13th May 2015
Hon. ‘Akilisi Pōhiva
Prime Minister
Prime Minister’s Office
Hon. Prime Minister,
Subject: Support for Tonga to be a Signatory to the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and its Ratification
Reference to the above-stated subject, we herewith wish to thank your Honour’s Cabinet for approving Tonga to be a signatory and ratify CEDAW and we confirm our support for same.
PSA as an affiliate of the Public Service International (PSI) and we join 20 million public sector workers around the world in supporting & advocating for CEDAW recognizing that there is a lot remains to be done globally including Tonga to achieve gender equality. We are grateful the Government has reviewed our National Gender Equality Policy last year.
Although employment in Tonga has improved in the past decades majority of the low paid jobs and less protected workers are women especially in the private sector. Despite the fact that few women have managed to secure some of the top jobs the public sector, the gender wage gap still remains a reality throughout Tonga especially in private sector. In addition, Tonga continues not to formally recognize the economic contributions made by women in the informal sector (handicrafts and others). To address the gender inequality, Tonga must not only focus of employment but also on well-being and social security.
The abuse of women and girls in Tonga is increasing and urgently needed to be addressed. This included sexual harassment at work of female public servants and violence at home which affect their performance at work. This is driven by a deep-rooted belief that a woman is not equal to a man and for decades Tonga has been too proud of the fact that “women are highly respected in the Tongan culture” and continues to ignore the growing abuse of women and girls. Although those affected are small in numbers compared to the population, a good leader cares and looks after the most vulnerable people (Tauhi Sipi Lelei).
Discrimination against women creates inequality and gaps in development, endangering future generations and their well being and must be stopped.
Why PSA Should Rise to End Discrimination Against Women?
Public servants are at the helm of affairs in terms of creation of legal framework, laws, acts and also monitoring and implementing them. Even where laws are put in place, communities and especially women are often not aware of them.
PSA voice a strong dissent against the discrimination perpetrated against women and is committed to work towards creating a discriminative free Tonga for the women of today and for the thousands of unborn women of tomorrow.
The elimination of discrimination requires strong intervention from Government through the ratification of CEDAW in order to design and implement appropriate prevention measures, to ensure legal protection and the prosecution of cases, and to provide support and compensation for victims.
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2:  Opposition to CEDAW:
PSA has been advocating for CEDAW since we became a member of PSI in 2007. We noted and appreciate the work that have been championed by the former Prime Ministers, Baron Vaea, His Majesty whilst he was Prime Minister and Lord Tu’ivakano, in the effort to eliminate discrimination against women especially as a tool to reduce violence against women.
We believe that the recent opposition to CEDAW is for political purpose by former Prime Minister Sevele who was the only Prime Minister who did not support CEDAW. The advocacy for CEDAW in Tonga started in the 1990s by the afore-mentioned former Prime Ministers in close collaborations with the Catholic Women League (CWL) as confirmed by the publication of the Tongan version of CEDAW by the CWL funded by SPC(RRRT) and the UN in 2005. A copy is enclosed for your Honour’s information.
In 2008-2009, there was an administrative dispute in the CWL between their newly elected President then (wife of former Prime Minister Sevele) and the outgoing President, Betty Blake. The dispute was over UN funded projects on human rights education including CEDAW. The dispute got to the stage that the Catholic Bishop, now Cardinal Mafi, had to resolve the dispute. This dispute resulted in CWL discontinuing the work that they have been doing for years on women’s rights education.
It was no surprise to those who were familiar with this dispute when former Prime Minister Sevele around September 2009, despite the hard work that was done by the former Prime Ministers, suddenly recommended to Parliament that CEDAW is not good for Tonga using the two most sensitive issues to our Christian beliefs, abortion & same sex marriage, as the main reason for not supporting CEDAW.
At this time too, the Commission for Constitutional Review was finalizing their report to be tabled to Parliament in October 2009. The daily campaigns against CEDAW that Sevele’s government conducted by his political advisor, Lopeti Senituli, and the former Chief Secretary & Secretary to Cabinet, Lady Fusitu’a, on TV & radio was also tied to the movement for democracy led by Your Honour. It was targeted to slow down the political changes wanted by the majority people of Tonga because of the abuse of public funds in Government.
