The centenary of International Women’s Day was celebrated across the Kingdom of Tonga – recognizing women’s achievements and the need to do more to empower women in our society. The Women and Children Crisis Centre (WCCC, which is the Kingdom’s only Non Government Organization working to eliminate Violence Against Women and Children) celebrated by attending an array of events.
“It’s exciting, we love IWD at WCCC. We get an opportunity to appreciate the success that women have made in their struggle for what they deserve – to have equal rights, access and opportunities as men” said Sr. Anuncia Fifita, Safe House Manager of the Crisis Centre.
A prayer breakfast was held by the Westpac Bank of Tonga, who raised funds for the Women and Children Crisis Centre through proceeds from the sale of purple International Women’s Day ribbons. Three grants for Pacific women and girls pursuing education were also announced, totaling just under $2000.
In announcing the grants General Manager of Westpac Tonga, Paul Wilkinson said, “Our involvement with the International Women’s Day is an opportunity for us to celebrate the economic, political, and social achievements of women past, present and future.”
Staff of the Crisis Centre also attended an event held by Tonga’s Ministry of Education, Women Affair’s and Culture, with a program that included a Prayer Service, Awards for winners of secondary schools essay competitions, Debating and exhibitions from women’s organizations, employment and education providers. The Keynote address was delivered by the Guest of Honour, The Hon. Frederica Fatafehi Lapaha Tuita.
WCCC’s Male Advocate ‘Usia Hemaloto featured as the guest speaker at IWD celebrations at the Tupou Tertiary Institute, a Free Weslyan Technical Training Institution. He spoke on the role of men in supporting women’s human rights.
“I hear many men say that International Women’s Day is only for women. To me, this is missing the point. Men and women need to work together to create equal opportunities for women, and International Women’s Day is a perfect time to have these much needed conversations about striving to achieve gender equality” said Hemaloto.
Staffs at the centre maintain that there is a long way to go yet in Tonga to achieve equal rights for women and men.
The number of men outweighs the number of women in paid employment. In the workforce, men continue to be in higher paid and key decision making positions. Women also do not have equal access to land, and as a result face extreme challenges when trying to access credit. Women are also underrepresented in Tonga’s house of Parliament. Currently there is only one woman in parliament who holds the Ministerial post for Education, Women’s Affairs and Culture. Since 1951, only four women have been elected to Parliament and three women appointed to Ministerial posts. Tonga’s economy is heavily weighted towards a subsistence lifestyle – barriers to land and employment effectively place women into a position of dependence upon men.
If women are to act as independent agents, the lifestyle options available to them are less desirable than those afforded to men, and more commonly steeped in economic hardship and poverty. “Investing in women is essential to investing in the community” said Sr. Anuncia Fifita, WCCC Safe House Manager.
“We are honored to mark the achievements of women on this 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day, and can only imagine what achievements we will be celebrating in another 100 years”.