Women in Tuvalu

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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. Tuvaluan cultural identity is sustained through an individual’s connection to their home island.[1] 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.[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 on Vaitupu[3] and Fetuvalu Secondary School, a day school operated by the Church of Tuvalu, on Funafuti.[4] 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.


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.[5] Tuvaluan women participate in sport, such as in the women's football league competition, the Tuvalu A-Division for women, and at international competitions such as representing Tuvalu at the 2015 Pacific Games.

Remittances from Tuvaluan men employed abroad as sailors, primarily on cargo ships, is a major source of income for families in Tuvalu.[6] 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.[7]

Generally men aged 50 years, and on some islands men aged 60 years, do most of the talking and decision making at meetings of the community councils (Falekaupule), which are organised according to the law and custom of each island. Although women have the vote in meetings of the Falekaupule on 7 of the 9 islands, but most do no exercise their voting rights.[8] 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 an aliki (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".[9]

Life expectancy[edit]

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

Life expectancy for Tuvaluan women is 68.41 years as compared to 64.01 years for males (2015 est.).[10]


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.[11] 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.[12]

The under-representation of women in the Tuvalu parliament was considered in a report commissioned by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat in 2005,[13] 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.[14] The Tuvaluan Ministry for Home Affairs, which has responsibility for women’s affairs, stated that steps would be taken to consider the recommendation.[15]


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.[16]

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

Tamala of Nukufetau atoll, Ellice Islands (circa 1900-1910)
1900, Woman on Funafuti, Tuvalu, then known as Ellice Islands
Woman on Funafuti,
Photograph by Harry Clifford Fassett (1900)
A portrait of a woman on Funafuti in 1894 by Count Rudolf Festetics de Tolna

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.[17]

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.[18]

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."[19]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

  • Lambert, Sylvester M. "Girls of Tuvalu". Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego. Retrieved 25 January 2017. 
  • Lambert, Sylvester M. "Women and children in Tuvalu". Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego. Retrieved 25 January 2017. 
  • Lambert, Sylvester M. "Women dancers in Tuvalu". Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego. Retrieved 25 January 2017. 


  1. ^ Corlew, Laura (2012). "The cultural impacts of climate change: sense of place and sense of community in Tuvalu, a country threatened by sea level rise" (PDF). Ph D dissertation, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. Retrieved 11 September 2016. 
  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. ^ "Fetuvalu High School (Funafuti)". Retrieved 20 November 2012. 
  5. ^ Tiraa-Passfield, Anna (September 1996). "The uses of shells in traditional Tuvaluan handicrafts" (PDF). SPC Traditional Marine Resource Management and Knowledge Information Bulletin #7. Retrieved 8 February 2014. 
  6. ^ "Maritime Training Project: Program Completion Reports" (PDF). Asian Development Bank. September 2011. Retrieved 28 January 2013. 
  7. ^ "Voices of the Vulnerable in the Pacific: Summary Note (‘The Global Economic Crisis impact on Tuvalu Seafarers Remittance: the story of Tangata's Family’)" (PDF). UNICEF. Retrieved 6 August 2013. 
  8. ^ "Tuvalu: A Situational Analysis of Children, Women and Youth - Part 1: Background" (PDF). UNICEF Pacific Office, Fiji. Retrieved 15 July 2017. 
  9. ^ "Young Tuvaluan leader challenges gender inequality". Radio Australia. 29 January 2014. Retrieved 17 April 2014. 
  10. ^ "The World Factbook (CIA)". 25 February 2016. Retrieved 20 March 2016. 
  11. ^ Bruce Knapman; Malcolm Ponton & Colin Hunt (2002). "TUVALU 2002 Economic and Public Sector Review". Asian Development Bank. pp. 134–136. Retrieved 16 March 2013. 
  12. ^ "Cabinet position could await new Tuvalu MP". Radio New Zealand. 10 April 2015. Retrieved 10 April 2015. 
  13. ^ Susie Saitala Kofe & Fakavae Taomia (2005). "Advancing Women’s Political Participation in Tuvalu" (PDF). A Research Project Commissioned by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS). Retrieved 11 April 2015. 
  14. ^ "Women Need Support to Overcome Barriers Entering Parliament", Solomon Times, 11 May 2010
  15. ^ "Support for introducing reserved seats into Tuvalu Parliament", Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, May 13, 2010
  16. ^ Ewart, Richard (13 March 2013). "Tuvalu considers tougher penalties for violence against women". Radio Australia. Retrieved 5 August 2013. 
  17. ^ "Toku fou tiale: A Tuvalu Conceptual Framework for addressing family violence" (PDF). The Tuvalu Working Group (New Zealand). March 2012. Retrieved 22 March 2014. 
  18. ^ "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. 
  19. ^ "Long way to go for women in Tuvalu". Radio New Zealand International. 10 March 2015. Retrieved 10 March 2015.