PRESS RELEASE - Funafuti, Tuvalu, 11 May, 2010 - Women in Tuvalu face a range of cultural barriers to participating in higher levels of decision making, but nonetheless, they have influence at the grassroots level.

This was the feedback from participants at a national consultation on "Promoting Women in Decision Making" which opened in Funafuti, Tuvalu today. The consultation is being organized by the Department of Women in Tuvalu, with support from the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and the UNDP Pacific Centre.

Tuvalu is one of four Pacific Island countries which have no women in its national parliament, and since independence 31 years ago it has had only 1 woman parliamentarian.

Ms Saini Simona, Director of the Tuvalu Department of Women, observed that women's representation in various levels of decision-making remain low. Only 6.2% of members of local island Kaupule's are women, and in both the senior public service and statutory boards, women's representation is only around 20%. This is despite the fact that women are awarded a high number of government scholarships.

"It is important for Tuvalu that we implement our commitments to gender equality under CEDAW and the Pacific Platform for Action for the Advancement of Women. The equal participation of women in all levels of decision-making has been recognized as a critical area of concern by the government of Tuvalu through the ratification of these gender commitments. My Department would like to support women to be elected and to encourage women to have the confidence to express their views and participate in the decisions that will help all Tuvaluans enjoy a good and dignified life," said Ms Simona.

During feedback sessions, some participants in the workshop observed that there are no legal barriers to women running for parliament or Kaupule positions. However, not many women are nominating for these positions, and few who nominate are not being elected.

Ms Emily Koepke, who was one of only two women who ran in the last Tuvalu national elections, said:

"The Ministry of Home Affairs needs to seek funding for awareness programmes in communities, to educate the people along with the matais on the value of women's perspectives, so that they will support women in future. We tend to vote through our family lines, instead of considering who would be the best people to run the country. We need to change voters' attitudes when voting for their leaders."

The Speaker of Parliament, Hon. Kamuta Latasi, also shared his support for the participation of women in Parliament. When speaking about his wife's involvement in Parliament, Ms Naama Maheu Latasi, as the first and only Tuvaluan woman politician who made it to the House of Parliament in 1989 - 1997, he stated that it was her own decision to take part in politics and he was really thankful to her community as well for supporting her.

Mr Latasi said: "For this idea to succeed, it is very important for women to support any woman who wishes to take part in politics."

The two-day workshop will conclude with identification of short-term and long-term recommendations for action. The outcomes and recommendations from this workshop will feed into discussions at a sub-regional workshop that is being organized by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat in partnership with UNIFEM and the UNDP Pacific Centre for Pacific Island Forum Small Island States to develop a sub-regional action plan on women in political empowerment. The Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and the PIF Small Island States received funding for this project under the UNIFEM Catalytic Fund.