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Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women reviews the situation of women in Tuvalu

Committee on Elimination of Discrimination
  against Women

20 February 2015

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the combined third and fourth periodic report of Tuvalu on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Introducing the report, Puaita Etuati, Senior Assistant Secretary, Office of the Prime Minister of Tuvalu, said that significant developments in 2014 included the enactment of the new Family Protection and Domestic Violence Act and the adoption of the National Gender Policy of 2014, which was focused on the capacity of institutions, the participation of women in decision-making, the economic empowerment of women and the elimination of all forms of violence against women.  In the area of education, measures were in place to closely monitor primary school attendance throughout the country and to provide more opportunities for students to pursue vocational and skills development courses.  As a small developing island State with limited resources, Tuvalu faced many challenges in the full implementation of the Convention, but the major obstacle was the devastating impact of climate change that the people continued to experience in their everyday lives which affected their livelihoods and caused fear and frustration. 

Committee Experts recognized the challenges Tuvalu faced in the implementation of the Convention, particularly climate change, and welcomed the enactment of the law on family protection and domestic violence and the promulgation of the National Gender Policy.  They stressed the importance of an effective gender legal framework and the crucial role of national machinery in achieving gender equality, and expressed concern about a large number of discriminatory provisions in laws, including in the Constitution, and the long delay in the revision of the national legislation.  Experts recognized that climate change was of critical importance for Tuvalu and that it had already triggered migration of the population; they inquired about the impact of climate change and how it affected women, and how a gender perspective was integrated in the National Climate Change Policy and the Strategic Action Plan for climate change and disaster risk management. 

In concluding remarks, Yoko Hayashi, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for the constructive dialogue which had provided insight into the situation of women and encouraged Tuvalu to take all necessary measures to address the Committee’s various recommendations for the benefit of women and girls in the country.

Ms. Etuati thanked the Committee Experts for their questions and hoped that the delegation had answered most of them; outstanding responses could be provided at a later stage.

The delegation of Tuvalu included representatives of the Office of the Prime Minister, Attorney General’s Office, Gender Affairs Department, Ministry of Health, and Ministry of Education.

The Committee will reconvene in public at 4 p.m. on Monday, 23 February, to hold an informal public meeting with non-governmental organizations and national human rights institutions with respect to Denmark, Kyrgyzstan, Eritrea and the Maldives, whose reports will be considered by the Committee next week.
 
Report

The combined third and fourth periodic report of Tuvalu can be read here:  (CEDAW/C/TUV/3-4).
 
Presentation of the Report

PUAITA ETUATI, Senior Assistant Secretary, Office of the Prime Minister of Tuvalu, said that the new Family Protection and Domestic Violence Act that had been enacted in December 2014 would provide greater protection for women and girls from violence within domestic relationships and also provide shelters for victims.  Another significant legislative development was the enactment in 2014 of the Falekaupule (Authorisation of Budget) Amendment Act which entitled women residents within the territorial jurisdiction of the local government council to participate and vote during the approval stages of the Local Government Council’s Budget.  The National Gender Policy of 2014 aimed to achieve the recognition of women and girls as partners and beneficiaries in all aspects of development and decision making, and to ensure progressive realization of women’s human rights.  It was focused on increasing the capacity within all sectors of Government to address key issues of concern in achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment, reflecting the commitments to legislation and sector policies, creating an enabling environment for the full participation of women in economic development, ensuring women’s and men’s equal access and full participation in decision-making at all levels, and eliminating all forms of violence against women.  Tuvalu had in place a Gender Strategic Plan of Action 2014-2016 and the newly titled Gender Affairs Department, formerly known as Women’s Department, was a reflection of national gender mainstreaming efforts. 

In the area of education, measures were in place to closely monitor primary school attendance throughout the country and to provide more opportunities for students to pursue vocational and skills development courses franchised from tertiary institutions from other countries in the Pacific.  Community Training Centres catered to those who could not make it to the secondary school level and gave more opportunities to girls to pursue life skills and also develop their entrepreneurial capacities.  Health services were free to all citizens and non-Tuvaluans that the Government employed on contract basis.  Two health clinics had been set up on the main island last year, staffed with qualified midwives to ensure that ante and postnatal care services could be accessed by women from remote settlements.  Turning to challenges to the full implementation of the Convention, Ms. Etuati said that, in addition to the lack of technical, human and financial resources, cultural barriers to the full implementation of temporary special measures, the scattered location of islands, and political will, the major challenge was the devastating impact of climate change that the people of Tuvalu continued to experience in their everyday lives which affected their livelihoods and caused fear and frustration.  In closing, Ms. Etuati reiterated the commitment to the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, despite the many challenges and hurdles that Tuvalu confronted as a small developing island State with limited resources.

Questions from the Experts

A Committee Expert recognized the many challenges faced in the implementation of the Convention in Tuvalu, particularly climate change and the lack of financial and technical resources, and asked about the revision of the Constitution, the approach to the ratification of the Optional Protocol and the date by which the national human rights institution should be established.  The law on family protection and domestic violence was a welcome development, but there were still a large number of discriminatory provisions in other laws, and the delegation was asked about a plan for a national revision of the laws and about the relationship between the customary and positive law.

