Raising the voice of rural women in Tuvalu

March 8, 2024

Berm Top Barriers built by the Tuvalu Adaptation Project will prevent waves overtopping important agricultural land.


Lilian Falealuga Tine is an outspoken advocate for the rights of women in Tuvalu. She has worked for the Department of Rural Development; and she was the former Interim Coordinator of Tuvalu National Council of Women as well as Secretary General for the Tuvalu Red Cross Society.  Former Board Director for the Tuvalu Development Bank of Tuvalu and currently Board Director for the Tuvalu Post Limited.  


Lilian Falealuga Tine is an outspoken advocate for the rights of women in Tuvalu.

Photo: Supplied

She worked as First Secretary at the Tuvalu Embassy in Brussels, Belgium and was President for the African, Caribbean and Pacific Ambassadors’ Spouses Association and Patron of the British and Commonwealth Women’s Club, raising funds to address women’s needs in these regions, with the Tuvalu Disability Association (Fusi Alofa) and the Tuvalu National Council of Women as some of the beneficiaries.

This International Women’s Day, themed: “Invest in women: accelerate progress,” she spoke about the role of the Tuvalu Coastal Adaptation Project (TCAP) in empowering women in the long-term. While the core element of the infrastructure-building project is to reclaim and raise land from the sea, protecting the community from sea level-rise – a critical component of the project has been about supporting women to speak up at the governing board and community levels.  

The importance of female leadership role models  

“In the Pacific context, we have fewer role models as leaders and it is harder for women to build themselves up,” she explains. 

“For example, in Tuvalu in the last general election, we lost the only woman Member of Parliament and so we lost that strong female voice in Parliament.  Although we may have the capability to do it, family obligations may not allow us to move forward. You must have the support of your husband, families and your island community to thrive, and you may have to prioritize other family commitments, and that is a challenge.”  

Lilian says she was very lucky, because her late husband, Ambassador Tine Leuelu supported her in all of her roles when he was alive and working in public office. 

“He knew I wanted to continue working in the area of empowering women even when we had to travel for his own work,” she explained, and this allowed her to be a voice at different levels for other women who did not have those opportunities.  

“Women need to have the confidence, experience and knowledge, and to support each other. Sometimes there is division within the communities and among women, and this needs to be overcome. Women should take advantage of community meetings, national consultations to raise their voices and speak up."

Education for freedom  

TCAP has supported the role of women through education, scholarships and encouragement at governing board level. 

“TCAP has also given opportunities to women to work within their communities, reviewing their development plans and expanding their opportunities,” Lilian noted. 

“Women can sit in those planning meetings, enabling outer-island women to sit together and discuss their development focus in the long-term.  

“The project has also supported women with specific interests, for example in education, to ensure that their visions can be supported. With education, women can have the freedom to choose what careers they want to pursue,” she added. “We need to continue advocacy and awareness-raising about other issues like domestic violence, to ensure that young women coming out of high school understand their rights, because issues such as domestic violence dishearten to women come forward to represent themselves.”  

Knock-on impacts for the whole community  

Yet alongside being heard, what women in Tuvalu really want is elevated economic empowerment. “Women depend on their small businesses such as selling handcrafts like bags, necklaces, mats. Leaders need to put more resources, technical assistance and inject more finances into economic empowerment opportunities and infrastructure for women,” she explained.  

“Women in the outer islands sat together with young and old people and debated their vision for development on the island, to improve their strategic plans.  

“Women think about communities and the whole family, as everyone is affected by climate change,” she notes. 

“Sometimes the voice of women is lost in political planning and donor-related funding policies, especially conditions that deter women organizations from accessing funds for their identified priorities. As Small Island and Developing States, more effort is needed to highlight the concerns of women at every level, from grassroot level as a collective voice to the higher levels. The knowledge of women in how to combat climate change and effects of sea-level rise can be a positive contribution to the initiatives of decision makers.”  

Hopeful now that the Gender Affairs Department of Tuvalu has again been transferred to the Office of the Prime Minister, this has “shortened the route for us to be heard,” says Lilian, making it easier for the voices of women especially in the outer islands to be heard.  

With increasing pressure on communities to achieve food security and Global Development Goals, achieving gender equality is more vital than ever. Ensuring women’s and girls’ rights is critical to creating prosperous and just economies, and a healthy planet for future generations.  

TCAP is supported with thanks to the Green Climate Fund, alongside the Government of Tuvalu and Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.