Nauru is one of the world’s smallest countries, consisting of a single island of 21 sq. km. situated in the South Pacific Ocean, east of Papua New Guinea. Nauru’s island is a central plateau (46-60m above sea level) surrounded by a coastal strip (150-300m) where the majority of Nauru’s population lives[1] . The export of phosphate, which started in 1907, saw a period of huge economic growth for the country, however, after a decline in phosphate mining in the late 1980, Nauru’s economy also declined dramatically. Since independence in 1968, Nauru’s political system has been relatively stable.

Women and the Law

The Constitution of Nauru affords women formal equality before the law but stops short of granting all benefits and outcomes required by Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Nauru has no domestic violence, sexual harassment or family legislation, or any other legislation in place that addresses human trafficking or sex tourism. Nauru’s definition of rape is limited to sexual intercourse. In terms of sexual consent, Nauru applies the common law rule that requires proof of physical resistance in order to establish lack of consent, as well as the defence of reasonable belief that the victim was of legal age of consent. 

Fault-based divorce is practised in Nauru, and division of matrimonial property in cases of divorce does not take non-financial contributions into account (a rule that can place women at a substantial economic disadvantage). 

The age of suffrage in Nauru is 20 years old for both men and women and parliamentary elections are held every three years. There is only one current female Member of Parliament, and Nauru has had a total of two female MPs in its history.

Violence Against Women

There is little documentation of domestic violence against women and children and published crime statistics are not disaggregated by victim’s gender[1], however, there is a general community perception that domestic violence against women and children is increasing. A Family Health and Safety Study, supported by UNFPA, was completed in 2013 in order to gain a more comprehensive overview of gender-based violence. The report is due in 2014.

Women’s Economic Participation

Nauru’s economy was for many years based on the mining of the country’s rich phosphate deposits. During the 1960s and 1970s Nauru had the highest per capita income in the world, however, mismanagement of trust funds and exhaustion of easily accessible phosphate deposits have caused a rapid drop in economic prosperity[1]. Nauru has in recent years gained income and increased local employment by hosting an Australian immigration detention centre.

In 2002, women formed 42% of Nauru’s non-agricultural workforce

Women’s Health

Nauru’s under-5 mortality rate is 44 – countries with more than 40 deaths per 1,000 live births are considered to have high child mortality. Nauru’s infant mortality rate of 36 deaths per 1,000 live births is also high by regional standards, and has increased since the 1990s. The adolescent birth rate, however, has decreased to 81

Participation in fishing and local agriculture has declined since the phosphate boom and with the increase of a more westernised diet of rice and fatty goods, Nauruans now have the highest levels of obesity in the Pacific Region[1]. This is a significant risk factor for Nauruan women, with 92.3% of the total female population considered overweight and 51.2% classified as physically inactive. Diabetes rates

have increased in Nauru with 30% of the population having type 2 diabetes[1] and Health Department surveys show that 50% of Nauruans binge drink[1]. Life expectancy for women in Nauru is 58 years old, compared to 52 years old for men[2].

Women and the Environment

Due to incomplete historical air temperature records, air temperature trends for Nauru for the period of 1950 to 2009 cannot be calculated. Water temperatures around Nauru have risen gradually since the 1950s and since the 1970s the rate of warming has been approximately 0.12°C per decade. The sea level rise near Nauru since 1993 is about 5mm per year, slightly higher than the global average of 3.2 ± 0.4mm per year. This rise is partly linked to a pattern related to climate variability from year to year and decade to decade.

Roughly 90% of Nauru comprises land left unviable for cultivation by mining operations. In 1989, Nauru successfully sued Australia in the International Court of Justice in The Hague for damages caused by mining when the island was under Australian jurisdiction. In 1993 Nauru was awarded a one-off payment of AUD$57 million (with a further $2.5 million a year for the next 20 years) to assist with environmental rehabilitation. Rehabilitation of mined land has begun, with the aim to return the land to a useable state. Rehabilitation is expected to take many years so no timeframe can be provided.

UN Women in Nauru

Advancing Gender Justice in the Pacific (AGJP) Programme: UN Women continues to build capacity through the provision of knowledge products and advocacy materials for CEDAW implementation and reporting. UN WOMEN also provides technical assistance to the government efforts to develop the country’s initial CEDAW state report utilising the harmonised human rights approach.

Ending Violence against Women (EVAW) Programme: This programme provides stakeholders with access to virtual knowledge platforms, tools and evidence-based resources in order to better equip them with the knowledge and evidence to advocate for strengthened EVAW legislation, improved policies and services for violence against women survivors. Social media tools are also made available to support community mobilisation that aims to end violence against women and girls, through campaigns such as the United Nations Secretary General’s UNiTE to EVAW and Say NO-UNiTE.

Women’s Economic Empowerment (WEE) Programme: UN Women is helping to better inform decision-makers at national and local government levels by providing them with technical assistance in producing knowledge products that include improved and comparable evidence on women’s economic situation in Nauru.

Increasing Community Resilience through Empowerment of Women to Address Climate Change and Natural Hazards (IREACH) Programme: UN Women supports the incorporation of gender dimensions in strategic documents for disaster risk management and climate change through the provision of knowledge products and tools on the gendered implications of climate change and disasters.

[1] UNDAF country assessment

[2] ADB 2007, P.21 in UNDAF country assessment