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Tuvalu Coastal Adaptation Project empowering women and girls

Photo credit: Joe Hitchcock/UNDP

By Puanita Ewekia, Communications Officer, Tuvalu Coastal Adaptation Project 

Over the past years, there has been a great shift in the roles of Tuvaluan women at home, in the community, and at the national and international levels. Now, women are engaged as lawyers, magistrates, patrol boat pilots, and carpenters. They hold more than 40 percent of top government positions. They also successfully run their own businesses or alongside their husbands and families.

Spaces have opened up in workplaces that allow women to progress, while opportunities have emerged for them to be involved in economic empowerment activities in Funafuti, a hub for domestic migration.  Meanwhile, on the islands, Falekaupule (traditional assemblies of elders) and Kaupule (island councils) are increasingly progressive – women clan heads now join Falekaupule meetings.

Men are taking part in chores that used to be solely carried out by women. Many are superheroes in looking after children, cooking, weaving and sewing. Thus, sharing roles and responsibilities in Tuvalu is less frequently a gendered source of conflict.

Despite these positive developments, there are still opportunities to enhance equality and women’s empowerment in Tuvalu. At the macro government level, this can be achieved by raising awareness of gender issues; integrating women and their concerns into policymaking and on-the-ground program implementation; and by consulting widely and hearing diverse voices.

Temoulima, 30, from Nanumaga said in her island, there have been big changes in household roles and responsibilities relative to 10 years ago. Traditionally, men hardly washed dishes or clothes, and never cooked, though they have held certain roles in the home – feeding pigs, cutting toddies and fishing while women do domestic chores, weave mats, or make handicrafts for a living. Nowadays, you can see men helping women with cooking, washing and even with weaving. “There is a big change in men and women’s roles in our community, including in decision-making: in the past, island leaders made final decisions without getting women’s views. Now, they more widely take into account women’s and other views in island development plans.”




How the Tuvalu Coastal Adaptation Project is empowering women and girls

Aimed at increasing resilience to climate change by enhancing coastal protection on the islands of Funafuti, Nanumaga and Nanumea, the Tuvalu Coastal Adaptation Project (TCAP) has a strong focus on inclusion, with gender equality considerations built into its initial design, and an ongoing Gender Strategy and Action Plan in place. Principles of meaningful participation and responsibilities underpin TCAP with local knowledge and skills-building as two key elements.

Since its inception, TCAP has undertaken discussions with government entities on maximizing women’s participation in the project. While discussions were fruitful, they highlighted some gaps: a need for greater understanding of gender work, training on gender mainstreaming, and improved consideration on gender issues in work undertaken.

To address the issues, the project has implemented strategies including engaging government partners, implementation operators and civil society in gender empowerment programs; aligning with Tuvalu’s national government policies and strategies on gender; conducting assessments of conditions that affect gender-responsive project design; integrating gender considerations into the project indicators, targets and activities; and facilitating women’s participation in areas where women are under-represented.

Key stakeholders, including youth, have been consulted on issues to be addressed when it comes to women and men working together on-the-ground.

Consultations with project stakeholders highlighted the importance of  equitable distribution of roles and responsibilities and resolving conflicts without gender bias. Coordinator of Tuvalu’s National Youth Council, Nanoua Lilivau Ewekia, emphasized that training in mutually respectful behavior would also be important on construction sites where men and women will work alongside each other.





Traditionally, we do not involve women and girls in hard labor, that’s why their role is to do chores in the house and weaving and handicraft work. As society and life changes, and the capacity of women and girls expands, the council agrees they may be trained to drive machinery while men concentrate on [coastal protection] construction work.” – Taukimua Tipeni, Assistant Secretary to Nanumaga Kapule




Creating opportunities

When it comes to economic opportunities, TCAP is seeking to create short- and medium-term jobs for local labor, especially youth and women.

Short-term openings will be created during the construction of coastal protection measures. Further jobs will also be created after construction, with monitoring and maintenance needs to be filled by local labor (financed by island administrations). Six individuals for each of the three targeted islands will be trained for this purpose.

In total, the project is expected to create more than 100 short- and medium-term jobs, with a target of 50-50 gender balance.  While positions will be open to anyone who wishes to apply, youth and women’s groups will be given priority. This will provide formal employment and cash-income opportunities for low-skilled and vulnerable people and have a substantial impact on the unemployment rate of Tuvalu, currently around 8.4 percent.

As well as training women in relevant skills, including commanding machinery, TCAP will also present women with opportunities to boost their income in relation to existing enterprise, for example selling handicrafts and traditional food. The project’s proposed participation of women in some activities, and to take on additional responsibilities, will directly lead to increased economic opportunities, an important condition for gender equality.

Once the dredging of sand starts, women who make traditional necklaces with shells will have the opportunity to collect more shells and businesses selling necklaces will be boosted. The last time sand was dredged, new shells were found, prompting women to create new kinds of traditional necklaces. As such, I believe women will be looking forward to collecting more shells following dredging.” – Apiseka Fousaga, female representative from Funafuti Council

With the arrival of contractors working on TCAP construction sites, we will have the opportunity to cook and sell food, while also offering them the opportunity to taste traditional food. Alongside selling traditional handicrafts, it will provide revenue to our families, as few of us will work on construction.” – Akoakoga Kalala, Nanumea island

Meanwhile, TCAP’s scholarship programme which started in 2018 is designed to support local students to study disciplines such as environmental science, civil and coastal engineering, and meteorology aims for equal representation. So far, the programme has placed two female recipients at universities abroad, including Lisepa Fianta Seve Paeniu, who is enrolled to study environmental law at the University of New South Wales in Australia once the COVID-19 restriction is lifted.

Capacity development for government partners, anticipated to commence in 2021 aims to ensure equal opportunity for male and female officers to be trained in coastal monitoring processes, coastal assessments (including hazard & risk assessment), and data processing and analysis.

A TCAP gender mainstreaming training and consultation workshop included a wide range of government, NGO and community representatives. More than 60 percent of the 24 participants were women. Exercises on gender roles highlighted how traditionally-defined roles, for example in fishing and other activities, have changed, along with shifts in household dynamics and employment.

Increasingly, Tuvaluan women are utilizing their capabilities across a range of areas. Projects such as TCAP can help drive that process, supporting women to engage, but also working with women and men to see the benefits of inclusive development.

Current and future generations of women and girls – and society at large – stand to benefit.


About the Tuvalu Coastal Adaptation Project

With US$36 million financing from the Green Climate Fund and US$2.9 million co-financing from the Government of Tuvalu, the 7-year Tuvalu Coastal Adaptation Project will contribute to strengthening the resilience of one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to climate change and sea-level rise. Implemented by the UN Development Programme in partnership with the Government, the project will improve coastal protection in key locations on the islands of Funafuti, Nanumea and Nanumaga. While new measures will act as a buffer during storms, the project also strives to build the capacity of national and island governments and local communities in adapting to climate change in the longer term. Learn more at 

For more information, please contact Puanita Ewekia, Communications Officer, Tuvalu Coastal Adaptation Project

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