Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape, and establishes penalties of up to 25 years’ imprisonment for first-degree sexual assault. The government did not effectively enforce the law, in part, due to budget constraints. Most observers, however, believed that police prosecuted few sexual offenses, since cultural constraints discouraged victims from reporting such crimes. Nevertheless, there was one filed case of rape in Ebeye. There are court rules to protect women during court testimony regarding rape charges.
Legislation prohibits domestic violence. Spousal abuse was common.
According to a government survey published in the Marshall Islands Journal in 2009, more than 70 percent of female spouses had been abused. The published account did not specify the time period covered by the survey. Violence against women outside the family also occurred.
Police generally responded to reports of rape and domestic assault, and the government’s health office provided counseling in reported spousal and child abuse cases. NGOs increased efforts to raise awareness of domestic violence through marches and information sessions. Women’s groups under the umbrella NGO Women United Together in the Marshall Islands (WUTMI) continued to publicize women’s issues and rights.
In January a domestic violence unit opened within the Police Department.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is prohibited in the criminal code and defined as a petty misdemeanor. The law defines a wide range of activities constituting harassment, including unwanted communication whether anonymous or not, insults or taunts, communication at inconvenient hours or after indicating that further communication is unwelcome, and offensive or unwanted touching or coarse language that creates fear of bodily or property damage.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of children and the information and means to do so free from discrimination. Access to information on contraception, and to prenatal care, skilled attendance at delivery, and postpartum care were available on Majuro and Kwajalein Atolls; however, on remote atolls, only infirmaries with minimally trained attendants were available. The Ministry of Health provided free contraceptives, with particular emphasis on reducing the high rate of teenage pregnancy. According to indicators published in 2011 by the Population Reference Bureau, an estimated 45 percent of married women between the ages 15 and 49 used some form of contraception.
Maternal mortality was approximately 0.15 to 0.3 percent (four reported maternal deaths in 2009 and two in 2010, with approximately 1,340 births per year in the country), although maternal deaths in the outer islands may have been underreported. A large number of premature babies were born to young teenage mothers, with a resulting high number of babies born with physical and mental deficiencies.
Discrimination: Women generally enjoy the same rights as men under family law and in the judicial system. The inheritance of property and traditional rank is matrilineal, with women occupying important positions in the traditional system, although control of property often was delegated to male family members on behalf of female landowners. Tribal chiefs are the traditional authorities in the country. Customarily, a chief is the husband or eldest son of the female landowner. The traditional authority exercised by women has declined with growing urbanization and movement of the population away from traditional lands. While female workers were prevalent in the public and private sectors, many were in low-paying jobs with little prospect for advancement. There is no law requiring equal pay for equal work; however, men and women had pay equity for all government positions involving similar work. According to the 2011 Census Summary report, 28 percent of all working-age women were employed, including in home production such as fishing and handicraft manufacture.
Women’s groups under the NGO WUTMI continued to publicize women’s issues and promote greater awareness of women’s rights.