THE Tongan Government has rejected the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) on the basis that the position of women in Tonga is "respected and cherished" and should not be subject to change.
General Manager for the Tonga National Centre for Women and Children (TNCWC) - an NGO that provides refuge and advocacy for victims of abuse, 'Ofa-Ki-Levuka Guttenbeil Likiliki, states this makes it clear that the Government is out of touch.
"Tell the 202 women who have sought refuge at our Centre from abuse that they are cherished. Tell all the women who are too scared to leave their abusive husbands because they have no access to land or financial support that they are cherished. Clearly our social systems aren't working."
According to the Ministry of Police four women have been murdered in domestic violence incidents this year, and in August three rapes were reported. "If we were living in a society where the status of women was fine we would not see these violent incidents." said Guttenbeil Likiliki.
The government has claimed that ratifying CEDAW would cut across our cultural and social heritage that makes up the Tongan way of life. However a report published by the Pacific Regional Rights Resource Team compared existing Tongan legislation to the implications of signing CEDAW and found that Tonga's legislation complies with the provisions of CEDAW, but there are certain aspects of Tonga's legislation that are yet to be brought in line with the Convention.
"Accepting CEDAW would be a far cry from an overhaul of cultural and social heritage. Our constitution is in line with the tenants of basic human rights, but it has no reference to gender. Without it, it is impossible to build legislation that can provide protection from gender based discrimination." said Guttenbeil Likiliki.
Tonga is committed on an international level to human rights as a signatory to the UN Convention the Rights of the Child (CRC) and as part of the Pacific Island Forum (PIF) Pacific Plan towards the promotion of human rights in the region. Guttenbeil Likiliki sees hypocrisy in this stance.
"Tonga is quick to uphold human rights on an international level, but it has a long history of blatantly ignoring women's rights. It's hypocritical at the deepest level." TNCWC, 18/09/09.