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Girls Takeover Parliament by Mele Fonua

image1 (10)It was the 2nd of November, 2018 in the Kingdom of Tonga and on that day, we made history. That morning, I had quite a weird feeling. Being part of something this phenomenal, you would think that it would be nerve wrecking but I had felt quite the opposite, I was calm in spite of the short notice of being accepted as part of the Girls Takeover Parliament initiative by Tonga Youth Leaders.

As I was putting on my Puletaha, I had a mini “proud Tonga woman” moment with my reflection and even more so when my mother wrapped my ta’ovala around my waist. Sometimes some of us girls or women take for granted the fact that we are Tongan and the social prestige that comes with it. There is something different about Tongan women and I think we should all have the chance to embrace that social prestige in every aspect of society but especially in the political arena. I put on my blazer, hopped in the vehicle and a few minutes later I entered the Falealea ‘o Tonga gates. I saw girls in uniform and some dressed similarly to the way I was and I started to get excited. I mean, there we were, young women, about to disrupt and takeover the House of Parliament, about to sit in the seats of Ministers and Representatives and step in their shoes for a day and if that doesn’t spark excitement in you, I don’t know what would.

Call it divine authority or coincidence but I knew this day would come. My interest in gender issues, especially in the political participation of women, started when I learnt about the gender gap in different decision-making positions and institutions across the globe and especially in patriarchal societies such as our own. In search of ways to narrow the gap, I developed the belief that the answer lies in policy, laws and its institutions and the involvement and participation of all minority groups in those areas, including women. I think it’s very important that women of all ages but especially young women, are educated on the importance of their participation in decision-making processes. We bring to the table not only different experiences to men but also a certain level of emotion that only we can understand in other women and only we are able to fully understand what women need.

That day we were given two topics to debate about on the agenda: single-use plastic including ways to make sure that they are disposed of properly and cyberbullying: a safer digital world for girls. I went in that day with the intention of using that platform to bring up the issue of political participation of women in Tonga and propose a way that I believed would be the helpful to us as a country in helping our system be more representative.

I saw my chance in our last session of the day before our mock parliament began where the Speaker of Parliament, Lord Fakafanua, shared his experience as a youth in politics and parliament. He also shared his beliefs about the involvement of women and youth and then it got more interesting. I disagreed with the Speaker over Temporary Special Measures in the form of reserved seats (electoral gender quotas) in Parliament for women. He believed that the law was already providing a level playing field for men and women to compete for seats in Parliament. I wanted to let the girls know at this point that there is a difference between POLITICAL EQUALITY and POLITICAL EQUITY. Yes, the law provides the same opportunities for men and women and we have access to the same resources and everything we need to compete for available seats; this is political equality. But I believe, as I stated, that what we also need, is less obstacles. Tongan women, although prestigious in some aspects of our social life, are often disadvantaged in other areas, political especially. Reserved seats can fast-track our participation, reserved seats can overcome these obstacles and this is what I believe to be political equity. I brought this up because I believe that young women should understand it and be able to tell the difference. I also wanted to make known that the concept of reserved seats was not a new one. The seats for nobles are “reserved” for them. Although it is in a completely different context as in it is culturally and traditionally relevant but the concept itself, “reserved seats” shouldn’t be treated as a new one because it already exists in the house. And although the situation may seem oversimplified, I believe that with a bit of understanding and flexibility, it would be understood from my perspective.

When I delivered my argument, in the Falealea ‘o Tonga, in the presence of the Speaker of the House, and in the midst of my fellow young women, it felt amazing. No, amazing is such an understatement to the way I felt. My dream was materializing right in front of me and for me, it felt like an overshadowing for the future. It did not matter anymore that I was a small being in a big room surrounded by leaders of our country, I wanted myself and the young girls to understand that no matter how intimidating or how prestigious the people are of an audience, deliver what you intend to deliver in a firm but respectable manner. Stand by your beliefs and never sway because the opinion of someone higher than you think otherwise. However, always be willing to compromise for the greater good of your community, after all, as a Parliamentarian, what you are, is a servant, for the people you represent.

