Tonga backslides on women’s human rights

01/09/2010 17:49

Are women in Tonga really better off than they were 15 years ago?
Not if you analyse their rights says Ofa Guttenbeil-Likiliki, Director
of the WCCC.

The 11th Triennial Conference of Pacific Women was held last week –
which brings together more than 150 key delegates to report on the
status of women in the pacific as they strive to achieve gender

Tonga’s contingent included representatives from the Ministry of
Education, Women Affairs and Culture (MEWAC), The Talitha Project
Director, World Bank Tonga Consultant and the Women and Children
Crisis Centre.

The conference, hosted by the Secratariat of the Pacific
Community(SPC), marks the 15 year anniversary of the Beijing Platform
for Action which aims to reduce gender based violence and enhance
female participation in decision making roles.
It is an ideal time to compare women’s rights in the Kingdom today
with the rights that women had 15 years ago.

According to the Director of the Women and Children Crisis Centre,
Ofa-ki-Levuka Guttenbeil-Likiliki, the status of women rights in Tonga
has taken a turn for the worse.
“In my own personal view, we have backslided catastrophically in the
critical areas of the Beijing Platform for Action and achieving Gender
Equality in Tonga – especially since the last Triennial was held in
2007” said Guttenbeil-Likiliki.

Political representation is the most obvious area that female
participation has reduced significantly. No women were voted into the
People’s representative’s seat in the 2008 General Elections and only
two women have been appointed to Ministerial Posts. The public service
representation of women has also diminished with Women’s Affairs
merging into one of the largest Ministries – then the Ministry of
Education, now the Ministry of Education, Women’s Affairs and Culture
(MEWAC). The result of this merge has been a reduction of budget and
staff size.

“On two fronts, we see women’s rights under-represented in the
political sphere. There is a significant minority of women MPs
combined with the fact that the department dedicated to development of
policy and proposing bills for women’s interest is practically
insignificant compared to other departments” said Guttenbeil-Likiliki.

Government decisions have been made that adversely affect the ability
to progress women’s rights. The United Nations Convention on the
Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) was rejected by
the Government in 2009, despite widespread support from women’s groups
in Tonga for what is internationally renowned as a basic bill of
rights for women.

Moreover the submission by many women’s groups for Temporary Special
Measures in the National Electoral Reform Report 2009-2010 was not
accepted via public consultations. These decisions are in direct
contrast with Tonga’s commitment to achieving the Millennium
Development Goals (MDGs) which aim to improve the international
baseline quality of life for all by 2015. There are 8 MDGs which cover
aspects such as reducing poverty, improving education and combating
HIV/Aids. MDG 3 commits Tonga to achieving gender equality – which
includes increasing women's political participation.

“I am concerned that the public sector has missed the memo about how
important gender equality is to a countries development. International
research has proven this fact – and it is supported by the past UN
Secretary General, Kofi Anan, who even went so far as to say that
‘women's equality is a prerequisite for development’” said

The private sector continues to be dominated by men, with the majority
of CEO positions in Government held by men. Women are disadvantaged in
terms of economic rights without provisions in Tongan legislation for
women to own land, only to rent it. This also impacts on a woman’s
ability to take out a loan for a business.

Services provided to women via Non Government Organisations have also
been reduced by alterations to donor policy. Funding has been reduced
to a number of organisations in the Kingdom – including WCCC – as
donors cite a change in direction away from ‘ground-zero’ NGO services
that promote Gender Equality and Women’s Human Rights in the area of
Violence Against Women.

“The fact is there are less services available for women now, and
there is less chance that the private and public sectors will develop
systems and structures that account for the needs of women. Either way
you look at it Tonga is not committed to gender equality”.

Gutenbeil-Likiliki does point out some significant progress that been
made over the last three years, especially in terms of Policing with
the No Drop Policy for domestic violence assault cases and the
establishment of the Domestic Violence Unit. The amendment to the
Nationality Act in 2007 also enabled women to possess dual citizenship
and clarified issues around nationality, marriage and parenting.

Overall though, Guttenbeil-Likiliki calls for consideration what
progress Tonga will have made in another 3 years time “Tonga’s
delegation returned from the 11th Triennial conference with a big task
on their hands. We’ve gone back so far on women’s rights in this
country that we need to take some massive leaps forward to even be
comparable to other Pacific nations.”