Empowering adolescent girls in Tonga

Thirty-nine-year-old Vanessa Heleta has been a women’s rights activist in Tonga for more than a decade. As a young woman herself, she has made it her mission to empower adolescent girls through learning and awareness raising.

Vanessa is the founder and Director of the Talitha Project, which runs a ‘drop-in centre’ for young women and girls in Tonga, providing security, counselling, training, income generation skills and support.

I always tell young women and girls to fully commit to their visions, talents, dreams, desires and potential and never let anyone think or tell them that they don’t have any will of their own,” she says.

Vanessa has joined other partners in Tonga to advocate and lobby for CEDAW ratification and to continue to lobby for improvements in legislations and policies to advance the elimination of violence against children, such as the ‘Let Girls be Girls’ campaign, which calls for the marriage age of young girls in Tonga to be raised.

She is passionate about advocacy work around human rights and gender equality and promoting the rights of marginalized people, particularly women and girls around gender-based violence and children living with disabilities.

Ms Heleta is the current National Director of Special Olympics in Tonga. During her tenure, Tonga has participated in regional and international sports competitions like the Asia-Pacific Special Olympics in Australia and the World Games Special Olympics in Los Angeles in 2015 where the country won its first gold medal in any international game.


This portrait of Vanessa Heleta was first published by the Pacific Community for the 70 Inspiring Women campaign, it is reproduced here with their permission.

The 70 Inspiring Pacific Women campaign has been produced by the Pacific Community (SPC) in partnership with Australian Aid and Pacific Women. The campaign marks the 70th anniversary of SPC, and leads up to the 13th Triennial Conference of Pacific Women and 6th Meeting of Ministers for Women in Suva (Fiji) from 2nd to 5th October 2017.

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