Women in Tuvalu

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Main article: Tuvalu
A modern-day Tuvaluan woman performing a traditional dance at Auckland's Pasifika Festival in 2011.
A portrait of a woman on Funafuti in 1894 by Count Rudolf Festetics de Tolna

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 creation of the art of Tuvalu including using cowrie and other shells in traditional handicrafts.[1]


Women participate in the traditional music of Tuvalu which consists of a number of dances, including the fatele and the fakanau.[2] 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.[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[edit]

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


1900, Woman on Funafuti, Tuvalu, then known as Ellice Islands
Woman on Funafuti,
taken by Harry Clifford Fassett (1900)

Tuvaluan women are primarily involved in traditional agriculture and domestic and community activities. Remittances from Tuvaluan men employed abroad as sailors, primarily on cargo ships, is a major source of income for families in Tuvalu.[4] 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.[5]

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".[6]


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.[7] 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, two women have been elected: Naama Maheu Latasi, from 1989 to 1997 and Pelenike Isaia who was elected in 2011 that followed the death of her husband Isaia Italeli, who was a member of parliament and the Minister of Works. The under-representation of women in the Tuvalu parliament 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.[8] The Tuvaluan Ministry for Home Affairs, which has responsibility for women’s affairs, stated that steps would be taken to consider the recommendation.[9]


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.[10]

Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women[edit]

In July 2009 Tuvalu reported on compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. 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.[11]

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.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Tiraa-Passfield, Anna (September 1996). "The uses of shells in traditional Tuvaluan handicrafts". SPC Traditional Marine Resource Management and Knowledge Information Bulletin #7. Retrieved 8 February 2014. 
  2. ^ Linkels, Ad. The Real Music of Paradise. Rough Guides, Broughton, Simon and Ellingham, Mark with McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla (Ed.). p. 221. ISBN 1-85828-636-0. 
  3. ^ "Motufoua Secondary School". Retrieved 20 November 2012. 
  4. ^ "Maritime Training Project: Program Completion Reports". Asian Development Bank. September 2011. Retrieved 28 January 2013. 
  5. ^ "Voices of the Vulnerable in the Pacific: Summary Note (‘The Global Economic Crisis impact on Tuvalu Seafarers Remittance: the story of Tangata's Family’)". UNICEF. Retrieved 6 August 2013. 
  6. ^ "Young Tuvaluan leader challenges gender inequality". Radio Australia. 29 January 2014. Retrieved 17 April 2014. 
  7. ^ Bruce Knapman, Malcolm Ponton, and Colin Hunt (2002). "TUVALU 2002 Economic and Public Sector Review". Asian Development Bank. pp. 134–136. Retrieved 16 March 2013. 
  8. ^ "Women Need Support to Overcome Barriers Entering Parliament", Solomon Times, 11 May 2010
  9. ^ "Support for introducing reserved seats into Tuvalu Parliament", Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, May 13, 2010
  10. ^ Ewart, Richard (13 March 2013). "Tuvalu considers tougher penalties for violence against women". Radio Australia. Retrieved 5 August 2013. 
  11. ^ "Toku fou tiale: A Tuvalu Conceptual Framework for addressing family violence". The Tuvalu Working Group (New Zealand). March 2012. Retrieved 22 March 2014. 
  12. ^ "Tuvalu - Legal analysis on violence against women: drafting options for legislative reform". Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Pacific Regional Rights Resource Team. July 2013. Retrieved 22 March 2014. 

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