A record 16 women are to contest next month’s elections in Tonga, up from 11 last time.

Nominations closed on Friday with the total number of candidates down considerably at 106 compared with 144 in 2010.

 

The director of the Women’s and Children’s Crisis Centre, Ofa Guttenbeil Likiliki, told Don Wiseman she is delighted with the courage shown by the women putting their names forward, but they had hoped for more.

 

OFA GUTTENBEIL LIKILIKI: Yes particularly in light of we just recently held a practice parliament for women so the assumption was that there would be a greater interest to actually stand for this year’s elections but unfortunately we haven’t got those numbers as we would have wished for. But I think the big highlight for me is Tongatapu One constituency which is probably the biggest challenge for any woman to take on. The People’s Number One representative MP Akilisi Pohiva has had that seat for almost 30 years and for the first time ever a woman is standing for the Tongatapu One constituency and we’ve got three women out of the eight candidates who have registered under that constituency, so you know, that’s a good sign. We’ve also had some surprises in the other constituencies in some of the outer islands’ constituencies so although we didn’t have as many female candidates as we would have wished for we are quite happy and content with those who have put their hand up and taken the huge step and courage to stand.

 

DON WISEMAN: How do you think they’ll go?

OGL: Well look it’s a huge challenge in terms of, there’s no discrimination in the electoral law so it’s very equal in terms of men and women standing as candidates. But the reality is you know, the attitudes and the behaviour of voters is that parliament is still a house for men, it’s a place where men make decisions. And that translates throughout everyday life, you know we don’t have any female town officers or female district officers. You know the numbers of women in statutory boards and private sector boards are very low in number. The highest decision making places across the civil sector are still largely dominated by men. In the confines of the family home it’s still considered that the father makes the final and last decision so you know in everyday life this is what we’re being told, this is how we’re living and so I’m quite sceptical of the outcome for the elections coming up, but at the same time I’m so proud of the women who’ve stood up and have taken the courage to take the challenge on. What I’m advocating for and other women’s rights groups are advocating for, is that come this election if we still don’t get any women into Parliament then we need to seriously take action and we need to address this with our government in terms of ‘what are the other approaches, what is the alternative?’ One of which is of course is the temporary special measures which I have advocated for years, so hopefully we do get women this coming election and if we don’t then we have to take some more dramatic measures.