Tension in Tonga as women's rights divides kingdom

The official opening of Tonga's parliament today is being overshadowed by growing controversy over women's rights dividing the Kingdom.

Protesters at a march in Tonga earlier in May, 2015

The government has signalled its intention to sign the UN's Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) but opponents claim it will open the door for same sex marriage and abortion.

But at the centre of the objections is the fear ratifying CEDAW will mean changes to Tonga's land laws which gives every male over the age of 16 entitlement to a plot of land - women are allowed to lease but can't inherit or mortgage hereditary lands.

Protest marches led by church ministers have been held and petitions with 15,000 signatures presented to King Tupou VI - with supporters expected to take their own petition to the King this week.

Tension has been brewing for months - earlier this year at a CEDAW roundtable discussion involving community groups one church minister was reported by Matangi Tonga online as shouting at the group "You women should know your place".

Supporters of CEDAW have joined together under the Civil Society Forum and say there's a lot of misconception over the convention - and it's about giving women a voice.

Prime Minister Akilisi Pohiva has told Radio Tonga there is likely to be a referendum on the issue.

Photos: Matangi Tonga