Male Advocates Graduate, Promote Gender Equality

During the 16 Days of Activism 2017, seven men completed the Women and Children Crisis Centre (WCCC) Tonga’s Male Advocacy Program.

From left to right; Melkie Anton (trainer), Vilai ‘Ilolahia Jr, Sione ‘Aukafolau, Tapinga Lavemaau, Rev. Tevita ‘Eukaliti, Beau Tauheluhelu, Taniela Paea, ‘Anitelu Toe’api, Rev. Mavae Fonokalafi, ‘Apolosi Fangalua and Tito Kivalu. Front; His Excellency Andrew Ford and Hon. Poasi Tei the Guest of Honor. Photo Credit: WCCC

To mark the occasion, they each reflected on what they have learned through the program – each underscoring the value in advancing gender equality in Tonga including increasing women’s participation in decision making.

‘If we have more women in parliament I strongly believe without a doubt, they will help and save the women and children of Tonga from the tragic violence at home and bring the island back to a paradise,’ said Anitelu Toe’api. ‘They will have a better understanding of the situation and [raise] concerns about what government should prioritise in their concerns for the general welfare of the country.’

‘Women can perform any task anywhere,’ added Beau Tauheluhelu. ‘I believe without [a] doubt that a woman can become a leader of a country. There are many obstacles and challenges to this achievement because many people do not support the idea.’

One challenge being electoral law:

‘The General Election Act of Tonga has been used for years and by many generations,’ outlined Tapinga Lavemaau as he recommended quotas for the allocation of seats for women in parliament. ‘It hasn’t been amended or changed but based on my personal opinion, it is time to amend this Act in order to allow both men and [women] to share equal opportunities of leadership in the country. The existing Act do not give women a special chance nor protect women and empower them to take the leadership roles. The bible says, men and women were created in the image of God. Therefore, I believe without [a] doubt, that it is time for us to recognise women’s achievement in the family, community and the leadership roles they play in government and the whole country.’

Such leadership roles also include within the home:

‘Gender should not limit the opportunities [for both boys and girls, man or woman], should have,’ said Vilai Fotumoafulahi ‘Ilolahia Jr. ‘Through my experience, I learned that I grew up in a belief where I discriminated gender in my home and differentiated my roles as a young man. Now I have the knowledge to widen my views and it is different for me now. Let us pull down the boundaries of gender and give equal chances and opportunities to women and girls, encouraging gender equality and empowering the individual and human rights women.’

Advancing gender equality, as the advocates put it, is about looking at bringing women up to an even footing:

‘I do not mean here to give special opportunity for women but what I’m trying to highlight is the need to share equal opportunity for both men and women to run and lead the country,’ Mr Lavemaau continued.  ‘Women has been qualified in so many years ago to become leaders or Prime Minister for the country. I think Tonga really needs to give women a chance to prove themselves and their capabilities.’

‘A good family should have gender equality at home,’ said Sione ‘Aukafolau. ‘When there are differences between the two sides, the family cannot live in peace. When things are equal and balance between [a man and a woman], everything will be easy and run smoothly when they support each other with joy.’

The seven male advocates graduated after completing the three stages of the Male Advocacy Program of WCCC. The program was designed by the Pacific Women’s Network Against Violence Against Women (PWNAVAW).

First piloted in Tonga in 2012, this round of male advocacy training was supported by the Australian Government, UN Women’s Pacific Regional Ending Violence against Women Facility Fund and PWNAVAW.