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Tongan women told to ask for gender equality

Nuku'alofa, Tonga

Celebrating International Women's Day in Tonga, a prayer breakfast at the Australian High Commissioner's residence. 8 March 2006.


"Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you," the Tonga Minister responsible for Women's Affairs, Hon. Cecil Cocker, told a Prayer Breakfast that was held on March 8, 2006 to mark International Women's Day in Tonga.

The Prayer Breakfast was hosted by the Australian High Commissioner to Tonga Mr Colin Hills, and Mrs Linda Hills, at their residence.

In his keynote speech the Minister agreed with the statement of the Secretary General of the UN that the role of woman in decision-making is essential to the advancement of women around the world, and to the progress of human kind as a whole.

Hon. Cecil Cocker, IWD, Tonga. 8 March 2006.

Women in Decision-making

He said that under the Beijing Declaration, equality and participation of women in decision-making and women's access to power was fundamental. In 2001 the Tonga government had approved the national gender in development policy, and establishment of a women in development unit at the Prime Minister's Office.

The Minister's biblical conclusion to his key-note speech was received with giggles and laughter among the women attending, and this inter-action offered a vivid picture of the status of the gender issues in Tonga. The government stance as stated by the Hon. Cecil Cocker and later by the Acting Prime Minister Dr Feleti Sevele was that there are no serious gender issues in Tonga and that women have to compete for opportunities with their male counterparts.

The Tongan situation is unusual in a sense that among the royalties a woman can be the most powerful person in the land. Queen Salote Tupou III reigned for 47 years, and occasionally when Princess Pilolevu is Princess Regent, she chairs the Privy Council, the highest political decision making body in Tonga.

One woman in Parliament

Tongan men and women have had equal opportunity to education as far back as the 1870s, but despite the fact that many Tongan women have achieved very high university qualification, no woman has ever been appointed as a Cabinet Minister and as it is at the moment there is only one woman in parliament.

This year's International Women's Day theme, "Women in Decision-Making" inspired Tongan women to look at the gender equality issues in Tonga. They pointed out that last year's Summit on the 'Way Forward for Women, Gender and Development in Tonga' made strong recommendations that Tonga sign the Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, and create a separate ministry for women's affairs. Tonga is one of only two countries in the Pacific that has not ratified CEDAW and there are still areas in Tongan law where women are not equal with men.

"We are asking, we are seeking and we are knocking," the University of the South Pacific Tonga Director, Salote Fukofuka, said in her reply to Hon. Cecil Cocker's keynote address.

Present at the Prayer Breakfast were, HRH Princess Pilolevu Tuita, Princess Nanasipau'u Tuku'aho and Hon. Fane Tupou Vava'u.