Increasing the number of women candidates in local elections in Tonga

27 April 2024

Tonga held elections for key local government positions in May 2023: town officers and district officers. In the lead up to the elections, FI-E-FI-A’a Fafine Tonga (FFFT), with Balance of Power (BOP) support, ran several public media activities to encourage women to nominate and advocate for voters to support women candidates. These activities included a television panel discussion and a radio ‘jingle’ which was aired repeatedly.

Ultimately, 25 women were nominated in these elections – more than ever before – and the FFFT developed and ran a short series of candidates’ workshops to provide targeted support to them. The workshops mainly reached the candidates based on Tongatapu, the main island, with 15 attending the first workshop and 9 candidates attended the second. One of these candidates running for town officer elections for Nukunuku Village, was Milise Vaiangina.

“I heard a promotional message on the radio by BOP and FFFT. Listening to the perspectives of women who were exercising leadership and making significant impacts in their communities truly sparked something within me. At that moment, I realised that I, too, could make a difference by seeking out opportunities to lead and serve. Inspired by the words of those women I heard on the radio, I decided to stand in the town officer elections in my community,” she said.

Once she had decided to stand in the election, the FFFT candidate workshops proved to be a valuable support for Milise in her candidacy, giving her peer support as well as practical tips. They showed her what she described as “the power of women supporting other women”. While Milise was not elected, she gained invaluable experience which she says was worthwhile. Not only has it changed the way she perceives herself as a leader, Milise has also decided to become active in the cause of women’s leadership more broadly and is now a new member of FFFT.

Milise was not the only woman influenced by the BOP-supported FFFT campaign. Data collected from the women who attended the second workshop, who represented more than a third of women candidates nation-wide, all reported that the FFFT advocacy had contributed to their decision to run in the elections. By elections day, 9 women were elected including several into positions which have never been held by women before. This shows that BOP’s support for FFFT’s public communications has contributed to women’s political participation in Tonga.