A quest for equal footing

22/03/2010 08:46

Article from the Fiji Times

HER bubbly demeanour and infectious laugh as she beseeched donors to continue their support of the Women and Children's Crisis Centre had everyone grinning.

The heavy-set Sela Tu'ipulotu, pictured, carried out what most of her regional conference participants would most likely never have dared.

In the midst of presenting her delegation's action plan, Sela beamed as she shamelessly lobbied in awkward English and a heavy Tongan accent for the much-needed support.

Sela's gracious, forthright manner garned appreciative outbursts of laughter.

Based on the reaction of donor representatives, Sela had certainly upped their endearment for WCCC.

It was a warm scene. There was nothing pretentious about it.

As it turns out, this is a big part of Sela's personality.

The long-time campaigner for non-violence against women and children, who heads the Mo'ui ke Fiefia Safe House_ a battered women's shelter on the Tongan mainland of Tongatapu _ has no qualms about speaking her mind.

After more than 15 years as a human rights activist, Sela says she still has so much to learn.

The comment comes at the end of a one-month intensive training programme organised by the Fiji Women's Crisis Centre.

Sela chose her line of work after she and her family, fell victim to the land system which bars women from owning land.

Her grandparents left Va'vau for Tongatapu where they built their home and farm.

At the death of her grandfather in 1991, they faced the real risk of losing their home because he had no sons to pass the title to.

Only five daughters who are subjects of a system that fears women gaining an equal legal footing. Years of wrangling and uncertainty followed.

It was enough to motivate her to become a feminist; it was an indirect way of taking action against the injustice_ a move that she says has empowered her in so many ways.

Fortunately, her family's situation has improved as foresight, and the compassion of a senior male official, has allowed them to stay on their grandfather's land.

It was possible after they returned the land to the State so that they could buy the lease.

"It was our best option so we are just happy we can still stay on the farm that many of us grew up in," she said.

She remains hopeful that one day the present arrangement will improve.

To arrive at this optimum situation of women holding legal rights to land, campaigners for human rights must keep on at their various tasks, she said.

As shelter mother, Sela not only manages the upkeep and the care of the sheltered, she also counsels as well as organises life skills programmes like cooking, screen printing and mat weaving.

Despite Tonga's refusal to ratify CEDAW, she is optimistic that positive change will come one day soon.

Last year she said at least five women and a little boy died from domestic violence.

"Before women hardly spoke out about the violence, but more and more are speaking out after our constant encouragement and awareness," she said.

" It seems to be getting worse but I think when more men join us to fight for equal rights, I think we will be able to reach where we want...equal respect for men and women."

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