Strong FWC sermon calls for Christians to stop the violence

207458_158332117560847_1754191_nThe General Secretary for the Free Weslyan Church, Tevita Havea, performed a special sermon on the last Sunday of the 16 days of activism against Violence Against Women. The 16 days of activism against violence spanned November 25 – December 10 and celebrates relevant historical dates that mark the progress to improve the plight of women’s human rights.

Rvd. Havea spoke directly to the congregation to stop Violence Against Women saying “violence is not ok”. He drew on several parts of the Gospel  of Matthew to talk about the importance of stakeholders who provide much needed services for those who are survivors of violence, and urged those who are Christian to work to stop violence in our communities.


Havea  spoke directly to those who are committing violence or those who know others who are committing violence, urging them to take action to make the violence stop immediately. “Members of this congregation – if you are committing violence against your partners – it’s not right as Christians”.

The service also included representatives from the Ministry of Police Domestic Violence Unit, the Women and Children Crisis Centre and the Tonga National Centre for Women and Children performing readings.

Rvd. Havea  also urged families to improve communication through daily prayer held together, and challenged families to really listen to each other claiming that communication is key to resolving conflict and creating a peaceful family environment


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

A guest post by Reverend Sunia Foliaki, Member of the Board of Trustees for WCCC…

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.

WCCC staff attend RTP training

“Although our culture and religious beliefs are the main obstacles in our work, we are determined to make a difference in a person’s life”. That is what the trio that attended the Regional Training Programme (RTP) in Suva Fiji said. WCCC staff Foketi Kavapele (Safe House worker), Latai Peuafi (Counsellor) and Lesila Toi’a (Community Education Trainer) attended  the RTP training from the 4th – 29th October.

The training consisted of 38 participants from the region, namely PNG, the Solomon Islands, Nauru, Kiribati, Tonga and Fiji. It aimed to educate people about strategies to eliminate Violence Against Women and children. It was organised by the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre(FWCC)  with FWCCC Director, Shamima Ali as the lead facilitator.

All three staff members came back with a new perpective on the work they do for WCCC. “It is reality, and this is what happens in everyday life for many of Tonga’s women and children. We at the Crisis Centre work together with the community and relevant stakeholders in trying to address the causes of violence and ways to lessen and eliminate them” said Kavapele.

One of the interesting topics that the trio thought contributed to this problem is gender inequality. “People have been brought up internalising and institutionalising the beliefs of what a man should be, and what a woman should be. With these beliefs, women and girls achievements and capabilities are underestimated. There should be more awareness programmes to the community on this area” said Toi’a.


Time to make a change: special seats for women in parliament

In our last newsletter edition, I had mentioned that the chances of females getting into parliament during the elections were pretty slim.  Unfortunately, no female candidates got in at all on the day of elections.  What I do believe the results have proven though is that its time for some affirmative action policies – the problem is however, not many people understand how it works.  Affirmative action policies support special temporary measures.

The key word is ‘temporary.’  It puts in place specially reserved seats for women representatives to Parliament over a certain period, let’s say 3 parliamentary  sessions.  What this does is that it works to change mindsets and attitudes towards having women in parliament among the general public and also aims at highlighting the strengths and skills that women can bring to parliament as decision makers.  Once the temporary measures are removed – the country then returns to normal elections.

The result of the normal elections will then ideally show a marked improvement in voter belief systems and an increase in women getting into parliament.  This has clearly been the case for French Polynesia, France, Monaco and Rwanda.  In 2005 Tonga was noted in the World Summit Outcome to “promote increased represtation of women in Government decision-making bodies” as one of the ‘dirty dozen’– one of only twelve member states of the United Nations that had very few women in parliament.  As Tonga defines its new, increasingly democratic identity, it’s time to make a change and introduce special seats for women!

Innovative uses of media to empower women

The Crisis Centre has been producing innovative TV spots, documentaries and short films to promote the experiences of women and children in Tonga.

Sometimes we are too shy and we are unable to voice out our opinions. That’s what this documentary is about” begins Girls Ask, which aired young girls concerns to candidates in light of Tonga’s historic elections.

Shown in a specialist viewing to candidates with a talanoa session between the girls and candidates afterwards, the documentary aims to get decision makers to understand the concerns of young girls who vote for them.

Aired on TV2, the documentary covered issues such as the need to amend Tonga’s rape laws, nepotism in the employment of Government Teachers and the impact that a lack of access to education can have on society. The documentary is available online and upon request, and will be used to continue to campaign for the rights of young girls.