I will not be forgetting that day any time soon and mixed emotions that came with it. Networks were created, ideas and different mindsets were showcased and friends were made that day. The Girls Takeover Parliament was a success, both on a national and a personal scale.

LE’O
THE VOICE OF TONGA’S YOUTH
 LE’O IS A SAFE PLATFORM FOR EXPRESSION AND DIALOGUE ON MATTERS THAT MOST CONCERN OUR YOUTH TODAY. WE ARE HAPPY TO SHARE WITH YOU PIECES CONSTRUCTED AND SUBMITTED TO US BY OUR YOUTH REGARDING THE ISSUES THEY FEEL ARE IMPORTANT AND ARE MOST PASSIONATE ABOUT.

“BOTCHED ASPIRATIONS & THE AMBIVALENCE OF A PATRIOTIC YOUTH” by ‘Anaseini Ulakai

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Gone are the days where the intelligentsias were our government. Where our Ministers were eminent associate intellectuals, but now dawns an era where democracy becomes an umbrella shielding the majority from rational thinking. Common perceptions, agree no less with Lincoln that government should “consist of the people, by the people, for the people.” But what if we perceive from Sir Bernard Shaw’s binocular– “That democracy substitutes election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few.” However, we mustn’t bring up these two separate dogmas, hoping to somewhat solve the matter – that our leaders should be competent. To think of why Taufa’ahau Tupou IV considered the monarch’s rights in appointing the executives of the legislature for certain means of ensuring that the most literate of Tonga led the nation. The strategy the skills the intellectual capacity and competent level these few were equipped with, held our nation’s best interest. Although it was ostracized at the time . But alas, we cannot turn back time, nor re-amend our recent 2010 constitution and new regime. We must strategize systematically a solution befitting to attain this aspiration, for a prosperous nation led by the literati. Today we have the wholesome right to elect our leaders, we should enhance our lenses and envision a successful future. To the extend, where our grandchildren and great grandchildren will continue to commemorate our freedom from any colonial rule, and our freedom to practice our Christian religion, both of which we are proud of. The possibility of the matter, arises if we choose to neglect individualism, loyalty to family affairs (by means of electing relatives because of family relations, although candidate is highly inept) and other relationship dogmas. Think outside the box. You cannot say you elect to educate, for we must elect the educated for instant progress. The illiterates will only prolong progress. We must collaborate to revive the botched aspiration by foreseeing a more hospitable, flourishing, and profitable nation. That will not utterly rely on our foreign benefactors for financial support. The ambivalence, by tightening up slacken policies within correlate departments of our government. So that we are able to help terminate the access of disruptive substances (i.e. drugs) to our shores, deterring any hope of a successful future for our youth. In summary, the dire hope of this patriotic youth, is that that one day we unite ourselves on the matter (for Tonga to have competent leaders), adjust our lenses and remain steadfast. So when we are positioned at the poll, we are confident of the results. A Tonga that is overflowing with triumph and prosperity, nevertheless put an end to corruption.

LE’O
THE VOICE OF TONGA’S YOUTH
 LE’O IS A SAFE PLATFORM FOR EXPRESSION AND DIALOGUE ON MATTERS THAT MOST CONCERN OUR YOUTH TODAY. WE ARE HAPPY TO SHARE WITH YOU PIECES CONSTRUCTED AND SUBMITTED TO US BY OUR YOUTH REGARDING THE ISSUES THEY FEEL ARE IMPORTANT AND ARE MOST PASSIONATE ABOUT.

