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Micronesian women stop alcohol sale in Chuuk, 1977-1979
Beginning in the late 1970s, women in Chuuk, one of the states of the Federated States of Micronesia, stepped forward to protest the abuse of alcohol. The women’s campaign challenged traditional restrictions on women’s autonomy.
The women acted after a drunken brawl occurred in early 1977 between young men from Weno, an island municipality of Chuuk, and Wonei Island. In response, the district administrator called an emergency meeting and women from Fin Anisi, a religious group attended.
Each municipality in Micronesia has the ability to decide upon the sale and consumption of alcohol within its borders. Women who attended the emergency meeting decided to try to prohibit the sale of alcohol and its consumption. A change in the law required: a petition containing the signatures of 2/3 of all registered voters in the municipality in order to hold a special referendum, a special election within 90 days of submitting the petition, and verification by the municipal clerk. If a majority of voters approved the referendum, law required the municipal council to prepare and adopt legislation in accordance with the public vote.
Two women’s religious groups, Fin Anisi and Mwichen Maria, circulated petitions in the late spring of 1977. Sympathizers from the Weno or Moen Municipal Council joined them. The government of Chuuk held the referendum on July 2, 1977. The referendum passed and banned the sale and consumption of alcohol on Weno. Weno was the main port of entry for the entire Chuuk district and this forced alcohol shipments to be re-routed. The prohibition of alcohol resulted in the loss of a significant amount of revenue (from $443,605 to $403) for Weno. The loss of revenue prompted legislators to attempt to override the Weno ordinance. However, the women continued to protest against the sale and consumption of alcohol. Members of Fin Anisi and Miwchen Maria organized the women of Chuuk against the legislature in an attempt to expand prohibition to all 39 municipalities.
The government of Weno created a special committee to make recommendations to the entire legislature regarding the sale of alcohol by May 1979. The special committee prompted the women of Weno to take action against the government. Women circulated a statewide petition against the repeal of the prohibition of alcohol. They received support from the mayor of Weno, as well as the governor and lieutenant governor of Chuuk. The legislature, however, still refused to hear the protests of the women and meet with them.
To forcibly get the legislature’s attention, Protestant and Catholic women’s groups called for a public protest. 200 participants marched to the legislative building holding signs that detailed the devastating effects of alcohol on family and community. The protests of the women appealed to the only female member of the legislature. She requested a halt in proceedings so that her male colleagues could appreciate the signs held by the women protesters.
Women occupied the grounds of the legislature for the next week and waited for a meeting with the speaker of the legislature. He finally agreed to meet with them and the women got their chance to present their petition and concerns. Though the legislature continued to attempt to repeal the prohibition through deceptive methods, the state court ruled against them and upheld the law stating municipalities had the right to make their own liquor laws. The legislature made two weaker attempts to attempt to repeal the laws in 1979 and 1983 but women’s public protests quickly stopped this threat as well. The women’s efforts successfully convinced the legislature to stop fighting against the prohibition on alcohol.