Principles behind the Friendly Islands Democracy Party in question

The Clerk of the House of Parliament Dr. Viliami Uasike Latu has been charged with assaulting his wife. Latu is also a prominent candidate for the Friendly Islands Democracy Party in Tonga’s historic democratic elections scheduled for November 25.  Many candidates involved in the Democracy Party are members of the Human Rights and Democracy Movement.
The Director of the Tonga Women and Children Crisis Centre (WCCC), ‘Ofakilevuka Guttenbeil-Likiliki says that “it’s a disgrace to see a movement that prides itself in promoting human rights failing to undertake a thorough human rights check-list on its list of supported candidates – it’s a complete and utter humiliation on the face of human rights.”

The Tonga Ministry of Police (MOP) has a No Drop Policy for all cases of assault – which means that once a charge has been reported, it cannot be removed. The MOP Policy is an indication of the no tolerance policy they have towards domestic violence and sexual assault.

Violence Against Women (VAW) and girls is a widespread and systematic violation of fundamental human rights violations and an enduring form of gender based discrimination.
The WCCC calls for the immediate removal of this candidate from the list based on the fact that Tonga has made several commitments to the elimination of violence against women nationally, regionally and internationally.

In its report to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva in 2008, Tonga proudly reported its progress in eliminating VAW in Tonga, where as part of its final recommendations Tonga supported and acknowledged the recommendation to continue pursuing its efforts to curb violence against women.

“We have for example seen major progress with the Tonga Police who are currently drafting their Domestic Violence Policy and who continue to promote zero tolerance to violence against women and children. Then there is the work of NGOs such as the WCCC whose day-today commitment is to eliminating Violence Against Women in the provision of direct
and immediate support services to victims and survivors of violence.

If the Friendly Islands Democracy Party, which claims to be grounded in the principles of human rights, want people to respect one of the very core principles of human rights which is stipulated under Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone has the right to a life of liberty and security of person – then they must themselves show it” said Guttenbeil-Likiliki.

Notably the 17 candidates recently announced by the Friendly Islands Democracy Party were all male. “At the core of achiving an effective democracy is achieving gender responsive representation for Tonga – which means we need an equal number of male and female canididates. To have 17 candidates, and not one of them as women, goes against the very principle of human rights and against the very principle of democracy.

The Human Rights Democracy Movement better think quick about their choices – the status quo is not acceptable. We need our parliamentarians to be of good character, and we need women to be equally represented in Parliament. And in the worst case scenario – such as this one, where there is not even one female candidate – The Friendly Islands democracy Party is obliged to make it clear how the needs of women will be incorporated. It is not acceptable to ignore the needs and rights of Tongan women ” said Guttenbeil-Likiliki.

“There is ABSOLUTELY NO EXCUSE for violence against women and the WCCC does not condone any candidate who has and is still physically, emotionally or sexually abusing his wife or any other women and will make this our priority in raising alerts during this political campaign – and we make no apology for it!”


Tonga backslides on women’s human rights

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.”


‘Female economic empowerment in Tonga has a long way to go’

As the 11th Triennial Conference of Pacific Women enters day two in Noumea, New Caledonia this week, economic empowerment of women came under the microscope.

This morning during the Economic Empowerment of Women Plenary,
Auckland University’s Dr. Yvonne Underhill-Sem made a plea for the
economic empowerment of women in the Pacific through promoting their
access to the variety of resources they need in order to balance their
work and family lives in ways that promote their own sense of
wellbeing and dignity.

Applying this to the Tongan situation, the Director of the Women and
Children Crisis Centre Ofa-Ki-Levuka Guttenbeil-Likiliki points to
land rights as the most obvious barrier to women being able to achieve
economic empowerment in the Kingdom.

“The government is reluctant to change land ownership laws and upset
the status quo which was clearly communicated in Government’s refusal
to ratify the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of
Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 2009. Because of this huge
obstacle, and it is huge, so many women are held back from economic
opportunities – for example business bank loans requiring land as
collateral” said Guttenbeil-Likiliki.

Currently women in Tonga are only able to lease land but they are unable to own
land. Inheritance to land title passes through male heirs.

“Women who are currently accessing land in Tonga are most likely using
land that is owned by male family members (husbands, brothers,
grandfathers). The female business owners that we do see in Tonga have
had to be incredibly resourceful because they simply do not get the
same rights when they are born as women” said Guttenbeil-Likiliki.

