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Women in Tuvalu

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Title: Women in Tuvalu  
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Subject: Demographics of Tuvalu, Women in the Federated States of Micronesia, Women in the Marshall Islands, Women in Guam, Women in Kiribati
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Women in Tuvalu

A modern-day Tuvaluan woman performing a traditional dance at Auckland's Pasifika Festival in 2011.
Australia - Pacific Technical College (APTC) graduation, Tuvalu, 2011. Photo- AusAID

Women in Tuvalu continue to maintain a traditional Polynesian culture within a predominantly Christian society. In the traditional community system in Tuvalu, each family has its own task, or salanga, to perform for the community. The skills of a family are passed on from parents to children. The women of Tuvalu participate in the traditional music of Tuvalu and in the creation of the art of Tuvalu including using cowrie and other shells in traditional handicrafts. There are opportunities of further education and paid employment with non-government organisations (NGOs) and government enterprises, education and health agencies being the primary opportunities for Tuvaluan women.


Women participate in the traditional music of Tuvalu which consists of a number of dances, including the fatele, fakaseasea and the fakanau.[1] The fatele, in its modern form, is performed at weddings, community events and to celebrate leaders and other prominent individuals.


Tuvaluan women have access to secondary education at Motufoua Secondary School on Vaitupu[2] and Fetuvalu High School, a day school operated by the Church of Tuvalu, on Funafuti.[3] There are opportunities of further education and paid employment with non-government organisations (NGOs) and government enterprises, education and health agencies being the primary opportunities for Tuvaluan women.

Life expectancy

Life expectancy for Tuvaluan women is 66.9 years as compared to 62.7 years for males (2011 est.).


Tuvaluan women are primarily involved in traditional agriculture and domestic and community activities. The women of Tuvalu participate in the creation of the art of Tuvalu including using cowrie and other shells in traditional handicrafts.[4]

Remittances from Tuvaluan men employed abroad as sailors, primarily on cargo ships, is a major source of income for families in Tuvalu.[5] The Global Economic Crisis (GEC) that began in 2007 has impacted on global export-import activities and the demand for shipping, which reduced the need for seafarers from Tuvalu.[6]

Milikini Failautusi, young Tuvaluan activist, has argued that cultural issues in Tuvalu are preventing women from working in equal partnership with men. For example, women cannot be appointed as a Matai (chief). Ms Failautusi is quoted as saying "[w]hen it comes to cultures, women they don't [get] to say anything at all. They don't have a say. They only have to sit at the back and support the elders or their husbands or the leaders in their families . . . All they have to do is just support them in terms of looking for money, looking for food, and looking after the babies and the families".[7]


Tuvaluan doctors (2008) Dr Nese Ituaso Conway (left) and Dr Puakena Boreham (right)

Tuvaluan women have access to health services provided by the Department of Health. There is one hospital, the Princess Margaret Hospital, in Funafuti that provides referral and general health services to support the health clinics on each of Tuvalu’s outer islands. Each Community Health Centre on the smaller outer islands is staffed by a midwife and general nurse.[8] Because Tuvalu is a group of 9 islands, problems in obtaining emergency services can arise for women on the outer islands if complications occur during birth.


Throughout the history of the Parliament of Tuvalu following independence in 1978, three women have been elected: Naama Maheu Latasi, from 1989 to 1997 and Pelenike Isaia from 2011 to 2015; and Dr Puakena Boreham who was elected to represent Nui in the 2015 general election.[9]

The under-representation of women in the Tuvalu parliament was considered in a report commissioned by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat in 2005,[10] and was discussed during a consultation entitled “Promoting Women in Decision Making” was held in Funafuti in May 2010. The outcome was a recommendation for the introduction of two new seats, to be reserved for women.[11] The Tuvaluan Ministry for Home Affairs, which has responsibility for women’s affairs, stated that steps would be taken to consider the recommendation.[12]


The problem of violence against Tuvaluan women was highlighted during a week of events in recognition of International Women's Day in March 2013. The traditional cultural values prevent or discourage women from reporting assaults. Legislative changes are proposed to give the Tuvalu police increased powers and allowing the courts to pass tougher sentences for crimes of violence against women.[13]

Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women

A portrait of a woman on Funafuti in 1894 by Count Rudolf Festetics de Tolna
1900, Woman on Funafuti, Tuvalu, then known as Ellice Islands
Woman on Funafuti,
taken by Harry Clifford Fassett (1900)

In July 2009 Tuvalu reported on compliance with the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) to the UN CEDAW Committee. The report said that “Committee’s experts expressed concern over the sanctioning of local custom in the [Tuvalu] Constitution and legal system, noting, for example, that husbands were permitted to ‘discipline’ their wives [as well as children]”. As recent many Tuvaluan families have migrated to New Zealand these practices are in direct conflict with New Zealand’s laws and social environment.[14]

In July 2013 the Pacific Regional Rights Resource Team of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community published drafting options for legislative reform to assist Tuvalu to make changes to the laws and policies relating to violence against women in order to ensure the full protection of women from all forms of violence.[15]

The UN CEDAW Committee observations on the 2015 review of Tuvalu notes the introduction of new domestic violence legislation, more participation by women in local council meetings and the end of some discriminatory education practices. However the Committee highlighted that women in Tuvalu continue to have low levels of political participation and economic participation. Violence against women is also described as a concern because of the "cultural and the silence and also impunity and this also really stops women to report the cases."[16]

See also


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  11. ^ "Women Need Support to Overcome Barriers Entering Parliament", Solomon Times, 11 May 2010
  12. ^ "Support for introducing reserved seats into Tuvalu Parliament", Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, May 13, 2010
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^

External links

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