Tonga is one of only a few nations yet to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (cedaw). In early 2015, when the government announced its plans for ratification, there were widespread protests, particularly about cedaw leading to same-sex marriage and access to abortion. Then, during the week of celebrations for his coronation, the king through the Privy Council pronounced the government’s plans unconstitutional. In this article, it is argued that the protests and the king’s actions masked wider anxieties about fundamental issues of gender equality as well as about the shift to democratic government and the country’s uncertain future. Drawing on historical accounts of gender relations in Tonga, I examine the current situation of flux, in which issues of access to land, women in leadership, reproductive freedom, and domestic violence are coalescing. The narrowly focused protests against cedaw thus act as smokescreens concealing the realities of contemporary gender politics in Tonga.


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pp. 66-90
Launched on MUSE
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