THE SUBTLETY OF GENDER INEQUALITY by Mele Fonua

SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOAL 5: GENDER EQUALITY

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My mother and I were going for a drive and I told her about the possibility of working for MORDI as a value-chain officer. She asked me the normal questions parents would ask their children about a job opportunity; what MORDI is about and the kind of work they do. Excitedly, I told her about rural development and achieving self-reliance in the outer islands’ communities and other rural areas and occasionally referring to videos I watched about MORDI’s work and their achievements. She was excited at first. It was until I dove into the agricultural part that I started to see the doubt. I explained that a major component of the second phase of MORDI’s work is agriculture. I told her at one point that if I get to work with MORDI, there is a possibility that I might be working in the outer islands. She said, “Then that job is a man’s job”. Perhaps she already pictured me in a plantation somewhere and being young and a woman in that situation, she naturally answered with motherly instincts. My response to my mother’s comment was “who says?” and to this she was silent. The conversation for the rest of the drive was about my grandmother’s renovations.

My personal experience narrated above was to highlight the subtlety of gender inequality which is the subject of this piece. From observation, I see many of us highlight the obvious acts of gender inequality. For example, in the Pacific political arena, there is the obvious underrepresentation of women in parliament or in sports with the recent restriction put on women playing rugby. It is this kind of gender inequality we try to officially address through actions such as the women’s parliament and building awareness. However, gender inequality exists in more subtle forms and may be disguised which is why we sometimes fail to recognize and address it. These exists in our personal lives through our everyday conversations, the way we joke around with friends and family, our church gatherings and so forth. What my mother said to me that night was heartbreaking but it was also opened solidified my belief that these everyday conversation, comments and social beliefs should not be tolerated. It is motivating me to challenge the norm. It is daring me to (attempt to) attain, even to a small degree, total gender equality by disrupting these sorts of subtle inequality. I believe that to attain total gender equality, we need to address the subtle forms as much as the more obvious forms of gender inequality.

Gender equality to me means that all female and male should experience the same opportunities, access the same resources and enjoy the same activities with equal level of ease emotionally, socially, economically, politically, and in every other aspect of life. So, if in any aspects either one of the genders are in any way restricted to even a small degree above the other then it is in that situation where gender inequality exists. Small degrees are what I think would qualify for subtle forms of gender inequality. For instance, I know you would agree with me that in church gatherings, men and women are separated. There is a whole isle of pews just for men and another just for women. However, if they are seated in the same isle, women are always seated closer to the front and men closer to the back. Because this has been institutionalized and we have grown up seeing this as kids we accept that this is normal. Some would say that it is for the sake of order, formality and respect. However, I believe that if we change this, if we challenge to disrupt this norm, we can still maintain order and formality with mixed seat arrangements. Another example is the way we joke around and the phrases we use in our personal lives and our everyday work. What my mother said to me is one example. She limited me emotionally, making me think that a plantation in the islands was no place for a woman. If I want to enjoy a day of hard labor in a plantation in the islands as much as any man, then I should not have to be emotionally restricted to believe that. Another example is taken again from my personal life. When we go to the plantation and my brother starts slacking, my father says “Ke hange ha fu’u ta’ahine”. Even when I am joking around with my siblings, any one of us would say “stop being such a girl” when one of us is painful or is crying after we play a game. It can be expressed the other way around as well. My sister would lift something really heavy and my parents would sometimes say “Sio atu, hange ha fu’u siana”. From these examples, women are associated with pain and slacking off in hard labor and men are associated with strength. I believe that these subtle forms of gender inequality should not be tolerated if we wish to attain full gender equality. They would remain invisible if we do not choose to be and remain open minded about them. These are the ones that I believe are being neglected and should be addressed if we as a nation wish to attain the fifth Sustainable Development Goal of Gender Equality.

