UN Women Consultation comes to Tonga


Consultation is taking place all over the Pacific to contribute to the development of the 2 year Strategy for the newly formed body of the United Nations, UN Women, which aims to advance gender equality.

The consultation took place at the Council of Churches in Tonga, with Government Ministries, Members of Civil Society and Donor Organizations meeting to advise on the best way for UN Women to work to improve the quality of life for women in Tonga.

The consultation was co-ordinated by Ofa Guttenbeil-Likiliki, the Director of the Women and Children Crisis Centre “It was exciting to bring together all those who work tirelessly to promote gender equality in Tonga. We hope the UN Women will enable us to work together in order to improve the quality of life for women and girls all over the Kingdom”.

Formerly known as UNIFEM, UN Women has the following themes:

1)      Expand women’s voice, leadership and participation

2)      End Violence Against Women

3)      Strengthen implementation of women’s peace and security agenda

4)      Enhance women’s economic empowerment

5)      Make gender equality priorities central to national, local and sectorial planning, budgeting and expenses

Attendees at the UN Women consultation discussed the need for the Pacific to have their own representatives in the UN, instead of relying on representation from Asia, in which women face a different set of challenges.

“Often the Pacific is lumped in to the broad Asia Pacific region. The Pacific has a specific set of needs, and we need to work together in order to have representation so that the Pacific can have a voice” said Guttenbeil-Likiliki.

Attendees also called for renewed commitment to the National Gender Policy and the need for gender equality to be included in Tonga’s National Strategic Plan.


Equality and the Tongan Constitution

As Tongans we should be very proud of The Declaration of Freedom and the Same Law for All Classes under the Tongan Constitution –  For rights such as these to be enacted in 1875 is something that was most definitely a huge progressive step forward in Tonga’s political and constitutional history.

Unfortunately, more than one hundred and thirty six years later we haven’t made much progress at all with regards to achieving human rights for all in Tonga.  As we currently follow the land commission public consultations, it amazes me how negative reactions are towards women owning land in Tonga.

Surely we are doing an injustice to the ideas developed in 1875.  By now we should be a nation that recognizes all its citizens as equal.  Women in Tonga contribute to the economy in enormous ways, they tirelessly contribute to community development projects, church activities and peace keeping initiatives and yet we are still classified as second class citizens when it comes to land ownership and registration!

The unequal balance of power and ownership that men have over women in Tonga contributes in many ways towards the reinforcement of Violence Against Women, where the man always has the upper hand in the relationship and takes control over relationship and his wife.

I hope that one day as Tongan citizens we will all come to this realisation: that men and women deserve equal rights. On an individual level, we all need to ask ourselves: have I reached this realisation?  Because when you personally believe in the principle of equality it will guide your actions, and you will see these ideas becoming a reality every day through the way that you interact with others. Imagine the positive impact if the whole nation had this realisation – we would be that much closer to achieving the intentions behind our Constitution.


Do you care about women’s right to land?

The new minister of Education, Women’s Affairs and Culture, Dr. Ana Taufeulungaki called for greater partnership between women’s organizations and the Ministry in order to address the needs of women comprehensively.

One issue that has been raised unanimously by women’s organizations is Tongan women’s right to own land in Tonga.

Currently women do not have the same privileges as men to own land, which has implications for accessing loans and the requirement to make alternative leasing arrangements in order to establish stability of their land. The United Nations Convention on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) promotes gender equality in terms of access to assets, including land.

A taskforce has been formed to write a submission to the Royal Lands Commission in which the current land laws are under review. Taskforce members include Siale ‘Ilolahia from the Civil Society Forum of Tonga, Polotu Paunga from the Women’s Affairs Department at the Ministry of Education and ‘Ofa-ki-levuka Guttenbeil-Likiliki from the Women and Children Crisis Centre.

WCCC is now seeking women to come and tell their stories if they feel that the current land laws are disadvantaging them.  WCCC will write up case studies for the submission to The Royal Land Commission.

The case studies are confidential, with no identifying details of the people involved, but the individual may be called upon to provide further details to the Commission. An example is provided below:


Case Study

The land that I am living on at the moment belongs to my parents. They are both dead. I am the eldest in the family, I only have one brother. He is in New Zealand and he has overstayed his visa, he has a wife and his life is all there in New Zealand. I am the one who is staying at my parent’s house, looking after the land. My husband and I built the house on the land many years ago, although I have not been in contact with my husband for almost 30 years now and he is overseas.

I am the eldest daughter but I am worried because the land does not belong to me, at the moment it belongs to my brother. I have to go to New Zealand to see my brother if there are any issues with the land, and I have to negotiate with the Ministry and Lands and Survey here in Tonga.

If my brother was to die, the land would go to my Uncle’s eldest son who lives in Tonga. Fortunately he does not seem interested in living in my village, but I worry about what would happen. It is hard work to move. My whole life is here, I have been taking care of the place for almost all my life. Living somewhere else would be another problem, which at my age I do not want.

Sometimes I worry about if my brother has already sold the land to someone in New Zealand, such as a friend or a Chinese person. I think they could turn up and tell me to get out, that it is their house. I do not really think my brother could do this, but I hear stories of this happening to other people. When money is involved, families can change.

