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Tonga's only female minister on why women can't own land in the Kingdom

Alakihihifo Vailala

Tourism and Foreign Affairs Minister, Fekitamoeloa ‘Utoikamanu discusses women’s rights in Tonga and her hopes for the upcoming generation of Pacific women in power.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

Tonga’s only female Minister says laws to restrict women from land ownership are currently being reviewed.

Fekitamoeloa ‘Utoikamanu is Tonga’s Foreign Affairs and Tourism Minister but also has an extensive career as a diplomat including serving as the Kingdom’s representative to the United Nations where she was also a global gender champion.

Tonga's laws prevent women from owning land, the only Pacific Island nation to have such legislation.

Speaking on 531pi Pacific Mornings, ‘Utoikamanu says attempts by Tonga in the past have been made to give women land ownership rights.

“A few years ago, the then government did make a commitment to sign on to CEDAW but the population were not keen on signing up.”

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) is an international treaty adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly.

Tonga is one of seven countries that have not yet ratified CEDAW against 189 states that have.

‘Utoikamanu says many women in Tonga are still unsure about giving land rights to women.

“Further work still needs to be done on this and now the Women’s Affairs Division in the Ministry of Internal Affairs has been actively working on these issues.”

Coming from a family of all girls, she says she too is affected by these laws.

“It’s not a theoretical one for us, so we’ve had to look at what options are available to us to have some kind of legal ownership of land and of those options is to lease.

“I have supported the issue of equality and the opportunity for women to be able to make choices in terms of land ownership. The laws of Tonga at the moment is what it is. It’s just something we have to see how we can make the most benefit out of the current system.”

She says there’s hope in the upcoming generation of women to make a difference.

Most recently, ‘Utoikamanu spoke at the UNDP’s Pacific Women in Power Forum in Auckland which brought together female leaders from Parliaments across the Pacific.

Less than 7 per cent of parliamentarians across the Pacific are women.

“One of the sessions that I spoke at is how to encourage young people, young women in the next generation to be interested in politics and being able to make a difference in making these changes.”

“I also spoke about how you can use education and sports for gender equality so there are different platforms that can be used to encourage women to participate and empower them that can then encourage relevant changes to be made.”

Hero image: 'Utoikamanu speaking at the first-ever UN Trade Forum in Switzerland, 2019. Photo/ UNCTAD

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