Tides of change for women in maritime—Hulita Fa'Anunu

Tongan student inspired to influence positive change for women in the maritime industry internationally.
Hulita Fa’Anunu pictured in the International Maritime Organization conference room

At the age of 26, Hulita Fa’Anunu from Tonga has a bold ambition. She plans to turn the tide for women in the maritime industry globally.

This year, the theme for World Maritime Day 2019 is empowering women in the maritime industry, and soon-to-be graduate of the World Maritime University, Sweden (WMU)—Ms Hulita Lamasialeva Fa’Anunu from Tonga is a vivid example of an empowered woman on a positive path for change.

Hulita was born in Neiafu on the island of Vava’u—with a population of 6,000 people, Neiafu is the second largest town in Tonga. She grew up on the coast as the eldest daughter of four children. Hulita explored life with a vast community and extended family, roaming beaches, swimming, fishing and sourcing food from local farms on the island.

'Fishing has been important for the family and community for as long as I can remember, from my great grandfather until now and for the whole community of Tonga,' she says.

One of Hulita's fondest memories was gathering with family in December, often the only time they could be together each year. Family is at the heart of the Tongan community and women and girls have a distinct role and for Hulita, these values impact her work in the maritime industry in Tonga.

'The most important issue is gender equity and the problem in Tonga, is people still think that women aren’t supposed to be in the maritime industry,' she says.

However, studying in Sweden has enabled Hulita to reflect on the cultural norms of Tonga and now she is determined to influence positive change for women in the maritime industry in Tonga and globally.

Funded by Australia as part of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority Fellowships program to study a Master of Science in Maritime Affairs at the WMU, Hulita is the only female fellow and back home, she works as a Fisheries Officer with the Tonga Ministry of Fisheries.

'I feel extremely lucky and humbled to have been selected as one of the recipients of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority Fellowships to study in Sweden.' Hulita says.

As part of her experience in Sweden, Hulita has studied with a number of professors whose expertise in their field of research has exposed her to international standards and progressive research in the maritime industry. Hulita has also enjoyed studying with students from all over the world. A particular highlight was attending the Women’s Forum at WMU, a conference where women met to share personal stories working in the field of maritime.

'This was a remarkable conference and very informative.  Women met to talk about their experiences in the field and I realised the importance of working together,' Hulita says.

As a participant of this event, Hulita experienced first-hand the power of personal agency and the importance of collective action to help address the gender gap in the maritime industry.

'At university, I have gained experience inside the classroom, attending the women’s conference and participating on field trips. WMU has a wonderful President—Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry who always reminded me of the importance of empowering women,' Hulita says.

In the future, Hulita has grand plans to apply her studies in maritime science to raise public awareness of the gender gap by empowering young women to embark on careers in the maritime industry in Tonga and internationally. For Hulita, challenges make life meaningful, working hard while navigating positive change for women has inspired her to strive for success in the maritime industry.

Last updated: 

Tuesday 3 May 2022