Taking on the Challenge...

By Ofa Guttenbeil

Can you imagine your average Tongan male responding as an advocate for women’s human rights to sexist jokes at the kava circle, or writing letters to the editor on issues that challenge the negative way society thinks and behaves towards rape and sexual assault cases, or simply accepting his wife or girlfriend as an equal and genuinely believing that in God’s eyes, we are all equal?

Seven Tongan men have taken on this challenge as Male Advocates on women’s human rights following an intensive seven-day training with 30 other Pacific men at the Stage 3 Male Advocacy Training at Pacific Harbour last week.  The Male Advocacy program is an initiative of the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre (FWCC) and has been implemented in several Pacific Island countries including Tonga.

As the Coordinator of the Women and Children Crisis Centre in Tonga (WCCC) it’s been amazing seeing how much and how far our Male Advocates have come.  It was a bit of challenge at the first two stages, but I think what stage three has shown us is that with time and focused commitment using a learning methodology that uses women’s lived realities and women’s human rights as the foundation for encouraging the shift-in-thinking is really beginning to work – I know that there are many other programs out there that looks at how men and boys can get involved in eliminating violence against women, however what

I have identified with the Male Advocacy program is that it really challenges the men to use effective communication in their advocacy that must first and foremost use a gender analysis and really pushes the men to the extreme limits at times especially when looking at their very own backyards, their day-to-day dealings with their own family members and negative practices that have become so common that its blanketed by using culture and tradition as an excuse – and that’s what I like about this program is that it challenges, challenges and continues challenging.

At the end of the seven day training each of the Male Advocates presented a fifteen-minute presentation on any topic they decided was relevant to what they had learned from Stage I through to Stage III.  The following gives a rundown of the topics covered by the Tonga Male Advocates:

- What the role of a Male Advocate should be; in the home, the community, the church and the country - God made Men and Women as Equals - How some Cultural Practices discriminate against women in Tonga - using the role of the Tou’a (the female serving the kava)  in the Kava Circle and the cultural practice of the ‘Api (proving the bride’s virginity) in the traditional Tongan ceremony) - How the current Land Tenure System and Legislation discriminates against women and maintains an inequality between men and women - How I am going to use the tools, skills and experiences that I have gained as a Male Advocate back in Tonga - Women and girls are not the possession, objects and property of men - The importance of Male Advocacy in Tongan society

At the end of the presentations, the Male Advocates agreed that the most important outcome for them all, was that they internalized what they had learned and that what this meant for them individually was that Male Advocacy starts from the heart and from the heart the passion to effectively communicate their advocacy on women’s rights no matter where they are, whether it be in their homes with their children and wives, with their girlfriends, their friends, in the work place, at church, at community village meetings OR simply just believing that men and women are equal – sometimes this can be the toughest challenge!

‘Ofa atu, ‘Ofakilevuka

For more information, check out the Women and Children Crisis Centre Web site.

Ofa Guttenbeil is the Coordinator of Tongan grantee, Women and Children Crisis Centre. The seven Male Advocates from Tonga are: ‘Usaia Hemaloto (WCCC Male Advocate), Savelio Lavelua (Salvation Army, Drug and Alcohol Team), Rev. Misinale Paea (Church of Tonga), Sio Tuiano (Kolomotu’a Town Officer), Viliami Filimoeahala (Ma’ufanga), ‘Apolosi Fangalua (FWC Youth), Tito Kiuvalu (Ministry of Justice).

 
 

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