In our country’s efforts to attain Gender Equality, we have achieved much but not enough to mark a significant change of negative attitude towards gender equality. Most of our government and social efforts have been concentrated on addressing more obvious forms of gender inequality. However, if it were up to me, I would factor in these subtle acts of inequality if the country wanted to achieve total gender equality. I know for a fact that my family and I are not the only ones who experience these demonstrations of gender inequality. There are other families who experience the same thing. Our schools and social institutions experience them too but it is a shame that not many realize or recognize them because they are part of our lives, they have become routine, and they have become social norms. Our challenge now is how we can disrupt the norm to reduce if not eliminate these subtle forms of inequality. I believe that to disrupt already strongly established norms across different social institution such as the family, the church and schools, would cost a lot and will not be efficient or effective. However, the most cost-effective chance we have at changing the norm is to concentrate on the norms that will shape the future, the norms that our children and future generation will grow up in. Older people in society have their minds set on certain beliefs about gender equality and it would be hard to change their perspectives. Targeting youths and younger children would be much easier as they are more open-minded and easier to change their perspectives and beliefs when nurtured and educated the right way. Through education policies that concentrate on nurturing the way children think and the attitudes they display will build a society that views men and women as equal no matter what opportunities they are presented with or the activities they enjoy. For example, the kindergarten books my niece receives has girls playing skip-rope and boys playing rugby. These images solidify the belief that rough games are for boys and not girls and less dangerous games are for girls. They also would make children believe that only boys can handle dangerous situations while girls should be comfortable in the safe zone. I think if the curriculum were to be changed to show images of both playing each and not limiting the games each one plays, it will nurture the way children think and act. Also, through sports policies that will open sports opportunities for girls and boys to play sports that are not normally meant for them (according to society). For example, every Saturday at the ‘Atele grounds, there are tournaments for young boys aged 14 and under. I do not see why young girls should not be celebrated the same way for the same sport or for young boys who enjoy netball which is presumably a girls sport. My point is, through these policies targeted at young children and youth, and it is not just through education and sports policies but policies across different institutions, we as a community can be in a way steered towards changing the perspective of the future generation and in turn, they will grow, from the bottom up, a society that accepts men and women as equals.

Gender equality in Tonga can be achieved and will be achieved if we remain open-minded about the subtle aspects of the subject and if we are willing to address the problem as a whole. It may seem naïve to think this way but I believe that one has to believe in a certain level of idealism to have a vision but remain a realist to achieve a mission.

LE’O
THE VOICE OF TONGA’S YOUTH
 LE’O IS A SAFE PLATFORM FOR EXPRESSION AND DIALOGUE ON MATTERS THAT MOST CONCERN OUR YOUTH TODAY. WE ARE HAPPY TO SHARE WITH YOU PIECES CONSTRUCTED AND SUBMITTED TO US BY OUR YOUTH REGARDING THE ISSUES THEY FEEL ARE IMPORTANT AND ARE MOST PASSIONATE ABOUT.

Walking to the Future Together by Aulola Tongilava

When it comes to the discussion of Tonga’s vibrant demographic that is youth – it is often talked about in terms of an issue or statistic. Just yesterday at the opening ceremony of Tonga’s National Youth Week, one of the assigned speeches of the day approached the subject of youth as an age group; mere statistics first without addressing the most necessary element of the concept– that youth are young people with dreams for the future. Young people have agency and are not lacking in activism and meaningful discourse (Tonga Youth Leaders is a testament to that).  Young Tongans are seen in a problematic way and I have penned this essay as a call to change these sentiments. In an important week of discussing young people, this is a call with an emphasis on transformative leadership.

Since the beginning of the year, several media outlets and neighbouring countries have expressed concern for Tonga as it is due to repay back its loans from China. The loan was sought to rebuild Nukualofa in the wake of the 2006 riots. China had granted a five-year extension to the loans’ grace period and is now refusing requests from the government to either defer the loans further – or waive the debts. While this is an urgent subject for our government and decision-making at the highest level of leadership, I do believe that it is also necessary for young people to participate in this discussion. Whether it be deferred loans or waivered debts, it is clear that our future is in crisis. As such, we have a duty to ourselves to improve our livelihoods today, for tomorrow.

We may ask of our leaders in this most important week of recognizing Tonga’s youth as future leaders of tomorrow, that it is imperative they make decisions not just for their short-term objectives but to keep youth in mind as we will deal with the consequences of their diplomacy, in the future. Most importantly for young leaders, we must take upon this crisis as a learning opportunity to share and expand on our understanding of transformative leadership and how to be impactful in the most sustainable way possible. That we do not falter as some past leaderships have done, but that we take with us to the future invaluable lessons from our forefathers and ancestors. Here are some of the ways we can do so.