Another Expert stressed the importance of the gender legal framework which would secure access of women to justice and effective legal services, and asked the delegation to explain the costs related to access to justice for women, availability of legal aid to victims of violence during criminal procedures, proportion of women professionals in the justice, prosecution and police, and the situation in prison for female prisoners.

The Committee had noted with enthusiasm recent developments in Tuvalu, especially the law on domestic violence and the Gender Strategic Plan of Action, said an Expert, adding that, because the role of the national machinery was crucial in achieving gender equality, the Committee was obliged to discuss those issues with State parties in order to understand how they could be further improved.  The Expert asked the delegation for additional information on the Tuvalu Gender Policy 2014, the resources allocated to its implementation and how the priority areas would be tackled within the next few years.

Responses by the Delegation

Tuvalu was working on developing the implementation plan for the gender policy and on the national revision of the legislation.  As soon as the new Government was elected in March 2015, the plans would be presented for approval.  The delegation recognized the difficulties in accessing justice for women in remote islands, mainly because of climate change; the cost of going to court and accessing the justice system was contextualized and did not represent much in local contexts.  There was also a possibility of waiving the costs for women from poor or disadvantaged backgrounds.  Currently, there were two female judges and five female police officers in the country, and no female prisoners.

The Constitutional review was on the table and would become part of a set of laws that would be put up for revision for discriminatory provisions.  Although there were not many changes in the legislative framework in the country, Tuvalu was doing its best to achieve the goals of the Convention and apply a step-by-step approach to its implementation.  The ratification of the Optional Protocol was also part of the human rights agenda which would be addressed after the elections.

Questions from the Experts

The Convention could not be appropriately implemented without adequate human and financial resources, noted a Committee Expert and stressed the importance of ensuring that the whole new generation of girls did not drop out of school and was enabled to learn and develop, because this was what the country needed the most.

Another Committee Expert commended Tuvalu for the enactment of the Family Protection and Domestic Violence Act, which was an important achievement, and asked about the socio-economic background of the name of the Act, whether the Act recognized all forms of domestic violence such as sexual violence, marital rape and incest, and the plans and the timetable for training of judges in this new Act.

The penalties for human trafficking were very harsh and could lead to 20 years in prison, but there had been no crimes reported.  Prostitution was still an offence and prostitutes could be prosecuted.  Did the society acknowledge the problem of human trafficking and prostitution and were there any public debates on those issues?

Responses by the Delegation

Temporary special measures were sensitive issues in the society and there was a need for more awareness raising.  Stereotypes were difficult to change, but media programmes and the Government’s campaigns had resulted in the fact that gender-based stereotypes were no longer entrenched and were now interchangeable.  In terms of educational opportunities for girls, the delegation stressed that there were no stereotypical obstacles. 

Anecdotal evidence had shown that domestic violence happened in the domestic context and victims were the most vulnerable within the family, therefore the Family Protection and Domestic Violence Act came into place.  The Act addressed all five types of violence, including psychological, economical, social and sexual violence.  Rape in the Act was defined as per the Penal Code, which excluded marital rape, said a delegate and added that the revision of the definition of rape in the Penal Code would be included in the set of laws to be reviewed. 

Another delegate confirmed that human trafficking and prostitution were criminalized and that no cases of human trafficking had been identified; one or two cases of prostitution were under investigation.

In reply to follow-up questions by the Committee Experts, the delegation clarified that work was ongoing to develop the plan for the implementation of the Family Protection and Domestic Violence Act, and that incest was covered in the Penal Code.  With regard to the Gender Policy, its objectives were institution strengthening and capacity building, promoting women in decision-making, economic empowerment of women and elimination of all forms of violence against women.

Questions from the Experts

Concerning the participation of women in public and political life, the delegation was asked about measures and concrete programmes and policies to change the stereotypical image that political and parliamentarian jobs were male business, financial burden on candidates for public office, actions to support participation of women and girls in programmes run by the Gender Affairs Department and how men and boys were encouraged to support the participation of women in public life.

The delegation was fully aware of the discriminatory provision in article 45 of the Constitution, concerning the passing of nationality by Tuvalu women to children fathered by nationals of countries at war with Tuvalu, said a Committee Expert, expressing hope that it would soon be repealed or amended.

Responses by the Delegation

There was only one radio station in Tuvalu and on Monday evenings a programme entitled World of Women was broadcast, which promoted the role of women in society, including their participation in Parliament and local councils. 

The laws and Constitution provided for political participation of women in Tuvalu and the Government’s support was evident in various awareness and training sessions, women’s participation in radio programmes, and others.  There were two women who had expressed interest in running for the next general election scheduled for March 2015.  The citizenship law needed to be amended and would be included in the set of laws to be presented for revision. 

Questions from the Experts

A Committee Expert commended Tuvalu for the attention given to education, and expressed concern about traditional practices and gender stereotypes impacted the schooling of girls, especially on primary school levels.  Could the delegation comment on the joint teachers-police action to ensure enrolment and attendance of schools and the strategies to implement the Act on this subject, and family life education and whether it would be broadened to include a wider approach to sexual and reproductive health education and so prevent teenage pregnancies.

