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I think it's just fear about giving us too much power. They think we are going to take over. We meet in the office of the Talitha Project, a support group for young women, on a busy corner in the capital Nuku'alofa. The walls are lined with posters calling on women to "rise up" and to "say no to violence". It's here that I meet Iula and Lupe Puloka.


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She's wearing a white jacket and sparkly black blouse, with red lipstick. She lives in a white wood house near a church, with her two-year-old daughter Deborah.

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She speaks of verbal abuse by a female relative. I feel like I am drowning in her wrong words. Tonga's only national study of domestic violence found 77 per cent of women had experienced physical, emotional or sexual abuse. The study said women's close social networks often reinforce stigma around such violence, by blaming the victim or encouraging her to endure it. Empowerment of women was vital to changing such deeply ingrained social norms, the study found. But Vanessa Heleta says many women are unwilling to elect their peers into power.

A record number of women were candidates in the November general elections but none were elected to office.


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  4. Because women are not voting for women," Heleta says, her leg twitching in anger. To me, if you put a woman in parliament she will come and serve you. But here it is the other way around. How can you achieve a democratic country without women in it?

    In the Pacific, about 5 per cent of parliamentarians are women, compared with the global average of Tonga held its first democratic elections in - after then King Tupou V devolved much of his power to parliament - but is yet to elect its first female MP. A handful of women have been instead appointed to parliament. Among them was Tonga's first female MP 'Alisi Taumoepeau, who served as attorney-general and minister of justice from to We meet in her first-floor office in Nuku'alofa, where she now runs a law firm.

    It never occurred to me when I grew up that people wanted me to do those things but I did, raising five kids and doing law.

    The Sydney Morning Herald

    But I'm not a normal Tongan woman. Women hold more senior roles in Tonga's public service than men but are still considered unelectable by many, she says. Equally, the special cultural status afforded to the eldest daughter of the family has not helped women win authority in the political sphere. Pohiva says he won't appoint someone to cabinet over an elected representative.

    Tonga - Wikipedia

    Discrimination against women "has been part of our culture, so it is not easy to change the mentality and attitude of the people", he adds. Tonga remains one of the few countries in the world - along with the United States - that are yet to ratify the convention, which is often described as an international bill of rights for women. Pohiva has promised to retain land laws that give every male over 16 entitlement to a plot of land, while women may only lease such land.

    The government will also exempt Tonga from having to change its laws concerning same-sex marriage, abortion and male inheritance to the throne. But such concessions have not mollified opponents. Tonga's Privy Council, an advisory body to the king, counselled against ratification this month.

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    The tone of the debate is not always civil. At a discussion on CEDAW involving community groups this year, one church minister reportedly shouted: Tonga is a deeply conservative country and change takes time, Taumoepeau says. I have a daughter and four boys, and as far as I am concerned my daughter gets exactly the same treatment, exactly the same opportunities - and if she is more talented in something then I will be supporting her.

    I ask her why some women would oppose such equality. Lady 'Ainise Sevele has two daughters and a son. Our hotel is also a great pick for Tonga family accommodation, with rooms and suites well suited to those travelling with kids and multiple generations.

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