June 08, 2015

By Bill Jaynes
The Kaselehlie Press

June 3, 2015 Federated States of Micronesia -A lengthy report commissioned by and partially carried out by the FSM Department of Health ( pacific/drive/FSMFHSSReportweb.pdf) has for the first time attempted to gather comprehensive information about the prevalence of violence against women in the FSM. The FSM Family Health and Safety Study (FSM FHSS) spans 202 pages.

Before the report was released, policy makers had only anecdotal data to rely on as they considered legislation that could potentially curb the problem that nearly everyone in the FSM knows about but that only a few are willing to openly discuss. Even the 1,006 women aged 15 to 64 years randomly selected for the statistical sample for the survey discussed their experiences only under carefully guarded circumstances.

"Violence against women and girls is unacceptable anytime, anywhere," wrote the former Australian Ambassador to the FSM in his message on the report. He reiterated Australia's support of gender equality, women's empowerment, and ending violence against women.

"Violence against women can have adverse consequences on a woman's physical, mental, sexual, and reproductive health. This violence affects women across the world, including women in the Federated States of Micronesia," Dr. Vita Skilling, Secretary for FSM's Department of Health and Social Affairs wrote in her foreword to the report. "Regionally, prevalence figures of lifetime physical and/or sexual partner violence were over 50% in some FSM States. In the case of non-partner violence, the study shows that about 14% of interviewed women experienced child sexual abuse and the most common perpetrators were family members," Skilling continued.

"The study used an expanded definition of 'partnership' in which the term 'ever-partnered' refers to women who had a relationship with a man regardless of whether they were married, therefore including women in cohabitating relationships, separated or divorced, and widowed," the Executive Summary on the report said.

It also utilized two main reference periods to estimate prevalence of violence in a woman's life. "Lifetime violence" refers to the violence experienced in a woman's life even if it only happened once. "Current violence" refers to the violence experienced by a woman in the 12 months preceding the interview.

Questions regarding violence by partners were asked only to "ever-partnered" women (898 of the random sample). Questions related to violence by non-partners were asked of all 1,006 women.

The Executive Summary of the report lists the following as the "Major Findings" for the FSM.

Physical and/or sexual violence by partners:

Impact of partner violence on women's health:

Women's responses to violence:

Physical and/or sexual violence by non-partners:

The massive report included a number of recommendations including adoption of Family Protection legislation. So far, Kosrae is the only state that has adopted legislation to prosecute domestic violence. The report urges to Chuuk, Pohnpei, and Yap to follow suit.

The Pohnpei Women's Council has a domestic violence shelter and has been advocating for prevention of gender violence. The members are often seen in t-shirts they had printed that say, "Violence is not my culture". They have been outspoken proponents of gender violence legislation at the Pohnpei Legislature but so far that body has not passed a bill to help prevent it.

The Chuuk Women's Council has also been outspoken on the issue of gender violence.

Dana Lee Ling teaches a statistics course at the College of Micronesia FSM. Concerned that some people in the FSM would write off the report as being statistically inaccurate, we asked him if he felt that the statistical methods used were sufficient. He talked about "p-values", "confidence intervals", and issues of potential bias that were covered in the report but that he had not yet had time to fully digest.

He wrote , "I am no research methods expert, but the design appears to be fairly carefully crafted. The study does note that a number of outer islands were not included in the study and thus the results cannot be extrapolated to those populations. The study claims that the results can be extrapolated to the 71% of the women in the FSM from which the sample was drawn. Randomization procedures were in place as detailed on that page."

"I think the take home message is not (necessarily) the specifics of the statistical results but that the FSM has issues of violence against women. By that I mean, whether the rate is 60% or 40%, one beaten woman is one too many. The story is in the individual stories of broken women, lost dreams," he wrote.