The labour market and employment laws were under revision, noted another Expert who said that the Committee was interested in its outcome and if discriminatory provisions, especially with regard to maternity leave and women’s choice of employment, would be abolished.  What were the emerging trends within women labour, especially after the global economic and financial crisis of 2008 and the changes it had produced in the economy of the country?

The delegation was also asked about the efficiency and impact of new measures and programmes on the quality of life of women, extent and consequences of clandestine abortion, and whether sexually-transmitted diseases were still taboo. 

Responses by the Delegation

Parents in Tuvalu had been encouraged via various awareness and education activities to send their girls to school and there was a reduction in the number of girls kept at home to help with childcare.  Parents who failed to send their children to school could be prosecuted and brought to court.  Family life education was based on health and social sciences and there were plans to include it in the curriculum as a subject of its own.

The Department of Labour was working on the review of the labour laws, and the Employment Act was on the priority list of the laws which needed to be reviewed.  It was hoped that the review of the legislation would be completed in time for the next report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. 

Abortion was an offence in the current laws, but the Ministry of Health treated abortion as a medical issue, and medical procedures were applied.  Draft HIV legislation was being finalized which aimed to prevent the transmission of HIV and other sexually-transmitted diseases, and ensure appropriate care and support.  Since 2009, there had been a reported decrease in maternal mortality, with only one case of maternal death reported in 2012 and one in 2014.

Answering Experts’ follow-up questions and comments, the delegation said that Tuvalu did experience the financial crises, and a number of positions in the public administration had been frozen.  It was anticipated that Tuvalu would start the process to ratify some International Labour Organization Conventions.  Abortion was a sensitive topic within the society and because it was criminalized, the health department was working on educating young girls on the risks of unsafe abortion.  

A Committee Expert took the floor to say that climate change was of critical importance for Tuvalu as it had already triggered migration of the population, and asked about the participation of women in the decision-making and planning for the adaptation.

The delegation acknowledged that there were persons leaving Tuvalu and migrating to New Zealand because of climate change.  Women played an active role in adaptation programmes, in advocating for the recognition of the problem internationally and in the negotiations on climate change in the Conference of Parties to the Kyoto Protocol. 

Questions from the Experts

A Committee Expert took up the issue of economic empowerment of women and asked about policies and programmes in place to empower women, and in particular rural women, and to build up their resilience to the impact of climate change.  What was the impact of climate change in Tuvalu and did it impact women and men differently, asked another Expert, requesting the delegation to clarify how gender perspective was integrated in the National Climate Change Policy and the strategic action plan for climate change and disaster risk management. 

Responses by the Delegation

Climate change was an issue of concern for women and the people of Tuvalu and the Gender Affairs Department worked closely with others to provide the right information to women and consult them in adaptation programmes.  A large number of water tanks had been provided by donors, which helped the water and sanitation situation of women.  Economic empowerment was supported by the Government and women had access to funds, while the National Council of Women had funds available to support women in starting up their businesses.  

The Government had also made available small grants to women to start their businesses and was also providing training.  With regard to climate change, a National Advisory Council had been set up to coordinate all activities and programmes associated with climate change in a more systematic and timely manner; an office within the Office of the Prime Minister had been established to coordinate climate change related activities.

Questions from the Experts

The delegation had said that land ownership in Tuvalu followed the patriarchal line and women were often discriminated against in land matters, said a Committee Expert and asked the delegation about the way forward in changing discriminatory laws and practices in land inheritance and ownership, and action by the Government to protect property rights after divorce. 

Another Expert commended Tuvalu for ratifying the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and asked how it was being implemented and what action was there in favour of women with disabilities who faced multiple forms of discrimination.

Replies by the Delegation

Responding to these questions and comments, the delegation said that the Native Land Act did contain discriminatory provisions and the Government had envisaged its revision, particularly in issues of land inheritance and ownership.  While women were discriminated against, in practice they did inherit a portion of land.  Under the Marriage Act, a child marrying before the age of 16 required the consent of the father and not both parents; this provision of the law was due for revision.  In case of divorce, the custody and maintenance of children decision would depend on whether the mother worked; the paramount interest of the child was important in practice and the court always tried to accommodate the preference of the children.  Unemployed mothers received maintenance from the father.

The Department of Community Affairs was in charge of disability affairs and was currently in the process of consultations on the disability policy. 

Concluding Remarks

PUAITA ETUATI, Senior Assistant Secretary, Office of the Prime Minister of Tuvalu, in her concluding remarks thanked the Experts for their questions and hoped that the delegation had answered most of them; outstanding responses could be provided at a later stage. 

YOKO HAYASHI, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for the constructive dialogue which had provided insight into the situation of women in Tuvalu and encouraged it to take all necessary measures to address various recommendations of the Committee for a more comprehensive implementation of the Convention for the benefit of women and girls in the country.

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For use of the information media; not an official record

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