CEDAW not our concern says Wesleyan leader as church takes separate stance

PHOTO: Dr Tēvita Havea 

Free Wesleyan Church leader Dr Tevita Havea says the church is not concerned whether the government ratify CEDAW.

The Wesleyan church, which is also known as the Siasi Uesiliana Tau’ataina ‘o Tonga and is the largest Christian denomination in Tonga, has not officially joined other churches which have protested against the government’s move to ratify the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

However, some individual Wesleyan church members and ministers joined the recent protest marches in Nuku’alofa.

Dr Havea, who is General Secretary of the Free Wesleyan Church, told Kaniva News in Tongan that the church supported its members’ freedom.

“CEDAW or no CEDAW, the Wesleyan Church’s doctrine supports the freedom of everyone, man or woman and they cannot be oppressed,” Dr Havea said.

Dr Havea was responding to questions from Kaniva News asking him to clarify the church’s stance on the convention and whether it supported protest marches staged in Tonga recently.

He said the Free Wesleyan Church’s doctrine was clear and it did not accept same sex marriage.

“The church does not believe in man marrying a man or woman and a woman. It is the same with sodomy. The church does not accept it,” Dr Havea said.

“CEDAW or no CEDAW that is the church’s stance,” he added.

He said the church’s Taulama (keep a look out) committee was “working on it,” but did not give further details about what the committee has been assigned to deal with.

Fear

Some other church leaders and Christian activists in Tonga have opposed the government’s move to ratify CEDAW because they fear it would push Parliament to set up laws to legalise same sex marriage and abortion.

There is no clause in the CEDAW agreement that says member countries must legalise same sex marriage and abortion.

The government has made it clear it has reservations about some of the articles in the convention and is concerned that nothing should conflict with Tongan laws regarding land rights, same sex marriage and abortion.

At the last meeting between church leaders and the government, the church leaders told the Prime Minister and the Attorney General they did not want the government to sign CEDAW, claiming it would be against God’s will.

Tonga’s Attorney General had made it clear Tonga’s constitution and law can only be altered by Tonga’s law makers and that the United Nations’ convention does not interfere with these powers.

The government said it believed CEDAW would benefit Tonga and that its move to ratify the convention stood, despite recent protests by some church groups in Nuku’alofa.

The government has put a hold on any further public discussion on CEDAW so it can concentrate on His Majesty’s coronation ceremonies, which will be held from June 27 to July7.

Debates

Supporters of CEDAW claim Tonga’s privilege of altering the constitution and laws was safe and Parliament could not be forced to pass bills legalising abortion and same sex marriage.

All new laws or alteration to the Tongan constitution must be approved by the king.

CEDAW supporters argued the issue was for Tongans not to elect people who would pass laws to legalise abortion and same sex marriage. They said this was possible even if Tonga did not sign CEDAW.

Supporters of the government believe the two protest marches in Nuku’alofa last month were staged by opponents of Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva.

They also claimed that some of the church leaders who led the marches misled their followers by telling them the convention would bring “evil” to the nation and that it would degrade the way Tongans respect women.

Tonga is one of the only seven countries – including the United States – not to have signed the convention.

More than 180 member countries of the United Nations have signed CEDAW. Samoa, one of Tonga’s closest neighbouring country in the Pacific, signed CEDAW 23 years ago, but has never legalised abortion and same sex marriage because of the country’s Christian beliefs.

Dedicated to Queen Mata‘aho

In December 2011 the then government decided to conduct a further series of public consultations on its move to ratify CEDAW.

After the last public consultation in February 2015, all the major stakeholders decided it was time to re-submit the ratification of CEDAW to Cabinet for consideration and approval.

The government’s decision to ratify CEDAW came on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action conference held in New York, which was marked on March 9-20.

The conference also marked the 59th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) which was called to review challenges to the implementation of gender equality and the empowerment of women that was laid out in the Beijing Declaration.

Tonga was represented at the conference by a delegation led by Her Majesty Queen Mataʻaho, The Queen Mother.

The government said its decision to ratify CEDAW on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration was made as “our humble gift to Her Majesty, The Queen Mother, Queen Halaevalu Mata’aho, in recognition of her unheralded leadership and tireless work in support of all the women and girls of Tonga.”

The main points

  • Free Wesleyan Church leader Dr Tevita Havea says the church is not concerned whether the government ratifies CEDAW.
  • The Wesleyan church has not joined other churches which have protested against the government’s move to ratify the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
  • Dr Havea told Kaniva News the Free Wesleyan Church’s doctrine was clear that it did not accept same sex marriage.
  • Supporters of CEDAW believe recent protest marches in Nuku’alofa last month were staged by opponents of Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva.

For more information

The Beijing Platform for Action: inspiration then and now (UN)

Government agrees to ratify CEDAW (Prime Minister’s Office)

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