Women and Land in Tonga (by Dr Sunia Foliaki). This is a great essay - as a Tongan woman unable to own land in my own country, it’s encouraging to see that someone out there gets it.
Women shoulder a vital if not the bulk of activities whose outcome is the feeding of the Tongan population. They plant, weed, harvest and manage food stores although these are mistakenly attributed to be mainly the toils of men. Women undertake most of the cooking and preparing the food for everyone else who is involved in farming (be these of a subsistence or cash generating sense). This work is in addition to other unpaid occupations that women fulfill - as the household doctor and family health manager, primary child carer and full time night security while male farmers gather in night kava consumption ovals planning and boasting of harvests past and anticipated. Although mothers are the principal chefs they are routinely the last to eat and often ending up with the leftover and the smallest portion. Yet we keep shaking (often nodding) ‘intelligently” our heads at health services encounters or at funerals at the health inequity resulting in unfortunate health circumstances among female family relatives and friends. The continuing saga of blaming the victim rather than a sexist system.
The power base either at government level or nobility (whoever invented that) and Lordship (Lord have mercy) in recent years have, at every sign of a potential political embarrassment, out of the blue announced that ”oh by the way we were thinking of giving women the right to own land” line. This promise is as if these are pearls dropping from their lips, when in fact it is just a no brainer that women are human beings just like men who also need land to stand on. Now I appreciate that guy up north with his ‘Read my Lips’ line.
As we speak (or write for that matter) any foreigner who gave an official a Chinese takeaway or English meal who just happened to have bought a Tongan passport legalized by a change in the Constitution (after the fact) has more right to land in Tonga than a Tongan woman. Led alone gifting Asians with garlands of diplomatic passports. The sole difference is because the foreigner has a different appendage in the middle areas between the belly button and knee joint that make him a male. In a not too distant conversation I had with a palangi who happened to be made a Minister in Tonga (but since retired and transferred to an equally highly paid job following a rusty vessel that sank and killed mostly women and children) about the issue of Tongan women owning land in Tonga. I was encouraged of course in asking knowing that this was a Palangi from a Palangi land where women were treated better and could own land. Much to my horror the Palangi minister advised that “we’ll smell them (women) out first to see if they are fit to own land”. It is ironic that out of the whole ill fated journey in the above rusty boat all the survivors were those “allowed” to own land in Tonga. Not a single woman survived at least to see or feel land again even though they will never own. The irony of ‘Fonualoto ‘aki e Moana.
For goodness sake women are human beings with connections to the land through their fathers, grandfathers and families. These humans did not want to be born females either. In addition to pooling at the lowest ranks in terms of occupation opportunities we now give Chinese, Burmese, Foreign-ese and everyone else-nese the right to own land for the simple presence of an appendage large or small and almost always small in the mid section. So we emphasizing alcoholic cocktails now as in ‘Two Manhattan High Balls and One Straight” to qualify for pieces of swamp land not already grabbed and held tightly by nobles and royalty? We have even given land rights and even Lordships to never mind who including those who do not attend court cases for a Royal Commissions on a disaster ferry that killed all the women and children due to a bout of ‘depression’ twenty years ago! Should we remove the right to own land for men who are gay or transvestites? What makes me uncomfortable is that if we are giving the land rights to the men because they are males, but they turn out to perform roles that are normally expected to be performed by women in their sexual orientation, should we remove these rights for these individuals to own land as we have removed the right for women? Is it about the accidental appendage or the roles being performed by women?
The Women’s and Children’s Crisis Centre reports on child abuse, domestic violence and increasing sexual abuse of women. We do not have to look far to connect the economic disadvantage experienced by women, lack of land and the increasing number of sexual offences against women who increasingly succumb to activities and situations not of their making.