The convenience of turning a blind eye to the female door mat

21/12/2010 12:04

Reverend Sunia Foliaki, Member of the Board of Trustees for WCCC writes…


Women shoulder a vital if not the bulk of activities whose outcome is the feeding of the Tongan population. They plant, weed, harvest and manage food stores although these are mistakenly attributed to be mainly the toils of men.  Women undertake most of the cooking and preparing the food for everyone else who is involved in farming (in a subsistence or cash generating sense).  This work is in addition to other unpaid occupations that women fulfill - as the household doctor and family health manager, primary child carer and full time night security while male farmers gather in night kava consumption ovals planning and boasting of harvests past and anticipated. We also know very well that although mothers are the principal chef she is normally the last to eat and has the smallest portion. Yet we keep shaking our heads at health services and at funerals at the health inequity resulting in unfortunate health circumstances among female family relatives and friends.

The power base either at government level or nobility (whoever invented that) in recent years have, at every sign of a potential political embarrassment, out of the blue announced that ”oh by the way we were thinking of giving women the right to own land” line. This promise is as if these are pearls dropping from their lips, when in fact it is just a no brainer that women are human beings just like men who also need land to stand on. Now I appreciate that guy up north with his ‘Read my Lips’ line.

 As we speak (or write for that matter) any foreigner who gave an official a Chinese takeaway or English meal who just happened to have bought a Tongan passport legalized by a change in the Constitution (after the fact) has more right to land in Tonga than a Tongan woman. The sole difference is because the foreigner has a different appendage in the middle areas between the belly button and knee joint that make him a male.  In a conversation I had with a foreigner who happened to have the characteristics of a male who just happened to be a Minister but since retired during an inquiry about a sunken vessel that killed Tongans I was encouraged to ask him about women owning land in Tonga. I was misled of course by the belief that this was a Palangi from a Palangi land where women were treated better and could own land. Much to my horror the Palangi minister advised that “we’ll smell them (women) out first to see if they are fit to  own land”. It is interesting that out of the whole ill fated journey all the survivors were those entitled to have land. Not a single woman survived at least to see or feel land again even though they will never own any. The irony of ‘Fonualoto ‘aki e Moana.

For goodness sake women are human beings with connections to the land through their fathers, grandfathers and families. These humans did not want to be born females either. On top of lesser occupation opportunities we have given Chinese, Burmese, Foreign-ese and everyone else-n-ese the right to own land for the simple presence of an appendage large or small and almost always small in the mid section.  We have even given land rights and even Lordships to never mind who. What makes me uncomfortable is that if we are giving the land rights to the men because they are males, but they turn out to perform roles that are normally expected to be performed by women in their sexual orientation, should we remove these rights for these individuals to own land as we have removed the right for women? Is it about the appendage, or the roles being performed by women?

The Womens and Children’s Crisis Centre reports on child abuse, domestic violence and increasing sexual abuse of women. We do not have to look far to connect the economic disadvantage experienced by women, lack of land and the increasing number of sexual offences against women who increasingly succumb to activities and situations not of their making.