Talanoa – Every conversation flows in the form of mediation by talanoa. Talanoa seeks to enlighten all those who gather willingly to listen and make use of teachings and correction. Talanoa is a mix of informal and formal discussions that gives full control and agency to a person to share their story in a space of flexibility and openness. By fostering such an environment, we can communicate clearly and ensure that we are not doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. Mistakes that burned our island capital and challenged the core our golden values.

Inclusion – The significance of inclusion ensures that as young leaders, we consider everyone from all walks of life. Inclusion at its deepest level must avoid tokenistic acts and seek to widen the circle of unity to young men and women, fakaleiti and various sexual orientations, disabled persons, our families and relatives across the diaspora, everyone across the board. Regardless of our stature in society, inclusion erases the division of classes and unites minds and hearts. This value plays a critical role in development whether it be socially or economically, by limiting the duplication of efforts and using our resources efficiently. How much more effective we can be when we work together without prejudice.

Respect – Our existence lies in how we interact with one another, thus the respect we have for each other exemplifies true leadership. For when we as young leaders can respect the spaces meant for us and spaces meant for others, then we can progress to the future we envision with great hope. No wonder one of the Faa’i Kavei Koula rests on faka’apa’apa as the final sennit that holds together the corner posts of Tongan values. More than anything, our respect for our future means that we can be adamant in our pursuit of transformative leadership, seeking accountability and transparency where needed.

To conclude, I hope that this week as young leaders of tomorrow we may reflect wholeheartedly on our future and our vision for a greater Tonga that is prosperous and true to our heritage, led by open communication, inclusion, respect and other great values that exist within us as Tongans.

Aulola Tongilava

 

LE’O
THE VOICE OF TONGA’S YOUTH
 LE’O IS A SAFE PLATFORM FOR EXPRESSION AND DIALOGUE ON MATTERS THAT MOST CONCERN OUR YOUTH TODAY. WE ARE HAPPY TO SHARE WITH YOU PIECES CONSTRUCTED AND SUBMITTED TO US BY OUR YOUTH REGARDING THE ISSUES THEY FEEL ARE IMPORTANT AND ARE MOST PASSIONATE ABOUT.

“Who Am I?” by Roneima Teumohenga

Roneima Teumohenga
This poem is a reflection of my journey of having a strong sense of identity as a NZ born Tongan, Tokelaun, Samoan girl.
Rich in radiant red
Amongst the flowerbed
Lies internal beauty that bleeds
Golden pollen beads
For my heilala flowers
Holds many powers
Yet I hold back the feeling of being down
Like a smile hiding a frown
Unsure of what it is
It falls to bits

 

Reaching for a star
It hopes to stretch out far
Something holds it back
Like a mere heart attack
No root boosters to propel it forward
It feels like it is being tortured
Teuila also known as red ginger
The growth of it may hinder
Until I feel confident
I will face the consequent

 

Blooming during the season
Knowing I am Polynesian
I must stand out, without
A shadow of doubt
Displaying my culture
As a work of art, a sculpture
Showing the world the best I can be
All that it takes is to be me

 

LE’O
THE VOICE OF TONGA’S YOUTH
 LE’O IS A SAFE PLATFORM FOR EXPRESSION AND DIALOGUE ON MATTERS THAT MOST CONCERN OUR YOUTH TODAY. WE ARE HAPPY TO SHARE WITH YOU PIECES CONSTRUCTED AND SUBMITTED TO US BY OUR YOUTH REGARDING THE ISSUES THEY FEEL ARE IMPORTANT AND ARE MOST PASSIONATE ABOUT.

