWA intends to ensure that project partners have increased capacity to take action against gender discrimination within their institution.

 

The IWA project includes numerous activities for women and youth, some of which include the creation of a Youth for Art initiative; the creation of a media influencer program; the creation of a Communication as Change campaign; a review of the regulatory landscape session; an emerging women leaders’ session; and competitive small grants to NGOs, youth-lead, and faith-based organizations to address gender discrimination, among many more. The FSM National Government strongly encourages citizens to review a video made by Her Excellency Carmen G. Cantor, Ambassador of the United States of America to the FSM, which is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ik_geis-uws

 

The project launch and inception workshop’s schedule included opening remarks from Lululeen Santos and Nathan Glancy, Consultant and Chief of Party of IOM respectively, the Honorable Somer Bessire-Briers, Charge’d’Affairs of the U.S. Embassy, and President Panuelo.

 

Prior to his remarks proper, President Panuelo addressed the proverbial elephant in the room—the COVID-19 Pandemic—and the Nation’s vaccination rate. Noting that, while Palau will reach an adult vaccination rate of 70% by late April to early May, the FSM is currently at approximately 13%; thus, President Panuelo suggested, the Nation will be simultaneously requesting additional Johnson & Johnson vaccines from the U.S. for remote communities and islands, and may decide to tie citizens’ receipt of financial stimulus programming for low-income and elderly citizens with documentary evidence that said citizens have received their COVID-19 vaccine.

 

“If we mandate children to take certain vaccines before going to school for their safety and our Nation’s safety, it behooves our Nation’s adults to do the same before getting their financial stimulus,” President Panuelo said.

 

President Panuelo’s remarks for the Inspiring Women’s Advancement Through Collective Action Project Launch & Inception Workshop, as prepared, are below in full.

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Ladies & Gentlemen,

 

I would like to begin by telling you two stories of women advancing themselves and their societies through collective action.

 

In November of 1869, there was no country on the Planet where women enjoyed suffrage—that is, the right to vote. In the then U.S. Territory of Wyoming, which had a population of 6,000 men and 1,000 women, Julia Bright—the wife of a territorial legislator—persuaded her husband and his colleagues that denying women the right to vote was a gross injustice. She argued that, if women had the right to vote, that the Territory of Wyoming would have greater influence in their own decision-making, including greater influence in eventually becoming a full-fledged State of the United States. On December 10th, 1869, the Wyoming legislature formally granted women the right to vote.

 

News of Julia Bright’s advocacy reached an English woman who made New Zealand her home, the one and only Katherine Wilson Sheppard, who adorns New Zealand’s ten-dollar bill. Katherine or Kate Sheppard promoted women’s suffrage by organizing petitions and public meetings. Kate Sheppard was the editor of the White Ribbon, the first woman-operated newspaper in New Zealand, and her pamphlet Ten Reasons Why the Women of New Zealand Should Vote culminated in more than 30,000 signatures presented to the New Zealand parliament. As a result of her efforts and the women she worked with, in 1893, New Zealand became the first country where women won the right to vote.

 

News of Kate Sheppard’s and Julia Bright’s advocacy would continue to flow into suffrage movements across the World, at first predominantly in the United Kingdom, Australia, Finland, and the United States. By 1917, through women advancing themselves and their societies through collective action, women’s suffrage became a major global topic of discussion. 1917 will become important again in just a moment.

 

On March 8th, 1908, the male owner of a New York textile factory locked his female workers inside in an attempt to silence their strike for higher wages, and their opposition to 10-hour workdays without breaks. When the factory caught fire, 129 female workers were unable to escape and died. In 1910, the International Socialist Women’s Conference suggested that an International Women’s Day be organized in memory of those women, and in honor of all working women across the World, with the long-term goal of achieving gender equality internationally. International Women’s Day was first recognized by the Soviet Union as a national holiday in 1917, after women won the right to vote there. That same year saw women win the right to vote in countries like Latvia, Estonia, and Uruguay, and states and territories such as New York and British Columbia.

