SUVA, March 22 (Xinhua) -- Girls in government schools in Tonga have been banned from playing rugby and boxing, a measure that has triggered public outrage.
The Ministry of Education and Training confirmed that in a letter dated March 15, all government schools have been asked to prevent female students from participating in boxing and rugby, which is Tonga's national sport.
In the letter received by Tonga High School, the ministry said the order was meant to preserve the dignity of Tongan women and hold on to Tongan cultural values, Matangi Tonga Online reported.
Tongan women's rights advocate 'Ofa Guttenbeil-Likiliki told Radio New Zealand International that the ministry used culture as an excuse. The act "has taken us a hundred years backwards," she said.
"Interesting logic. I believe that we should ensure that we preserve Tongan (women's) dignity by not allowing them any jobs but to stay at home," a reader called Boston Rob said, commenting on the online article.
New Zealand short putter Valerie Adams, whose mother is Tongan, made a plea on her Facebook page: "Rugby, like any sport, ought to be embraced by our Tongan women - we're good at it - don't take it away!"
"Honoring tradition, and following passion need not come into conflict," she added.
Manu 'Akau'ola, an official from the ministry, responded that the act was an attempt to make up for lost school hours because of the tropical cyclone Gita, which hit Tonga last month.
He told Radio New Zealand International that the order would be rechecked within the ministry.