Schoolgirls in Tonga Were Reportedly Banned from Participating in Rugby and Boxing
"Honoring tradition, and following passion need not come into conflict."
In 2018, women around the world have run for elected office in unprecedented numbers, won gold medals at the Olympics, and shut down entire transportation systems with mass mobilizations.
But apparently they’re still not tough enough for rugby and boxing.
At least, that’s what’s being said in the small island nation of Tonga, which this week reportedly banned girls at public high schools from participating in rugby and boxing, saying women playing those sports fails to “preserve the dignity of Tongan women and hold on to Tongan cultural values,” News24 reports.
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The directive was passed down in a letter from the ministry of education, The Guardian reports — and, unsurprisingly, it did not go over well with Tongans, or others around the world who took notice.
“It takes us right back to the thinking that education is only academic and for girls to remain in that kind of academic lane, sports is just the alternative for boys,” a women’s rights activist, Ofa Guttenbeil-Likiliki, told Radio New Zealand.
“It is really just taking us back from all the work we have done so far in trying to achieve and bring forward gender equality in Tonga,” she added.
Others, such as New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Olympic shot put champion Valerie Adams, also took notice of the ban.
“Tongan women must be free to choose their destiny, and not be held back by misguided and stubborn misinterpretation,” Adams, who is of Tongan descent, wrote on Facebook. “Honoring tradition, and following passion need not come into conflict. Rugby, like any sport, ought to be embraced by our tongan women - we're good at it - don't take it away!”
The Washington Post reports that Tonga has fielded a national women’s rugby team since 2006 and that rugby was added to the physical education curriculum last year.
Still, according to reports, girls at Tonga High School were specifically told to stop playing rugby “because they were girls.”
Women face other challenges in Tonga, including a lack of political representation — with only one woman elected to Parliament in 2016 (out of a total of 26) — and a high level of domestic partner violence, which affects an estimated 31 to 62% of women on the island.
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After the backlash against the letter online, the ministry of education backtracked on its wording, saying that the letter was intended to curtail physical education classes in the wake of Cyclone Gita — which forced school closures in February — in order to let students make up hours missed during the storm.
But whether the ministry will successfully find its way out of the scrum it created with its letter remains to be seen.