Women in Oceania

A woman from Tahiti, French Polynesia, circa 1906.

Women have been a vital part of history and culture in the geographic area known as Oceania today. Women in Oceania have diverse cultural identities which relate to the geography of the continent and the social structures of the people living there. Their evolution, culture and history coincide with the history of Oceania itself.

Today women from Oceania include women who are from sovereign states in the region, such as women from Australia, New Zealand, Palau, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu.

Other Oceanian women may come from dependencies and territories such as those of the Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States.


Early women in Oceania

Women in New Zealand are the women who live in or are from the multi-cultural society of New Zealand. The first female settlers in New Zealand were not from Europe. They were from the Māori people.[1]


The person credited to be the first white-skinned European woman to settle in New Zealand was Charlotte Badger (she later had a daughter known as Catherine).[2] The first known Australian settlers arrived on the Cocos islands in 1826.[3]

Traditional roles among women in Oceania

A Tuvaluan dancer at Auckland's Pasifika Festival

In East Timor, due to traditional roles, women are unable to inherit or own property[4] and face the cultural notion that women normally belongs to the home.[5] The role of Kiribati women is described in the publication Kiribati, A Situation Analysis of Children, Women and Youth (2005) as "largely defined by her age and marital status". Prestige is inherent to the married Kiribati woman, but she is considerably under the authority of her husband.[6]

Historically, there was a strong "gendered division of labor" between women and men of Palau.[7]

Tongan society who traditionally have a "high position in Tongan society" due to the country's partly matriarchal foundation but "can't own land", "subservient" to husbands in terms of "domestic affairs" and "by custom and law, must dress modestly, usually in Mother Hubbard-style dresses hemmed well below the knee".[8]

Women participate in the traditional music of Tuvalu which consists of a number of dances, including the fatele and the fakanau.[9]

Promoting equality for women in Oceania

One of the organizations that promote empowerment and foster gender equality for the women of East Timor is the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).[5]

At present, the women of Indonesia are also venturing actively into the realm of national development, and working as active members of organizations that focus and act on women's issues and concerns.[10][11]

The women of New Zealand have the same level of equality with men, and are conferred the same level of respect as well.[1]

In relation to the labor force, based on data in 2006, Vanuatuan female workers comprised 49.6% of the workforce of Vanuatu.[12] At present, women in Guam - together with Guamanian men - participate in jobs that belong to the wage economy category; but there are also women - among men - who work in the agricultural sector.[13]

In March 2011, International Women's Day was celebrated on Christmas Island for the honor of its female residents. The event was held in order to convey the theme of "what it means to be a woman living on Christmas Island".[14]

Niuean women have "some rights" in relation to land tenure and inheritance of real property, but such rights are not "as strong" as those that belong to the men of Niue.[15]


Modern-day Fijian women have attained better access to education in recent years.[16]

Tuvaluan women have access to secondary education at Motufoua Secondary School on Vaitupu[17] and Fetuvalu High School, a day school operated by the Church of Tuvalu, on Funafuti.[18]

Women's health in Oceania

In the Solomon Islands female life expectancy at birth was at 66.7 years as compared to male life expectancy at birth at 64.9 in 2007.[19] 1990–1995 fertility rate was at 5.5 births per woman.[19]

Sexual harrassment and violence

Rape cases and sexual slavery were allegedly committed by East Timorese pro-integration militias during the September 1999 crisis in East Timor.[4]

See also

Sovereign states in Oceania

Dependent territories (Australia)

Dependent territories (Chile)

Dependent territories (France)

Dependent territories (New Zealand)

Dependent territories (UK)

Dependent territories (USA)



  1. 1 2 New Zealand Customs & Culture
  2. The first woman settler? - go-betweens
  3. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Vol. 42, No.4, Educational Foundation for Nuclear Science, Inc., April 1986, page 21 (56 pages), ISSN 0096-3402
  4. 1 2 Women's Situation, East Timor
  5. 1 2 Crook, Matt. Women Learn the Political Ropes, Rights-East Timor
  6. "1.12 The roles of women", Kiribati, A Situation Analysis of Children, Women and Youth (PDF). Government of Kiribati, with the assistance of UNICEF. 2005. p. 20.
  7. Nero, Karen L. "Palau". Retrieved 6 October 2013.
  8. Spano, Susan. "In Tonga, Women Cloak Their Power Under Mother Hubbard Dresses". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 13 October 2013.
  9. Linkels, Ad. The Real Music of Paradise. Rough Guides, Broughton, Simon and Ellingham, Mark with McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla (Ed.). p. 221. ISBN 1-85828-636-0.
  10. Ingham, Xylia (2005). "Career Women in Indonesia: Obstacles Faced, and Prospects for Change". Australian Consortium for 'In-Country' Indonesian Studies. Retrieved 6 May 2011.
  11. Ahmad, Abdul Razak (29 December 1998). "Redefining the role of women in Indonesia". New Straits Times. Third World Network. Retrieved 6 May 2011.
  12. "Vanuatu". UN Women. Retrieved 15 October 2013.
  13. Hattori, Anne Perez. "Guam". Countries and Their Cultures. Retrieved 6 October 2013.
  14. Christmas Island Celebrations - 100 women of Christmas Island for 100 years of International Women's Day, unifem.org
  15. Barker, Judith C. "Niue". Advameg, Inc. Retrieved 15 October 2013.
  16. "Roles women play". The Fiji Times ONLINE. Retrieved 14 October 2013.
  17. "Motufoua Secondary School". Retrieved 20 November 2012.
  18. "Fetuvalu High School (Funafuti)". Retrieved 20 November 2012.
  19. 1 2 Human Development Report 2009 – Solomon Islands. Hdrstats.undp.org. Retrieved 24 September 2010.


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