 

In 1977 the United Nations proclaimed March 8th of every year as an official UN holiday to promote women’s rights and world peace. As a member of the United Nations, the Federated States of Micronesia continues to celebrate International Women’s Day every year in an effort to promote women’s rights and gender equality, and advocate for awareness and action on important issues.

 

Here in the FSM, when it comes to women’s suffrage, we can rightfully say that every woman has had the right to vote from May 10th, 1979—the day of our FSM Constitution—until today. Women’s suffrage in the FSM is the result of women, across many generations and across many countries, working together to advance themselves and their societies.

 

In my capacity as a man, I am perhaps not the most qualified to discuss women’s issues. However, in my capacity as President of the FSM, I would humbly submit to you all that, while women have the right to vote in our country, that women are not necessarily always treated equally, or fairly.

 

More than one out of three women in the FSM has experienced domestic violence, which is wrong. Women are typically paid less than men in the same position, and just this morning I was asking some of our staff to give me some examples—one of the examples cited was that, in the State of Chuuk, in some specific schools you can see that the female principals make less than all of the male teachers.

 

Our labor laws, at the national and state levels, essentially begin and end with the minimum wage. Protections for workers in Government come through regulations, but private sector workers do not have protections. As an example, many of you have experienced working in a store as a cashier and, when the day’s receipts are tallied, having the losses of the day taken out of your next paycheck.

 

I would not be surprised if each and every one of us in this room is related to, or knows of, a woman who became pregnant as a teenager, only to have the man leave them for work or for school, forcing the woman to raise a child without a father. Despite our laws mandating an age of consent and mandatory enrollment in school, we are still a country where it is not unheard of for a thirteen-year-old girl to drop out to get married, only to be abandoned by the husband later on.

 

I do not have the solutions to these problems, and I am not necessarily calling on you to solve them by yourselves and by the end of today. I am, however, asking that the women of our country, along with our friends, allies, and development partners, take the theme of inspiring women’s advancement through collective action seriously, with a view to identify where our society hasn’t lived up to its potential, and to work together towards identifying, constructing, and promoting solutions to our mutual problems.

 

In the meantime, I would like for each of you to know that your FSM National Government supports you all in these endeavors. As a demonstration of that support, I am announcing to you today that I have instructed the Executive Branch to amend the National Government’s relevant regulations to increase the number of paid weeks of maternity leave from six weeks to twelve weeks. I expect the amended regulations to be prepared for my signature by the end of this month. This will bring the FSM in line with the United States, which also has twelve weeks of maternity leave, although I note the World Health Organization recommends sixteen weeks, and some countries like Norway, Australia, and Japan offer one year’s worth of paid maternity leave.

 

The National Government is proud to support women’s initiatives across our country. This can manifest in the form of programs and activities that seek to address the symptom of a problem, such as the Government’s financial and programmatic support for Human Trafficking Victim Shelter Services, and the construction of Anti-Human Trafficking Centers in each of the FSM’s States; and this can manifest in the form of programs and activities that seek to prevent the problem in the first place, such as age of consent legislation, domestic violence legislation, and interest-free loans for women-lead small businesses during the COVID-19 Pandemic, currently available through the FSM Development Bank (FSMDB). Currently, of the three million dollars available for interest-free loans through the FSMDB, half of that is allotted exclusively for women—although it could be more than that if more women apply.

 

I would like to give special thanks to Lululeen Santos and the International Organization for Migration, and Ambassador Carmen G. Cantor and Somer Bessire-Briers of the United States Embassy, for their support for today’s Project Launch and Inception Workshop. I wish you all a very productive workshop.

FSM GOVERNMENT

P.O. BOX PS53
Palikir, Pohnpei State, FM 96941
Phone: (691) 320-2228
Fax: (691) 320-2785

 

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