Women Speak Out! A Report of the Pacific Women's Conference. October 27 – November 2
Micronesia - tiny islands, compose a unique and substantial part of the earth's surface north west of the equator and east of the Philippines. It has a land mass of about 700 sq. miles spread across an area which equals the size of continental United States, and is inhabited by more than 110,000 Micronesians. Six different ethnic groups speaking fourteen different languages are found in Micronesia.
Since 1521 when Portuguese-born Ferdinand Magellan “discovered” Micronesia, these tiny islands have been administered, that is, told what to do, by international salesmen, whalers and clerics from Spain, Germany, Japan and now the United States. At no time were Micronesians ever asked for an opinion or given a choice as to what country could administer their affairs. Worse yet, these administering authorities signed and sealed treaties, mandates and agreements without the consent and commitment from Micronesia's people.
Micronesia, is a unique and an unprecedented political entity - a United Nation's “strategic trust” under the control of the United States. Unlike the other United Nation's page 99 trust territories (all but one of which are now independent), the concepts underlying the formation of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands were based more on strategic considerations than on humanitarian concern for the resident population. In short, the United States as well as the United Nations have failed to promote one of the basic objectives of the International Trusteeship System. That is, it is a natural and fundamental right of every people to self-determine their own solutions to their own future.
The concepts of the United States administration are still dictated by strategic if not imperialistic and or capitalistic considerations. This approach is best described by the statement of the “most honourable” Henry Kissinger during a conversation which took place between him and the former Secretary of Interior, the ‘most honourable’ Walter J. Hickel, when Kissinger stated: “There are only 90,000 people out there. Who gives a damn?”
This approach is further described by the testimony of Admiral William Lemos before a Sub-Committee Hearing of the United States Senate: in which he stated the reasons “why the Department of Defense considers the Trust Territory important to our national security”. The islands could also provide useful bases in support of (military) operations, facilities for weapons testing, and it was important that the islands be denied to potential enemies. The islands also had United States military operational requirements, communication stations, active air and harbour facilities and test sites for operational and developmental-type missiles, and tests in support of the ballistic missile defence programme, are a few of the reasons why the United States government considers it important to maintain a military presence in the area”.
The United States Government did not waste time in getting down to business. As a matter of subtle military planning, and as early as 1946, a year before the signing of the United Nations Trusteeship Agreement, the United States evacuated the Bikinians (Micronesians inhabiting a small Bikini atoll) in order to make way for the operational missile and page 100 atomic tests. The first atomic bomb was tested on the island of Bikini in that same year. In March 1954, the first deliverable thermonuclear hydrogen bomb was detonated on Bikini. The last nuclear test known to the public was recorded in 1958. Between 1946 and 1958, the United States detonated 93 atomic and hydrogen bombs. During the past 30 years the Bikinians have been dispersed and relocated among the various atolls and islands of the Marshall district. One can imagine the cultural, psychological, social and personal dilemmas that the Bikinians have had to cope with. The rehabilitation, construction and resettlement in Bikini only began two years ago. Since then, the Bikinians have not been able to return to their homeland, because the environmental conditions are still unsuitable.
Germ warfare tests have been held on Eniwetok, another island, as part of a program to test germ-laden aerosols dispersed over water.
To reiterate, the United States strategic position regarding Micronesia - the United States military has since 1952 maintained control over 60% of Saipan as a military retention land area and almost all of Tinian is held in reserve. New projects and developments are being carried out on these islands to meet the United States thirst for power and might in the eyes of the world. But this is not the end of it. So far, the United States military, (under the alias of multinationals,) and their prudent military plans have not been carried out because planned timing has been politically inconvenient.
The social impact due to military presence and harassment, and military nuclear experiments and other related activities are far-reaching and beyond the experience and understanding the Security Council of the United Nations and, of course, the United States.
Micronesia's present status is rather uncertain. Only the Northern Marianas Islands have made a formal move towards closer ties with the United States. The move was accomplished on June 17, 1975, through an island-wide plebiscite in which 78% of these people approved of the covenant, officially known page 101 as The Covenant of the Northern Mariana Islands. The United States negotiating team assuared the Marianas Political Status Commission's representatives that once the covenant is approved by 55% of the people, the Northern Mariana Islands will have a governmental administration separated from the rest of Micronesia.
In August this year, the United States House of Representative approved the covenant. However, the Senate is still procrastinating over the approval of the covenant. Consequently, the Marianas people are quite dissatisfied with their elected leaders as well as the United States government.
The remaining five districts namely Truk, Ponape, Marshalls, Yap and Palau are still waiting for the outcome of the Micronesia's Constitutional Convention. Since the majority of the Micronesian people are politically uneducated, they place a great deal of trust in their elected leaders. What is happening is that the newly formed Micronesian Constitutional Convention has not come up with any concrete decisions. As a result neither the leaders nor the people know exactly in which direction they are headed. I would venture to say, however, that the majority of the Micronesian people would prefer the status quo as they are more familiar with this situation.
All that has been said sounds convincing but there are more problems facing Micronesians than just the issue of administration of the government. Micronesians as people are aware of the injustices (as well as the extinctions of island characters; culture, customs, languages, etc.) which have been demonstrated to them by the so called “civilized” powers of old. At the present time some concerned Micronesians leaders are searching and negotiating for an independent political status and it is my hope that it would be one that would obtain for Micronesians the freedom to determine their own future, be it unified or disunified Micronesia. My concern here is for Micronesia as a body of indigenous people rather than just a political entity.
“We are here at the conference representing many islands and many people who have never stopped fighting to survive.” Salvadora Katosang
We are here at the conference representing many islands and many people who have never stopped fighting to survive; whose land has been occupied continuously by strangers and a people who have been cheated by their own leaders - men, who, no doubt, were sincere in their efforts to serve their own, people, at least during the first stage of their careers. BUT because such leaders received neither encouragement nor support from their constituents they eventually changed their positions from that of, let's say, Western Samoa for Western Samoans to that of Western Samoa for their own self interests and that of the imperialistic power. The responsibility for what has happened in Micronesia comes back to us - for if we strive towards self-determination we must also be willing to face the resulting responsibilities.page 103
Also, we are gathered here because we are convinced that unless we, as women, speak and do for ourselves, no one is going to act for us. For a long time we have blamed the society and in particular, men, for the various discriminations we suffered, when, in fact, we were not concerned enough to do something about these conditions - we were unwilling to give up our domestic security for the improvement of women's status. I am most pleased to be here with the rest of you and to share with you what I think needs to be done with respect to establishing self-determination, and ultimately a nuclear-free Pacific.
This is where I would like to draw the parallel between the struggle for women's rights and the struggle to free the Pacific islands from colonial influences. No longer can we blame the colonisers for our lack of progress or their failure to fulfill their obligations. If we cannot help ourselves, most certainly the colonisers would not give a damn about helping us. The time is fitting and proper for us women to do something about this.
I can offer neither easy solutions nor answers to the problem but I would like to suggest an approach. That is, we need to bring about political awareness in the people through unceasing education.
We as women have played an important role in education both in the home and as teachers in school. Therefore, we can utilize our influences to bring about this awareness. Our participation can only enhance our status and at the same time catalyse our self-determination.
Our input is in demand whether or not we realize it. Our problems here in the Pacific are much different than those of our colonisers. It was recognised on the first day of this conference that we must work together whether we are black, white, brown, or yellow women. Thus, I firmly believe that if we women could work closely with each other and with our counterparts, then and only then can we help to bring about a Free Pacific.page 104
Ida Teariki-Bordes (left)