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:
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.