‘I really wanted to become a member of the Kaupule because many issues that concern us as women are often not discussed or not given priority. Now, I can bring in concerns on health care services and education for our children. For example, I raised the issue of a teacher that used corporal punishment to discipline our children although this is not allowed.’
Ms Semolina Faiva Tavita, the second woman on Nukulaelae Atoll in Tuvalu to be elected to the Kaupule (implementing arm of the local government).1
Tuvalu is a group of nine small islands and atolls in the western Pacific. The economy is constrained by its remoteness and lack of access to markets, and although independent it still relies heavily on aid from Australia, New Zealand, the European Union, Japan, Taiwan and the Republic of China.
Tuvalu is a patriarchal society where men inherit land. Land will only be passed to a daughter if there are no sons, she is the only child, or the only surviving child. Historically, daughters were expected to move into the husband’s family when they married and their children included in their father’s clan with access to his land.2 Gender equality is considered a relatively new concept. One of the challenges in raising awareness on gender issues in Tuvalu is the limited number of words in the Tuvaluan vocabulary and the difficulties this creates in explaining ‘foreign’ concepts.3
Leadership and Decision Making
Since independence, only three women have been elected to the National Parliament. In the most recent elections in 2015, only three of the 29 candidates who stood were women. One woman won her seat and is currently the only woman in a 15-member Parliament.4
Despite the relative gender balance within the public service, men still dominate senior positions. There are currently 41 senior positions in the central Government, including permanent secretaries, senior assistants, assistant secretaries and directors. From 2009 to 2013, women occupied only 22 per cent of these positions.5 The present composition of the public service shows a positive trend of 47 per cent of women in senior positions across all levels, however, only 32 per cent of women hold positions in the highest two levels of senior management. There has been progress for women’s representation in the Foreign Service with Her Excellency Limasene Teatu appointed as the first Tuvaluan woman ambassador. She is Tuvalu’s Ambassador to Taiwan.
The inclusion of women in key decision-making bodies, including the Parliament, is an outcome in Tuvalu’s National Gender Policy and the National Strategic Plan.6
Tuvalu is predominantly a subsistence economy. Women struggle economically as the cultural norm is to undertake domestic responsibilities only.7 Financial security is an issue as women lack ownership and control over land and assets. Family homes are usually built on property owned by men.8 Women in micro, small and medium-sized enterprises in outer islands face challenges due to transportation delays and the handling and packaging of handicrafts. There is a need for more business and financial literacy, and to work closely with banks and the private sector to deliver small business development programs for women.9
Ending Violence Against Women
Violence against women in Tuvalu often remains unreported. Around 40 per cent of women will experience physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime.10 However, there is a ‘culture of silence’, with women being raised to accept, tolerate and even rationalise domestic violence. The criminalisation of domestic violence in 2014 through the Family Protection and Domestic Violence Act is expected to encourage women to report cases, and to facilitate access to justice for women.
Although Tuvalu has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, several laws still discriminate against women, such as laws related to inheritance of land, adoption of children, marriage, custody of children and national and local level governance arrangements. There have been calls for comprehensive legal reform to ensure equality under the law and full alignment with international human rights standards.11
Leadership and Decision Making
6.7 per cent of Tuvalu’s National Parliament is made up of women (1 out of 15 members).
6.2 per cent of local government (known as Kaupule) is made up of women (3 out of 48). Two of the three women are Presidents (highest position) of the Kaupule for the outer islands/atolls of Niutao and Nukulaelae.
51 per cent of women participate in the labour force (includes formal and informal economy).
17 per cent gender gap in the labour force participation rate (male to female).
Ending Violence Against Women
40 per cent of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime.12
Tuvalu has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
30.5 per cent is the contraceptive prevalence rate of women aged between 15-49.
130 is the Gender Parity Index for secondary school enrolment (gross) in 2015 – for every 100 boys enrolled, there were 130 girls enrolled.
Note: Statistics in this section are from the Asian Development Bank (2016) Gender Statistics: The Pacific and Timor Leste report unless otherwise stated.
Partnership with Pacific Women
Through Pacific Women, the Australian Government will spend approximately $1.8 million over 10 years (2012–2022) on initiatives supporting women’s empowerment in Tuvalu. More information on the partnership and nature of support is included in the Pacific Women Tuvalu Country Plan Summary. Details on activities currently underway in-country with various partners is available via our interactive map. The list of program partners can be found here. Tuvalu is also supported by Pacific Women’s regional program, details of which can be viewed on the interactive map under regional activities.
- Tuvalu National Gender Policy
Stories of Change
The policy at Tuvalu’s only public high school is that pregnant girls are to be expelled. To challenge this perception, the Pacific Women supported Gender and Social Inclusion Adviser to the Government of Tuvalu and her colleagues from the Tuvalu Gender Affairs Department supported the Education Department to develop an information package on teenage pregnancies and the link to gender equality.READ MORE
The first comprehensive disability study for Tuvalu was conducted in February 2017 by field workers and research assistants including persons living with disabilities. One fieldworker was Mr Taupaka Uatea, the acting Office Manager of Fusi Alofa Association Tuvalu (a non-government organisation for people with disabilities).READ MORE
The Hon Dr Puakena Boreham, Tuvalu’s only woman MP and the Hon Judi Moylan, a former member of the Australian House of Representatives, have formed a partnership that is positively influencing government action on diabetes prevention in Tuvalu.READ MORE
Pacific Women is investing $1.8 million over three years to implement the Tuvalu Country Plan. Great steps were made in 2016 towards empowering women in the outer islands and those with disabilities, through the work of the program’s Gender and Social Inclusion Adviser.READ MORE