The centre won second prize in the Tonga Family Health World Aids Day Short Film competition for their film that urged married women not to become complacent about HIV/AIDS. Featuring a picture of a wedding ring, the advertisement reminded women that the best protection against HIV/AIDS is a condom.

Organisations and individuals across Tonga celebrated Worlds Aids Day by making short films to promote education about HIV/AIDS. WCCC Director ‘Ofa Guttenbeil-likiliki said “we were very excited to see the link between gender and HIV/AIDS up on display in the film festival – the fact is that more married women are reporting with cases of STIs, which places them more at risk of HIV/AIDS. Around the world, women are increasingly vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. It’s time to get educated about how to keep safe.”

WCCC also produced Pink Hibiscus, a 5 minute piece about a survivor of an incest case, which demonstrates the importance of providing ongoing services to survivors of abuse and highlighted the fact that in parts of the Pacific two in every three girls are violated at home. Sexual abuse cases, including incest, have increased for WCCC this year with 16 cases relating to sexual assault, rape and sexual harassment.


For a copy of any of these films, or to receive more details, do not hesitate to contact us, or (676) 22 240.


Nov 25 – not just election day!

November 25 was more than the beginning of a new political era for Tonga – it was also the beginning of the 16 Days of Activism Against Violence Against Women in which a series of important dates are celebrated to promote human rights for all.

In an address to a father and son prayer breakfast to mark International Day Against Violence Against Women, Police Commander Chris Kelley pointed out that Ministry of Police crime statistics indicate that the streets are safer than some people’s homes.


The International event is White Ribbon Day, which acknowledges the role of men in preventing violence against women. All men who wear the
white ribbon are invited to make a pledge to actively discourage Violence Against Women.  “It is time to end the silence on this issue” said the Women and Children Crisis Centre Male advocate ‘Usaia Hemaloto, “it is clear that there is a need for a change – it is time to promote healthy and equal relationships, and a home environment that is safer than the streets!”


Many of the services involved in eliminating Violence Against Women were in attendance at the prayer breakfast, including the Ministry of
Health, the Department of Women’s Affairs, the Tonga National Centre for Women and Children, the Women and Children Crisis Centre, the
Talitha Project and Tonga Street Boyz.



Women and Children Crisis Centre director, ‘Ofa Guttenbeil-Likiliki commented on the significance of the commencement of the 16 Days of
Activism co-inciding with Tonga’s historic democratic elections. “As we welcome the new government later today we all sincerely hope that
one of their first steps is to prioritise the elimination of Violence Against Women. As a nation we need to acknowledge that Violence
Against Women is a human rights violation – even when it happens in the home” said Guttenbeil-Likiliki.


As Tonga enters a new political era, Kelley encouraged the whole community to be responsible for these crimes committed against women,
“the four women and one child who died in 2009 as a result of family violence can’t keep it as a ‘family matter’. The memory of these
victims should haunt and remind us all that ‘we let it happen, here in Tonga, in our community”.


The Commander called on the Tongan values of respect and honour and asked, “if it is not ok to assault your mother or your sister in this
society, what makes it ok to assault your wife or other women?… we all know that it is never ok!”


Unreported cases on the rise

Since July 2010, the women and Children Crisis Centre has seen an increase in the number of unreported cases coming to the centre. Domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse cases are now accounting for 20% of the centre’s cases.

Unreported cases are those that are not referred to the Crisis Centre from the Police.

The longest staff member, Counsellor Susana ‘Utahafe, puts this down to a change in methodology. “we started a new direction – ‘think local’. We started to visit house to house in our communities. We talked about the services at the centre, and educated any one who was interested about what counselling is. I was amazed – I have known most of these people my whole life. But the number of clients we received was a considerable increase. Now we have made it a regular part of our services at WCCC to provide home visits” said Susana.

Since July, when the counsellors begun the local initiative, 20% of referrals have come directly from the communities that the counsellors of the centre are based in, with a significant increase in requests for follow up appointments. Direct community referrals of cases of incest and sexual assault have also been increasing. The figures surprised counsellors who are familiar with the considerable cultural taboo around talking about issues that have been classified as ‘private’ and ‘inappropriate’ to discuss even with the closest confidant.

“I think it is the fact that in their homes people feel more comfortable, and also talking to people they have known their whole lives. Our clients are so brave to talk” said ‘Utahafe.

