Working with colleagues on the website
Kate Stevens volunteered as an Information and Communication Officer with the Tonga National Centre for Women and Children
Violence against women is one of the most pervasive and preventable threats to equitable and prosperous communities. Little research has been done on the prevalence of violence against women in Tonga, but a 2009 study by Ma'a Fafine Mo Famili Inc. found that 79 percent of women and girls had experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. Legislative and attitudinal changes resulted in the implementation of the 2013 Family Protection Act, which criminalises domestic and family violence and establishes police protection orders against perpetrators of violence.
This Act is a huge step forward in addressing and eliminating violence against women and children. Nevertheless prevailing attitudes towards the role of women in public and private life, combined with limited resources and a lack of community awareness, means that there is still a huge challenge for those working in this sector.
My volunteer assignment is as Communications and Information Officer with the Tonga National Centre for Women and Children (TNCWC). TNCWC is a small crisis centre in Nuku'alofa that provides counselling and a safe house for survivors of violence, as well as outreach and advocacy within the wider community. Over the course of 12 months, I am working with centre staff to develop a webpage, create printed and multimedia materials, set up an electronic database, and assess and develop training materials. The aim of this is to not only assist in advocating towards a no-violence community, but to provide women with greater access to support and information.
My colleague Lola Koloamatangi is a counsellor and trainer at TNCWC. She is passionate about working with female survivors of violence, as well as supporting women to actively participate in the community and be financially independent.
Staff having lunch at Tonga National Centre for Women and Children (TNCWC)
Lola believes that many factors contribute to the continuation and acceptance of violence against women in Tonga. For example, commonly held attitudes dictate that the abuse of women in the home environment is a private matter and is therefore acceptable. Lola also believes that, when counselled by institutions, women experiencing violence are often encouraged to honour their marriage and remain in an abusive relationship, further perpetuating the belief that women must be subservient and that violence is okay. Lola also cites systematic issues, such as the fact that women cannot legally own land, as contributing to a culture of inequity and silence regarding violence. More education on violence and its causes and consequences within the family and the broader community are vital in creating more peaceful communities.
Beyond my assignment, life in Nuku'alofa is a welcome change from Sydney. There are no crowded trains and my bike ride to work features chickens, churches, taro plantations and irrational piglets running on the road. On the weekends, I have been able to visit Tongatapu's beaches and caves, swim with humpback whales and attend weddings and feasts. The kindness and generosity I have experienced since arriving here has quelled any hesitation I had about packing up and moving country.