Equality by ‘Ilisapesi Fonua

I consider myself a feminist.
Feminism means various things to various people. For some it means backing certain charities, finding reasons to say Emma Watson is whiny (don’t), showing your support for certain politicians, or, as some “genius” I used to know once said , “listening to Beyonce. Duh!”
I have always been pro-feminism, pro-gender equality, pro-everything that was pro-women. Yet I’d never found myself in situation that showcased just how important one of these issues is, not just to me but to everyone around me. This particular issue is gender equality.
For educational purposes I recently moved abroad and lived with my aunt and uncle and their large family. Generations and generations under one roof.
Thus I was introduced to my first niece. Quite obviously the apple of everyone’s eye, I also immensely enjoyed her little mannerisms and questions and comings and goings.
Aside from the inevitable clashing of personalities that is to be expected when becoming a new part of a household the one thing that stood most prominent for me was something that revolved mostly around the little bundle of mischief (and volume) that was my three year old niece.
Dinner times were often a home cooked event but on occasion there was reason for takeout which often meant pizza. And pizza + large Tongan household = everyone goes to sleep happy. Usually.
On this particular night the children were concentrated more so on their playtime rather than their pizza. Typical of my niece and my oldest nephew both of whom rarely ate as it was (a truly un-Tongan trait of theirs).
Children fight; that much has been well proved and documented since the dawn of time.
I watched as my nephew, who was not easily angered even at seven years old, shoved my niece into a couch. The family zeroed in on him and the reprimanding began.
I then watched as my niece climbed off her mother’s lap, picked up a hard toy and launched it at my nephew’s head. It hit with force and swiftly enough he was in tears.
As my nephew was sat down by one of his aunts, he was then told that he couldn’t treat his cousin like that. Despite having just been injured by her. When asked why he couldn’t treat her that way, he responded with, “Because she’s a baby.”
“Yes, but she’s a baby what?” his aunt asked.
Between sobs, he answered, “A baby girl.”
“That’s right. And girls always get special treatment. Remember that.”
“Girls always get special treatment.”

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Feminism, I feel, is something that was spearheaded because of incidents of injustice that were being felt in various female walks of life. From there we learned the importance of standing up for our basic rights. And now we have arrived at perhaps one of our biggest battles: gender equality.
The misapprehension that certain feminists seem to be labouring under is that, as was previously mentioned, girls/women deserve “special” treatment.
While women have had their fair share of suffering that does not however entitle us to getting better treatment. A fair percentage of the world is already resisting the concept of gender equality; what makes some of us think that the world is ready for “special treatment” toward women only?
Treating young girls as if the world is their oyster is something that I find wonderful and beautiful and is a way of life that should be encouraged. Girls and women should be taught that they have rights; say what they want, wear what they want, live the way they want.
Every possible way that there is to educate women on how to stand up for themselves, be empowered and confident in how they live their lives, is something that I believe in strongly.
It is only when women/girls are being told that their rights, their way of life, and, basically their lives are more important than that of the males that surround them, that we are taking a step BACKWARD.
Feminism is not synonymous with male-hating.
That is a fact, not an opinion.
As I have seen for myself when a young girl is born to a family and she has males close to her own age surrounding her, this can be a good thing in various ways. Having brothers and male cousins can influence a confidence around males that is something to be admired.
The problem is introduced when parents tell their daughter/s that she is more important than her brothers and male cousins. What comes of it is that these boys are being told they are less significant than their sister, will begin to think that their own self-expression comes second to their sister’s or may even begin to associate expression as something only acceptable from girls, so,  strictly a “girl thing”. The repercussions will become clearer with time.
As it turns out cherishing your daughters has its own detriments especially when you don’t do it right. Encouraging your girls to be smart is important. Encouraging your girls to have a voice is important. Encouraging your girls to be kind is important. There is nothing wrong with wanting to give your girls strength and independence. But there is absolutely no need to step on your boys in order to do so.
If girls are raised to believe their voices are of more importance than that of their male counterparts we are only creating and adding to the obstacles our future feminists will inevitably have to face. So while it’s imperative that your daughter knows she has rights, it’s also important that your son doesn’t resent her for having them because you told her that his don’t matter. Both are important equally.
‘Ilisapesi Fonua

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Le’o
The voice of Tonga’s Youth
 Le’o is a safe platform for expression and dialogue on matters that most concern our youth today. We are happy to share with you pieces constructed and submitted to us by our youth regarding the issues they feel are important and are most passionate about.