‘Ana, an unstoppable force reshaping Tonga

2 May 2024
Image Source    Pacific Community

As a 15-year-old girl, ‘Ana Malia Falemaka was aware of the limitations and injustices that adolescent girls face in Tonga. The discriminatory social and cultural norms, gender-based violence, coercion, and exploitation that ‘Ana witnessed were all common in her daily reality.

She got guidance and was able to discover her inner strength and skills to raise her voice against girls’ unequal access to services and opportunities, largely because of the Pacific Girl programme and the activities it supports in Tonga through several organisations like the Talitha Project.

Let our voices be heard! Give us an opportunity to express our ideas” says ‘Ana.

Pacific Girl has provided a safe platform for all the girls here in the Pacific to freely express themselves and their opinions, as well as advocate on the issues that they believe matter to them.

It all started back in 2018, when ‘Ana joined the Pacific Girl programme, offered by the Pacific Community (SPC) and Pacific Women Lead (PWL), funded by the Australian Government. Anna was involved in designing the programme that adopted the motto “nothing about us, without us” which has increased the rights and opportunities of more than 3,000 adolescent girls across the Pacific, including supporting COVID-19 response and recovery initiatives for girls. Through the programme ‘Ana was able to take on leadership roles at the community, provincial and national.

But she didn’t stop there. Driven by her strong conviction to make a positive impact, she harnessed her determination and newly developed leadership skills to instigate change in her community. Recognising the urgent need to promote environmental consciousness among youth, she took the initiative to organise clean-up activities that not only helped beautify the surroundings but also served as a platform to inspire and educate young minds.

Aspiring to be the Prime Minister of Tonga someday, ‘Ana is studying, law and was recently appointed as a member of the regional Governance Board for Pacific Women Lead regional portfolio and is also a mentor with the Talitha Project and organises community-based activities in her spare time.

“We need more opportunities, safe spaces to participate…there is hardly any representation for young leaders on the Pacific. It is not only about sharing our stories but learning from the work of other amazing young women.”

In Tonga, national research indicates 79% of Tongan women and girls have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.  In a country where young people comprise 55% of the population, resources can be stretched to the point of leaving behind those whom most need support to attain an equal footing – such as girls and young women who face the double barriers of gender and age discrimination.

Girls from across the Pacific joined the Pacific Girl programme. They received grant funding, technical support, cross-regional learning, and networking, but most importantly, they received a supportive place where they can safely explore and grow.

Who else better to turn to for information on the experiences and the challenges that girls are facing than to hear directly from us girls themselves”, says ‘Ana.

The Pacific Girl programme has truly helped me develop into the confident, articulate and resilient young woman that I am today”.

Through meaningful engagement with girls and young women, the programme has shown that an ecosystem of support, connecting empowerment activities, delivered by organisations like the Talitha Project with supportive families, friends, and community members, is vital to creating sustainable change.

Pacific Girl is currently implemented by grantee partners in Tonga, Vanuatu, Fiji, and the Federated States of Micronesia, with a shared learning network that also includes the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. The programme takes a strengths-based approach and is the only regional programme in the Pacific dedicated to advancing the rights and opportunities of adolescent girls

Ana’s bravery gave her the drive to make things better, and programmes like The Pacific Girl gave her the means to achieve them.

As ‘Ana put it in 2019, “We are the future of our world. If you are discussing the future… I believe our opinions are very much needed.”