Tuvalu’s three reef islands and six atolls cover a land area of 26 square kilometres. It has a population of just over 10,000 people.

Tuvaluan laws related to inheritance of land, adoption of children, marriage, custody of children and national and local level governance arrangements do not offer equitable rights to women and men.LXIX The National Gender Policy and the National Strategic Plan outline the government’s approach to addressing gender inequalities. Its implementation is supported though a dedicated Gender Affairs Department that comes under the Office of the Prime Minister.

One of Tuvalu’s 15 seats in national parliament is held by a woman (6 per cent). There are similar levels of women’s representation in the local government Kaupule with 3 of 48 women members (6 per cent). Two of these women hold the highest position of president of their Kaupules. Her Excellency Limasene Teatu was appointed as Tuvalu’s first woman ambassador, taking up her post in Taiwan in 2017.

The cultural norm is for women to undertake domestic responsibilities only.LXX An estimated 52 per cent of women are involved in the labour force in either the formal or informal sectors. There is a 17 per cent gap in the labour participation rates between women and men.LXXI The Development Bank of Tuvalu has recognised that women in Tuvalu are disadvantaged in starting businesses because bank loans depend on the husband’s salary as loan security and because women in Tuvalu do not own land that can be used as collateral.

The cultural norm is for women to undertake domestic responsibilities only.LXX An estimated 52 per cent of women are involved in the labour force in either the formal or informal sectors. There is a 17 per cent gap in the labour participation rates between women and men.LXXI The Development Bank of Tuvalu has recognised that women in Tuvalu are disadvantaged in starting businesses because bank loans depend on the husband’s salary as loan security and because women in Tuvalu do not own land that can be used as collateral.

It is estimated that around 40 per cent of Tuvaluan women will experience physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime.LXXII The criminalisation of domestic violence in the Family Protection and Domestic Violence Act 2014 has been designed to encourage women to report cases and to facilitate access to justice for women.

CASE STUDIES

Project name: National Disability Study
Outcome: Enhancing agency
Project Partner: Fusi Alofa Association
Total Funding: $103,680
Funding timeframe: 2016–2017

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). Mr Uatea not only gained skills in field research and data collection, but he also saw opportunities for Fusi Alofa to work more with disability and gender.

The survey collected information about the experiences of persons with disabilities and their carers. It examined physical, communication, attitudinal and institutional barriers they face in their everyday lives.

‘My own disability was a barrier in the sense that I needed another fieldworker to support me moving around’, reflects Mr Uatea.

‘My disability was not a barrier in doing the actual work! I could ask questions and communicate with persons with disabilities (PWDs) like any other fieldworker without a disability. I guess that my personal disability helped me a lot to win the trust of other PWDs … I talked to the other fieldworkers who did not have a disability and they had a harder time in breaking the ice with PWDs during the fieldwork.’

Previously, there were just 72 people registered on Fusi Alofa’s database. The study, conducted in Funafuti and several outer islands, counted 466. The survey also collected specific data on the situation of women and girls living with disabilities.

‘I know that women and children with disabilities are more disadvantaged, but it was good to get actual numbers and gender analysis from the study. The abuse cases against women with disabilities were shocking to me. There are no activities in the past that I know of which targeted women with disabilities. I think the study will guide Fusi Alofa to do more for women with disabilities. Gender and disability should be a focus in the future and we could do more activities. In our advocacy, we always talk about gender because this is an article in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.’

For Mr Uatea and the Fusi Alofa Association, this study is of the highest importance.

‘Now, we have a better understanding of numbers of PWDs in Tuvalu. We also know more about persons living with multiple forms of disabilities. This helps Fusi Alofa to, for example, develop toolkits or information pamphlets … The study provided us with more evidence which will help us to access more aid support.’

Mr Taupaka Uatea, Acting Office Manager of Fusi Alofa Association Tuvalu. Photo: Natalie Makhoul.

Project name: Gender and Social Inclusion Adviser
Outcome: Enhancing agency
Project Partner: Consultant and Gender Affairs Department, Office of the Prime Minister
Total Funding: $284,59720
Funding timeframe: 2016–2018

The policy at Tuvalu’s only public high school is that pregnant girls are to be expelled. Efforts are underway to find culturally sensitive ways to work with schools, communities and pregnant girls to ensure these girls do not miss out on the opportunity for an education. 

In a small island state like Tuvalu, there are limited learning opportunities. The school’s policy to expel pregnant students means that these girls have almost no chance of finishing high school.

The high school’s strict policy is grounded in a cultural view of looking at pregnant students as mischievous girls who can influence other girls. To challenge this perception, the Gender and Social Inclusion Adviser to the Government of Tuvalu, Ms Natalie Makhoul, and her colleagues from the Tuvalu Gender Affairs Department, Ms Pasai Falasa and Ms Lupe Tavita, supported the Education Department to develop an information package on teenage pregnancies and the link to gender equality. The information package was delivered as part of a public awareness campaign by education officers on eight islands.

Ms Makhoul also assisted with the development of human rights guidelines to be adopted as school rules. The Education Department is now leading this project and is also working on drafting a child protection policy and bill.

The common Tuvaluan response to pregnant schoolgirls is to question how the community can accept pregnant girls going back to school if this is not acceptable under culture and tradition. Ms Makhoul responds to these concerns as follows:

‘Culture and traditions are good and needed for a society to define moral values. However, there are some cases where cultural norms can have negative impacts on individuals. In this case, cultural norms would terminate a person’s education. If the girl cannot continue school, then she won’t have any chances to get a degree and continue tertiary education. This girl will be disadvantaged and has less access to jobs to support herself and her child. It will affect her whole life and the life of her child. Cultural norms should not disadvantage people, in particular not if this girl is still a child herself. In this case, the well-being of an individual should count more than cultural norms. Cultural norms are not set in stone and can change with the time.’

The Education Department is optimistic it will be able to provide pregnant students with alternative options to continue their education in the near future. It will be a step closer to breaking the stigma experienced by pregnant girls in Tuvalu.

The Gender and Social Inclusion Adviser sits within the Gender Affairs Division of the Office of the Prime Minister in Tuvalu and provides capacity building and technical assistance to support efforts to advance gender equality and social inclusion in Tuvalu. Ms Makhoul works to foster partnerships with civil society organisations to work collaboratively, provided technical advice on gender mainstreaming and supports inclusive policy development.

Representatives from the Gender Affairs Department were invited to present at an Education Department Planning workshop, on gender cross-cutting issues and social inclusion. Photo: Tuvalu Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports.


20This activity is part of a larger program.

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