Although Tuvaluan women are better off than their Pacific sisters, they are still facing many hassles.
- Before the role of the woman was to take care of the children and the family. Now women have several roles. They have to take care of the family, their homes, their work and their duties in the communities and in the nation. It is a tremendous task, says Pulafangu Toafa, coordinator of the Tuvaluan National Council for Women.
Best in the Pacific
Despite being trapped between modern and traditional duties, Tuvaluan women are much better off than in the other Pacific island states, according to the Tuvaluan mid-term report of the Milliennium Development Goals . For example, girls got 45 percent of all overseas tertiary scholarships since 1991.
- Almost all Tuvaluan children go to elementary school. From there they are chosen to higher education and scholarships according to their results, explains Pulafangu.
This increases their say in the household as well as in the community.
- Women have a say in the community and often the husband share the responsibility with them at home. Men look upon women as powerful in collecting funds to develop their community, she says.
Increased women participation
Women are also increasingly gaining positions in decision-making bodies and in the community. The work on the second midt-term evaluation of the Millennium Development Goals on Tuvalu is soon finished and Pulafangu is happy with the progress.
- It is different now in all sectors. In government, women are more and more taking part in decision-making processes.
She thinks that it is possible to have a gender balance in all sectors. Though there are still mental barriers, especially when it comes to having woman Members of Parliament.
- Culture is a barrier that we are working to overcome. One of the challenges is to keep our traditional culture, but still improve gender balance.
No woman minister
When it comes to parliament elections, the participation of women is almost non-existing. A woman has never held a ministerial post and there has only been one woman in parliament in the history of Tuvalu: Naama Latasi from the island of Nanumea was a parliament member in the 1990s.
- There are several reasons. The upbringing makes many women believe that their place is at home and that they cannot become leaders. We have to break the mental barriers to make women run for elections, says Pulafangu.
Pulafangu also explains that some women experience that both men and women in their community criticize them if they want to run for elections.
- Naama Latasi made it because she had strong support from her husband and from the women of Nanumea.
The women don’t have a voice in the traditional elders council – the Falekaupule. This decision-making body that still holds a strong position in the Tuvaluan society is reserved for well-off men over 50 only.
- Often, women can’t speak up at the meetings. They can comment on different issues in other island meetings, but they can’t say anything in the Falekaupule meetings, Pulafangu says.
Even though women are not yet running for elections, they are still engaging in organized political activities on Tuvalu. Each island has their own women organization where all local- and national issues can be raised.
- The women debate the issues and then they take their suggestions or concerns to the Falekaupule, Pulafangu explains.
Addressing domestic violence
Part of Pulafangus job is also to run a newly started program to address domestic violence.
- The women can come to me in the office if they need any support or help, however many are scared that people will see them here, says Pulafangu.
Domestic violence has not been addressed on a large scale on Tuvalu before. Neither Pulafangu, nor the police or the persons I was referred to in the government, were able to give me statistics of the registered cases of rape or cases of domestic violence. However, several of the women that I have been speaking to, tell me that this is a problem on Tuvalu and that the number of non-reported cases is huge. Up until now there have only been two rape cases in court, one rapist was found guilty last year and one case is coming up now in March.
- If a girl gets raped, she could be scared to tell because members of her family might blame her and beat her up, says a woman that we can call Claire.
- Traditionally, women are supposed to be clean and virgin when they get married. Therefore, she might also have trouble getting married if people know that she has been raped already, Claire continues.
AusAID initiated the project on domestic violence last year and Pulafangu will start the mapping process to get an idea of the scale of the problem as soon as she has gotten her training.
Pulafangu Toafa (50) is the coordinator for the Tuvaluan National Council for Women (TNCW). She holds a bachelor degree in History, Political Science and Sociology from University of South Pacific, Fiji. Before, she was working in the Tuvaluan radio station. She worked at a information and research officer in the department for women before she decided to work on a grassroots level.
Tuvaluan National Council for Women
Tuvaluan National Council for Women is an umbrella organization for all women organizations on Tuvalu. All women over 18 years old automatically become members of the TNCW. The TNCW can help them seeking funds for themselves, their projects or business ideas or they can participate in workshops and awareness programs on, among other issues, women’s rights. TNCW are promoting women empowerment and development and their participation in decision-making. TNCW interact with the government and work closely with different focal points and the department for women affairs. The executive committee consists of women from all the different island communities.