Based on the 2006 Tonga Census, the number of women employed in
agriculture, fisheries and quarrying was only 417, compared to that of
men being 9,486. “This clearly shows that women hardly engage in paid
work in agriculture and that they are primarily involved in household
food production and informal employment channels” said

In the informal sector, particular kinds of handicrafts are in high
demand by expatriates and urban Tongan women and so in rural areas
where males have few opportunities to access paid employment – the
financial stability of the family depends on these handicrafts.

“This trend of women working in informal channels makes them
particularly vulnerable – their rights as workers are not protected in
any formal legal sense, and many of these women do not have any
control over the money they earn from the selling of the handicraft –
and here at the crisis centre we see incidents of violence connected
to these financial power struggles between husband and wife as a
result” said Guttenbeil-Likiliki.

The Japan International Cooperation Agency 2010 Country Gender Profile
showed that over the past 30 years, the number of females in formal
employment has increased almost fourfold. However there has been
little change to the type of occupations that women are engaged in.
“The majority of women are still employed in unskilled menial work or
subordinate positions with very low pay. The public sector is a
perfect example – although women occupy account for 30% of employment
in the public sector very, very few are in decision making positions”
said Guttenbeil-Likiliki.

The same report highlights that there is no formal or official system
that provides support for female workers apart from the maternity
leave provision for public servants, which is not mirrored in the
private sector.

Current economic employment schemes in the Pacific, such as the
seasonal employment scheme, have also been focused on male employment.
“Most often Tongan women are told that the conditions in the fruit
farms, such as accommodation, are not appropriate to occupy Tongan
women. I think it would be safe to say that more than 80% of Tongans
who have had access to the seasonal employment scheme have been men.”

Guttenbeil-Likiliki suggests that Tonga has a long way to go if it is
to even meet the minimum standards of the Beijing Platform for Action
and the economic empowerment of women being discussed at the 11th
Triennial Conference of Pacific Women. She links economic development
with the quality of life for women.

“In a nutshell – women’s job opportunities are limited because of the
cultural patriarchal attitudes, values and belief systems that Tongan
male and females have about gender roles. The long term implications
of these limited opportunities are that we will continue to view women
as inferior to men in Tongan society – and as a result we will
continue to see high incidences of violence against women.”

Statistics from the Crisis Centre have shown that a link exists
between financial empowerment and violence against women. “Clients
with little access to financial stability – such as the complete
dependency on their husbands for land – means that it is very
difficult for a woman to have independence. In turn, this means she is
even less likely to leave a violent situation. Statistically, finances
are also one of the biggest reasons that clients site as a reason for
conflict in families. Economic empowerment for women is essential if
we are to eliminate violence against women” said Guttenbeil-Likiliki,

“Economic empowerment for Tongan women? We still have a long way to go”


With the blink of an eye

There are some decisions that Parliament takes extra precaution in
deciding its way forward – for example – the national electoral reform
process and the current land commission consultations.   The processes
used in both even went as far as to consult the Tongan diaspora in
Australia, NZ and the USA.

Then there are those decisions that are made in the blink of an eye,
in one parliament sitting, such as the decision to send our troops to
Afghanistan.  This is a decision that clearly has detrimental impacts
on the entire nation.  The British government simply requested our
assistance and we said yes.

So why is it that some decisions are subject to such close scrutiny,
and others not?

If it is because the argument to help the British and the USA fight
for democracy in Afghanistan is so strong, I think we need to re-look at our

We haven’t even achieved full democracy in Tonga and are poorly
lacking in the area of women’s human rights.  Fiji – who has also
deployed troops and had troops die in Afghanistan – is backsliding big
time on their commitment to human rights and democracy.
Why on earth are we travelling half way across the world to get
involved in a war that claims it is for democracy and human rights
when most of us in the Pacific haven’t even achieved this?

Violence begets more violence. More and more Afghanis are viewing
American and British troops with hostility for a war that has now
ravaged their country for years. One of the biggest motivators for
strengthening the numbers in the Taliban is the death of Afghani
citizens – one death can mean that up to ten more volunteer to become
involved in the Taliban and avenge the death.

Meanwhile, we are preparing ourselves to get involved in this war.
It’s time to ask whether we should even be involved at all.