The increase in community cases – which may or may not lead on to an official report, depending on the client’s desires –  has been combined with co-ordinated community response meetings being held every two weeks, which involve all service providers involved in providing for survivors of all forms of abuse.  The Crisis Centre’s new approach has been the centre of many discussions between providers  in Tonga– it has brought to light the fact that institutions  are not providing safe space for survivors to receive report in, and that traditional reporting mechanisms are not substantial for the level of violence that is being committed in communities.

These meetings peaked the interest of the Ministry of Police statistics department, who have requested that basic demographics of unreported cases are sent over monthly in order to better inform all involved. The information from these community cases, combined with the reported cases from traditional referral sources (both the Ministry of Police and the Hospital), has been an effective way to highlight the importance of each stage that a client is handled. “WCCC works through a human rights framework – the needs of the victim must be heard and addressed at all stages . As service providers we are here to empower these women in every way –  the trick is that there are so many gaps. We all have to work together to create the safest and most empowering environment for survivors of abuse” said ‘Utahafe.  The Ministry of Police is currently working with all service providers to co-ordinate the statistics and ensure that the same definitions are used by all so that the numbers can demonstrate the level of violence taking place in the community.


WCCC wins Human Rights Award!


The Women and Children Crisis Centre (WCCC) has
received a prestigious Human Rights Award for advancing gender
equality in the Pacific.

Issued by the Regional Rights Resource Team and the Secretariat of the
Pacific Counsel in partnership with the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre,
WCCC won the organisation category and were awarded $5,000 FJD.

The individual category of the Human Rights Awards was won by Jacqui
Koroi (Fiji) for her focus on working on the rights of young women,
Lily Kolts Be’Soer (Papua New Guinea) for peace initiatives and
highlighting the impact of conflict on women and children and
Sainimili Tawake (Fiji) for leadership, commitment and promotion of
issues of women and girls with disabilities.

The centre has only just celebrated its first birthday –the year has
seen a record number of over 300 clients through the door, the first
reported case of sex trafficking and the establishment of progressive
approaches to addressing the causes of violence. It’s topped off with
winning the Pacific Human Rights Award “It is an absolute honour” said
WCCC Director, Ofa-ki-levuka Guttenbeil-Likiliki “to acknowledge all
the hard work that our staff have done this year to eliminate violence
against women in Tonga.”

Speaking on behalf of the panel of judges, Ms Sarah Goulding
Counsellor Development Co-operation (Fiji and Tuvalu) said the breadth
of nominations was outstanding and varied. ‘The nominees have
advocated in favour of the peaceful resolution of conflict, young
girls empowerment and for democracy, free speech and public
accountability. They have put at risk their personal safety and
financial security, and have persevered when their goals seemed
unattainable. They are committed women’s human rights defenders.”

WCCC Director Guttenbeil-Likiliki points to the work that the staff of
WCCC have performed around culturally taboo issues in a time of
financial difficulty “All of the staff have been relying on donations
and one off payments, with many periods of volunteering. It is
demanding work, but we are all here to provide support for survivors
of violence. It is only due to the support of the wider community that
we have been able to exist – with very few resources, the amount we
have been able to achieve this year has been impressive”. As yet the
financial future of the Crisis Centre is uncertain.

Some of the achievements of the centre this year include training over
30 men to advocate for women’s human rights, advocating for
ratification of the UN Convention on Elimination of Descrimination
Against Women (CEDAW), performing legal advocacy that led to improved
outcomes for sexual assault victim and conducting over 30 community
awareness programs, including in high schools. The centre continues to
provide 24 hour counselling and a safe house for those seeking refuge
from violence.

The centre has also utilised the media in innovative ways to improve
the understanding of the realities of women in Tonga. They produced a
documentary, Girls Ask, which aired young girls concerns in light of
Tonga’s historic elections, and produced Pink Hibiscus a piece about a
survivor of an incest case. The centre also came second in the Tonga
Family Health World Aids Day Short Film competition, and have
continually commented on issues that concern the rights of women and

The Crisis Centre was presented with their award by Valda Horder from
the RRRT to mark International Human Rights Day “this award
acknowledges the outstanding work and commitment of the staff of WCCC
to women’s human rights” said Horder. This year’s event was supported
by the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) and
the New Zealand Agency for International Development.

Guttenbeil-Likiliki proudly accepted the award “It is great to receive
recognition for the work that we do to improve the quality of life for
all women and children in Tonga, with many thanks to the entire
community that made it possible.”