Tuvalu Activist Speaks Out Against Gender Inequality

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Milikini Failautusi calls for equal opportunities of women

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, Jan. 29, 2014) - Young Tuvaluan activist Milikini Failautusi is forthright in speaking out about the unequal status of women in her country.

Ms Failautusi, who is a member of both the Pacific Youth Council and the Tuvalu National Youth Council argues that cultural issues are preventing women from working in equal partnership with men.

"I love my culture, but when it comes to certain issues I disagree with it."

"When it comes to cultures, women they don't [get] to say anything at all. They don't have a say. They only have to sit at the back and support the elders or their husbands or the leaders in their families. All they have to do is just support them in terms of looking for money, looking for food, and looking after the babies and the families."

She points out that in the traditional Matai (chiefly) system in Tuvalu, women are not able to be Matais.  So even if a girl is the eldest in the family, the title will bypass her and be given to the eldest son. This she says, needs to change.

"We have to be balanced in those things. We have to be seen as all equal even though we have gender when it comes to male and female. And in order for that to change we have to be inclusive in every setting."

"When it comes to economic things, we have to have equal opportunities and equal wages for everyone. Likewise when it comes to social issues. We should have the same participation as men. And for the government we should have laws and legislation to enforce women's participation to be equal with men's participation."

Ms Failautusi is also concerned about gender based violence and the double standards that are applied to women and men.

She says that women are generally told that they have to keep problems with abusive partners to themselves and try to deal with it as best they can.  Sex is another issue that she sees as a double standard.

"Young women at home aren't allowed to have sex until they are married. But men are allowed to have sex before they get married.  So I see that as an issue because I have the right to have sex.  And the right doesn't seem to be applied to all the women back home."

Ms Failautusi says her generation knows what is right and what is wrong, and is beginning to bring change.  And she draws her own strength from the support of her family.

"I was so lucky to have the support from my family to keep going on, than giving up.  And if I give up, who else is going to be the role models or be the leaders.  Because back home young people need to build their self confidence and to be motivated because we need a lot of people to do this job."

Milikini Failautusi spoke with Heather Jarvis at the Twelfth Triennial Conference of Pacific Women in Rarotonga, Cook Islands.  She is also a member of the Pacific Young Women's Leadership Alliance (PYWLA).

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