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Tongan women do better overseas than in Tonga

New Zealand, Auckland


I entered into this debate to point out that the CEDAW vote in parliament was nothing more than a weathervane and that there is adequate evidence to warrant concern for the future of Tongan women in Tonga. The responses from some of your scribes have done little to change my view – in fact I’m even more convinced that the paradigm shift required is made more difficult by the Daniel K Fale’s of this world.

Like the more savvy and cynical of our women, we are able to spot his ilk from afar. First . they tell the women that they have no equal anywhere in the world, and then pull the culture rabbit out of the hat and try to justify why this part of our culture should remain untouched even though most of it has and continues to change. And if that doesn’t do it, a few selective quotes from the bible often helps. However this time Daniel K Fale has gone one better. He’s invented the notion that retaining the status quo is an effective land distribution tool.

I don’t have Sione Mokofisi’s patience to pick apart every item of Fale’s ill conceived argument but here’s one that is noteworthy for its lack of coherence and logic and I quote: Tongan land laws do not consider a married man and his wife as separate entities but as one entity. This is proven by the fact that when a land owner dies, his wife is the legal land owner until her death or she re-marries, and only then does land pass to the eldest son. This practice is also an effective and efficient way of spreading Tonga’s scarce commodity of land.

Tongan land laws in practice recognise husband and wife as separate entities and not one. If the ownership is registered to one person it is fully in his and not in her name. Whereas a husband is able to gift away his holding rights to a hereditary piece of land, his wife is unable to, even when the wife is widowed.

In the event of a divorce, the fallacy of Fale’s argument of equal treatment is even more glaring because it is the husband who has title – never the wife. A more recent practice in the civilised world provide more fairly and justly for husband and wife alike, as well as for their children, through enlightened matrimonial property arrangements which puts fairness and justice ahead of gender, land ownership or economic convenience.

Fale argues against himself as well because he admits that husbands and wives are treated unequally at death. While she can remarry, the wife is unable to take the land with her whereas husband can. And as Fale clearly states, as a widow and on her death is unable to will the land as she sees fit, it is passed on, not to the eldest off-spring, but ultimately to the eldest son so that the gender-bias can continue afresh.

It is too simplistic to solve the land shortage issue through denying women but Fale could do well to look wider and consider these: the large and un-divided aggregated holdings held by a few, the traditional size of a tax allotment, the negative population growth at present and more importantly, land utilisation practices and its socio-economic consequences. He may also want to reassess his claims that nowhere else in the world are women better treated and look at how much better Tongan women do outside of Tonga.

And in case I’m accused of being stingy I concede this much to Fale. I’ve used no brainer to describe the ease with which some of us can see and understand what is put before us. There is another word though, for those who are unable to see, let alone know, which side they’re arguing for and why.

Sefita Hao’uli