Tonga signs UN convention banning discrimination against women

The Tongan government will sign the United Nations’ convention banning discrimination against women.

The decision to ratify the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) comes after lengthy debate in cabinet and consultations with community groups during the past four years.

However, Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva said the kingdom would reserve the right to maintain its own laws on abortion, same sex marriage and the rules regarding the succession to the throne.

Women advocates of the UN convention accused religious leaders and conservatives of blocking the ratification because of their Biblical beliefs.

Some church leaders in Tonga argued that women were born to have a certain place in the family and that they must come under the control of men.

Tonga was one of seven countries in the world that have yet to sign the international agreement.

Other countries include Iran, Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia, all of which are notorious for human rights violations.

One other Pacific state, Palau, and the United States, have also failed to ratify the convention.

Male succession to the throne and estate as well as restrictions on women registering land, bans on abortion and same-sex marriages were some of the issues that made Tongan authorities reluctant to ratify the declaration.

Prime Minister Pohiva said: “This is a historic day for Tonga. A day that all Tongans; women and men; girls and boys; young and old; can look at with great pride. For it is the day when the international community of nations joins the Government of our proud nation, in support of our endeavour to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women and girls.”

Hon Pohiva said his Cabinet’s decision to ratify CEDAW was arrived at only after lengthy and thorough discussions and after consultations by individual members of Cabinet with community and church leaders, and their constituencies.

He said some of the provisions of CEDAW were clearly in conflict with Tonga’s Constitution and laws.

“Our decision to ratify was made on the very clear understanding that the Government’s ratification will be with reservations in respect of those provisions that are incompatible with our laws,” Hon Pohiva said.

“In effect, this means that our instrument of ratification will include the declaration that the Government of the Kingdom of Tonga is prepared to apply the provisions of the Convention nationally, on the condition that it does not conflict with the provisions of the Constitution and all the laws of Tonga regarding succession to the throne and nobility, abortion and same sex marriage.”

A roundtable meeting in Nuku’alofa last week to discuss the ratification of CEDAW saw a heated debated between women advocates and church leaders.

One woman advocate said she was disgusted by the argument.

Vanessa Heleta who runs the Talitha Project for the development of young women, was quoted by Cathnews New Zealand as saying: “They are using the Bible to say the male is the head of the family and they say to us don’t be selfish, women are under men – just be content where you are.”

“They all know it is unfair. When they say there is no need to address the gaps…I feel disgusted – absolutely disgusted.”

The main points

  • The Tongan government will sign the United Nations’ convention banning discrimination against women.
  • The decision to ratify the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) comes after lengthy debate in cabinet and consultations with community groups during the past four years.
  • However, Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva said the kingdom would reserve the right to maintain its own laws on abortion, same sex marriage and the rules regarding the succession to the throne.
  • Women advocates of the UN convention accused religious leaders and conservatives of blocking the ratification because of their Biblical beliefs.

For more information

CEDAW (United Nations)

‘Tongan gender equality advocates point finger at faifekau’

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