Tonga is the Pacific’s only constitutional monarchy. It has a population of around 107,000 people and ranks 101 out of 188 countries on the Human Development Index 2015.LXIV

Tonga is one of six countries globally that has not ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.LXV However, through its national Gender and Development Policy, adopted in 2001 and reviewed in 2014, Tonga has pursued national planning measures in support of women’s empowerment.

Tonga’s Legislative Assembly consists of 17 members elected by the people of Tonga, nine members elected by the Nobles of Tonga and up to four members appointed by the King. While no women were elected in the 2010 elections, one of the King’s two appointments was a woman. No women candidates were successful in the 2014 elections, but with the election of a woman at a by-election in 2016, women’s representation in the Tongan parliament stands at four per cent.

Inheritance passes through male heirs and women are excluded from land holding unless there is no man in the lineage. Even then, women only have occupancy rights.LXVI The labour force participation rate in both the formal and informal economy for women is 42 per cent, compared to 63 per cent for men.LXVII

Research indicates that 40 per cent of ever-partnered women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime, with half of them reporting that their children had witnessed the violence at least once.LXVIII In response, implementation of Tonga’s Family Protection Act 2014 is underway.


Project name: Program Against Violence Against Women
Outcome: Ending violence against women
Project Partner: Women and Children Crisis Centre,Tonga
Total Funding: $900,00019
Funding timeframe: 2016–2019

The Women and Children Crisis Centre in Tonga is implementing a second phase of a Pacific-centred male advocacy training program. As a result of the training, more men are standing up to end violence against women and girls—even when it makes them feel uncomfortable.

Mr Melkie Anton is one of a group of men from across the Pacific who worked closely with the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre and the Pacific Women’s Network Against Violence Against Women to design this training. Over five years, the group developed the Pacific owned and led initiative. Now a lead trainer, Mr Anton explains that,

‘being a male advocate on ending all forms of violence against women and girls, gender equality and women’s human rights is not an easy role. In fact, you have to be prepared to feel uncomfortable, because we will be taking a deep look at our male privileges, our power and how we use that to control women’.

The training involves deep discussions about issues including culture and religion, challenging participants to re-look at attitudes and behaviours that consider women to have lower status than men. It also includes practical sessions on how to respond to the justifications given against the achievement of gender equality, women’s human rights and the fight to end all forms of violence against women and girls.

The sessions get participants thinking, with one man querying,

‘Why do we test women’s virginity (‘api’) before marriage and we don’t care about the man’s sexual history? He could have several sexual relationships and children before marriage but no one cares about that. All we care about is testing the woman’s virginity, to the point that where a man knows that his wife was not a virgin when they married, he will use that against her until she dies and is buried. He will remind her of that every time they have a dispute. Our expectations and testing of a woman’s virginity and not having any expectations on the man is unfair on the woman—is this aspect of culture still required?’

With support from Pacific Women, the second cohort of Pacific Island men commenced the three stage Male Advocacy training in Nuku’alofa in May 2017. The 35 men will be supported by male advocates, including six Tongans, who were part of the inaugural training.

Participants at the Male Advocacy Training in Nuku’alofa, Tonga. Photo: Women and Children Crisis Centre, Tonga.

19This activity is part of a larger program.

Project name: My Body, My Rights
Project Partner: Talitha Incorporation (Talitha)
Total Funding: US$90,000
Funding timeframe: 2016–2018

Since 2009, the Talitha Project has been empowering young women and girls between the ages of 10-25 to make sound decisions that will lead to a life free from violence. A grant from Pacific Women to continue a new phase of the project is enabling Talitha to continue rolling out its work in Tonga. 

Through a range of activities, the Talitha Project educates young women and girls on their fundamental human rights and reinforces the importance of protecting these rights. One activity is the My Body! My Rights! program, which worked with 36 young girls and representatives from key partner organisations between March 2016 and February 2017.

‘They teach us how to protect our body and our rights and know when they saw a violence and then STOP because everyone has a right,’  explains Ms Tolofi Folaumoetu’I, who is 10 years old.

The project also provides several platforms for girls to speak out, share, and debate issues affecting them. The project places a special emphasis on the topic of ending violence against women at regular focus group discussions after school.

A radio talk-back show on Friday afternoons at a popular radio station is hosted by young women who have been trained under the project. The radio show gives young women a public voice to share their views and experiences on violence, along with issues such as human rights and the Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

Participants in the My Body, My Rights project. Photo: Talitha Incorporation.

Through its mentoring program, Talitha has partnered 30 girls with six mentors. This creative program includes confidence building through choreography, team building, artistic development and expression through poetry, photography and choreography, basic journalism skills, and self-defence.

In one exercise, girls and their mentors talked about different areas in the community where violence occurs. They recognised home, school, church, and public spaces as places where violence against women and girls takes place. The mentoring program has created a safe space for young girls and their adult mentors to share their secrets and their stories.

The Talitha project continues to work to support positive changes to social norms through interventions with adolescent girls and young women, through these primary prevention approaches.