PHOTO: R-L. Tonga’s Minister for Internal Affairs Hon. Sōsefo Fe’ao Vakatā annoucing Tonga will ratify CEDAW with reservations at UN Commission on the Status of Women 59th Session.
The Tongan government has denied claims by religious leaders that the United Nations’ Convention to Eliminate all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) threatens family peace, harmony and Christianity.
Nor will it open the door to legalised abortion or same-sex marriage.
The government’s Minister for Internal Affairs Hon Sosefo Fe’ao Vakatā was responding to a letter released by church leaders this month protesting against its move to ratify the convention.
It was the government’s first clear statement on CEDAW after church leaders protested since March.
In its letter the church leaders said CEDAW denied Christianity and would encourage sodomy.
They also said any opportunities given to women must be limited to their capability as they were born with limited competency.
They said if Tonga ratified CEDAW there would be less respect for women and the peace and harmony of Tongan families would be lost.
In response, the government said CEDAW would give Tongan women the highest respect they deserved.
Though it respected the church leaders’ views, the government said it was its duty to ratify the convention for the best interest of the nation as a whole.
The government said it did not agree with church leaders’ claims that men were born to lead and that women were only born to listen to men.
It said the government operated under Tonga’s constitution and laws and had to make sure all decisions it made were for the greatest advantage of the ‘hou’eiki’ (lords) and people of the ‘fonua’ (land).
Such advantage had to be equally shared by everyone without discriminating them against their gender.
The government told church leaders it trusted the United Nations convention would not interfere with Tonga’s constitutions and that the reservations it applied for would not be removed without Tonga’s consent.
The government said although it expected further discussions with church leaders on CEDAW it appeared they stood firm on their beliefs and the government would not force them to co-operate.
Often described as an international bill of rights for women, the convention does not support abortion and same sex marriage. Same sex marriage refers to gay women and gay men. CEDAW only deals with women’s rights.
The convention is designed to reduce the sexual enslavement and trafficking of women and girls.
It also helps secure basic legal support for women and girls fighting violence and abuses of their human rights.
The convention upholds making primary education and health care accessible where it has previously been denied.
It is also intended to help women save lives during pregnancy and childbirth
The convention also acknowledges the basic right of women to own and inherit property, including helping to secure essential development loans to poor women
Abortion, same-sex marriage and reservations about CEDAW
There have been questions in Tonga about whether governments which ratify CEDAW can do so with reservations.
The convention allows ratification subject to reservations, provided that the reservations are not incompatible with the object and purpose of the Convention.
The reservation can only be withdrawn by the country which applied for those reservations.
New Zealand became party to CEDAW in 1985 and expressed reservations on women rights to military service, but government withdrew it 22 years later.
There is no link between CEDAW and same-sex marriage and abortion.
The United States is yet to sign CEDAW, but has legalised abortion and same sex marriage is legal in many states.
Most countries which have ratified CEDAW have large Christian populations and have expressed certain reservations. Most of these countries do not legalise abortion and same-sex marriage.
In 2013, 28 years after it ratified CEDAW, the New Zealand Parliament passed a bill submitted by Labour Party MP and gay advocate Louisa Wall.
The main points
- The Tongan government has denied claims by religious leaders that the United Nations’ Convention to Eliminate all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) threatens family peace, harmony and Christianity.
- Nor will it open the door to legalised abortion or same-sex marriage.
- The government was responding to a letter released by church leaders this month protesting against its move to ratify the convention.
- It was the government‘s first clear statement on CEDAW since the topic went public in February.
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