If I win the lotto, and I had lots of money, I would build a house on my husband’s land for my children to move there. I think that this land would go to my son who is now over 21, although my husband is nowhere to be seen and I am unsure what this means for the land entitlement. Still I would feel safer spending the money on my husband’s land instead of the land that I am living on, as I am not certain that my children will be able to live on the land that I live on now.

As I understand the existing law, it will never happen that my children will be able to live on my parents land. It makes me angry. My parents worked so hard for that land, and I have worked so hard for that land, and yet my children are not entitled to it. When I think about it, it makes me angry.


It’s not ok: campaign launch

WCCC launches the ‘It’s not Ok’ campaign which says it is a crime to commit any violence against women and children. This includes domestic violence, child abuse, sexual harassment and rape.

WCCC counselor, Susana ‘Uhatafe said “it is time for us to start talking about the fact that it is not ok to remain silent about the things that are causing us stress in our private lives.  Domestic violence and child abuse are not matters to be sorted out privately. They are part of a problem that exists in our society – that each of us allows violence against women and children to take place.”

Domestic violence is any abusive behavior used by one partner in a relationship to gain and maintain control over another’s life. It can occur in any type of domestic relationship, including spousal relationships, intimate personal relationships, family relationships and informal care relationships. Under Tongan law, it is a crime to commit any kind of assault – it is not ok to commit domestic violence. ‘Uhatafe said “often in Tongan culture we hear that men feel they have the right to discipline their wives – it is not true. Men should never hit their wives, or feel that they have the right to ownership over their wives in any way.”

Child abuse and neglect occurs when a child is mistreated, resulting in injury or risk of harm. Abuse can be physical, verbal, emotional or sexual. Cases of neglect, incest and sexual child abuse are increasing in Tonga, with one 1 death in 2009 as a result of child abuse. As a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Right of the Child, and under Tonga’s Criminal Code, it is a crime to hurt a child. “We often hear this view that I was hit as a child, and I am fine, so I should be able to hit my children. At the centre we see cases where that has gone too far. It is not ok to promote violence towards children, or to create an environment in which any kind of tolerance towards violence is encouraged. But what we don’t see much of are other disciplinary actions – such as using time out or denying privileges to encourage positive behavior in children. There is room for development in these areas, of non-violent ways to encourage children ” said ‘Uhatafe.

Rape is non-consensual, forcible sexual relations or other sexual activity. Rape comes under the criminal code in Tonga and it is not ok to have forced sex with any person. Tonga reported its first case of sex trafficking in 2010. Sexual harassment is any behaviour/ gesture/ language that is persistent, unwelcome and is of a sexual nature. This includes requests for a sexual relationship, contact or favors together with an indirect or explicit promise of preferential treatment, or the threat of detrimental treatment if the request is declined. “People often feel that it is taboo to talk openly about any of these issues that are about sex in our society” said ‘Uhatafe, “but it is essential that people take a stand. It is not ok to be a victim of rape or sexual harassment; It is not ok to be living in a society that continues to commit acts of violence against women. I encourage all to stand with me and state that it is not ok”.


I think to myself I am an adopted child

A first hand account from a survivor of incest who is a client of WCCC.

When I was 8 years old my father began to treat me in a way that is not right for a father to do to his daughter. He gave me money $10 to $20 and told me not to tell anyone, and most of the time I was scared and think to myself what I would do to overcome this and what will happen if someone knew.

All these things that happen to me were all done at our own house, and I think to myself maybe I am an adopted child of the family. Eventually my mother left the country and this is the saddest time in my life.  I knew that my mother left me but she didn’t even know what is happening to me. On the day she left I drew a picture of an aero-plane when it departed at the airport.

I moved to stay with my older sister but my father still continued the same thing to me. Most of the time when my father came to pick me up from my sister’s house I was very unhappy when seeing him, and sometimes my sister would get mad at me and ask why I didn’t want to go with my dad, but she did not know what was happening, but because of her trust in him that he is our father, she told me to go. It was very hard for me, but at that time I didn’t have the courage to tell her.

Now I am 14 and one day I was lying on my bed in my bedroom and I saw a book on the table in my room and its says, “Hold on to your belief”. I grab the book and read it and its talking about being obedient and being a virgin. This has encouraged me to speak out and talk about what is happening to me.

On the same week, I went to church on Sunday and I knew for sure I will go and ask our Bishop for time to talk to him about what I’ve been going through and finally I fulfill my dream. I explained everything to him.

So the Bishop went to the police and explained it to them and the police came to my sister’s house and take me, they questioned me and recorded everything. After that they told me they will take me to WCCC’s Safe House which is the best and safe place they think I should go to while they do their work.

While I’m staying at the Safe House I feel safe and it helps me a lot trying to get rid of the problems that I face and other things in my life. So I encourage all women that they struggle with many problems in their life or experience the same problem I am going through to speak up and tell someone that you know for sure that she or he will help you, and I believe it give us an important message to always be careful with ourselves of what is happening in our life!


This is a poem written by the client:



Home is where you live with Family

Brothers are drunk, daddy is smoke

This time I don’t know what to do

I felt like I’m not part of the Family.


Home is like we are in hell

Cause most of the time,

They are fighting and swearing

So, I wonder why this happen in life.


Sometimes I talk to myself,

Why moms leave me without staying with her?

But I thought that mom is the one that will

Stay with us at Home to grow love.


At home there’s no time to talk with family,

Cause they just leave me without saying anything.

I sometimes cry and cry

Cause there’s no friends to have, talked or even

Somebody to share