In 2012 after launching a report on domestic violence in Tonga (also enclosed), Prime Minister Tu’ivakano acknowledged CEDAW and directed the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) to hold public consultations on CEDAW for the people’s information and comments. Public consultations were held throughout Tonga including to the Niuas from 2013-2014. If Sevele was true to the concerns he had raised in Parliament in 2009, he should have continued to make his public campaign against CEDAW but not a word was heard from him.
Early this year, MIA completed the public consultations and working together with the Office of the Attorney General took in the concerns of the people and make the recommendations to your Honour’s Cabinet in early March to approve the ratification of CEDAW with the reservations. Not very long, Sevele personally was on the media campaigning against CEDAW the following weeks.
It is very obvious that Sevele was not campaigning against CEDAW, but against Your Honour as the leader of the movement for democracy. This was also obvious in the press release of the Church Leaders on CEDAW on the 05th May in which they referred to “democracy”. If Sevele was really campaigning against CEDAW only, he would have continued the campaign he started in 2009 when Tu’ivakano’s government took CEDAW to the public in 2012-2014. What is even more ironic, the person who campaigned for Sevele in 2009 is now the CEO of MIA who advised your Honour’s Cabinet to ratify CEDAW changing all what he had said in 2009 about CEDAW.
It is unfortunate that the campaign against CEDAW has led to the Church Leaders and the people being misinformed. It is very important that the correct information be made known to the Church Leaders and the people, which are as follows:
1. CEDAW’s main objective is to eliminate discriminations against women from getting any opportunity because she is a women causing problems affecting their lives but NOT to make women equal to men;
2. CEDAW only works when there is “discrimination” taking place. If the opportunity is the same for men & women then CEDAW does not apply. For example, (1) men are not allowed in Tonga to do abortion, therefore women cannot use CEDAW to make abortion legal in Tonga; (2) men are not allowed in Tonga to marry men, therefore women cannot use CEDAW to make it legal for women to marry women;
3. CEDAW does not refer to “abortion” or “same sex marriage” anywhere in the convention.
4. CEDAW is not a “gateway” to abortion or same sex marriage. America is one of the six(6) remaining countries in the world who are not signatory to CEDAW but many States have already make abortion & same sex marriage legal. Changing the laws of a country depend on what the majority of the people wanted.
5. CEDAW Committee or the UN cannot force a country to change its constitution, laws & traditions. The national constitution and laws of a country reigns and any recommendations from the UN (if any) will still have to go through the procedures of the country. If the recommendation is not approved, the country will not be penalised by UN except recommends for the conversation to continue if the people still want to. For example: men are allowed in Tonga to register land but not women. This is a very clear example that our Constitution & Land Act are discriminative against women. But this does not mean that the UN will tell us to change our Constitution & Land Act. The UN will only act if women in Tonga want this to be changed. The UN may make the recommendation to Government for the law to be changed and it will go through the normal process for amendment of laws. If at the end Parliament & the King do not approve then that is the end unless the women continues to kick up more fuss about this. UN will recommend for the dialogue at the national level to continue but there is no severe penalty for Tonga if it refuses to change the Land Act. Cabinet has made reservations to the Land & Property Act on CEDAW and women accept this.
We have just changed our Constitution taking away the King’s power to Parliament in appointing the Prime Ministers and Ministers. This has been a long century tradition for Tonga and it was majority of the people who made this change happen, no country or international organization told us to make these changes. Some of our culture & traditions are slowly disappearing due to multiple factors including inter marriages, exposure to other cultures through overseas studies, TV & radio programme, new religions, etc.
6. CEDAW is not the only convention that can be used in the International Justice Court. All Conventions of the UN which Tonga is a party to can be used in the International Justice Court. Tonga is party to the Conventions for human rights, peace, nuclear energy, poisonous chemicals, right of a child, racism, disability, etc. A country and/or someone from a country who is party to those Conventions can sue Tonga in the International Justice Court if we do not comply to any Convention to a stage that someone and/or people’s welfare are affected.
Way Forward:
If Tonga is serious about addressing the discrimination against women which causes serious problems to the lives of women and girls in Tonga, Government, working with civil society including churches, must step up action to eliminate gender based discrimination from all spheres and achieve true equality between women and men through CEDAW and continue to make reservations on issues which are against our Christian beliefs.

(Mele T. ‘Amanaki)