On International Women’s Day, let’s not forget Filemu Ta’uneia!

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

Today is International Women’s Day. 

In Samoa and around the world, it’s an opportunity to acknowledge the role of women in our lives, reflect on their achievements, measure the progress made in terms of the push for gender equality and most importantly plan concrete steps for a better and brighter future. Not just for women but for everyone. 

We say this because we know that if only women were allowed to fulfill their God-given potential in all spheres of life, this world will be a lot better place.

Unfortunately, that is not the case. Despite the strong push for gender equality, women are still marginalised. The unequal treatment of women, despite their merits, is perhaps one of the most unfair aspects of life. This is as true in the case of Samoa as it is in most countries – including the developed world.

The good news is that while we are not exactly where we want to be, we see progress. Slowly and surely. 

All you have to do is think back to the events of this week with Jacinda Ardern’s visit to be inspired. If women needed a role model, she is a fantastic example of what we are talking about in terms of allowing women to fulfill their potential.

Mind you, we haven’t done too badly ourselves in Samoa. We’ve said this before and we will say it again today given its relevance. The appointment of Fiame Naomi Mata’afa as Deputy Prime Minister in a country that can easily be called a “man’s world” is a huge step forward as far as gender equality goes.  

When we talk about pressing for progress, that is massive progress, especially for a small country where sometimes, colonial and chauvinistic attitudes are our worst enemy.

But there is more to women rising to take their place than just Fiame becoming the deputy Prime Minister. The growing number of women taking up key positions within government and the private sector is nothing short of impressive. 

Look at the story on page 10 for example. Here is a young Ta’atialeoitiiti Agnes Tutuvanu-Schwalger, 28-years-of age leading from the front as the Chief Executive Officer (C.E.O.) of the Land Transport Authority (L.T.A.). What a great story. And she’s not just there because it’s just a great story; she is there because she deserves to be there. She is there based on merits. And that’s what we are seeing in Samoa today.

A few years ago, one could confidently name the women who were chief executive officers of government ministries and corporations in this country.

Not anymore. Today, one is afraid of doing that simply due to the fear of leaving one out. The next level down in terms of Assistant C.E.O.s, an increasing number of women are also filling those roles. Eventually, they will graduate to occupy the most senior seats in those departments or ministries, which is a wonderful thought.

Outside government circles, take a look at some of the biggest private companies in Samoa. Many of them are being run by women who are doing a mighty fine job at it. They are driving the economy so to speak.

And that’s not all. Girls are totally dominating the sphere of academic achievements and excellence in schools and learning institutions. All you have to do is flick through the pages of the Samoa Observer during the festive season to see how girls have continued to dominate the podiums at prizegivings and graduation. Which brings us back to the point that considering where we used to be and where we are today, we have certainly come a long way. 

And we’d like to think we are still progressing, one glorious step at a time.

Which reminds us about a quote from Gloria Steinem, world-renowned activist who once said: "The story of women's struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organisation but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights."

Indeed, she couldn’t have said it better. Advancing the cause for gender equality is a matter of human rights. Women’s issues are human rights issues. Whether it’s empowering them, dealing with violence that is often perpetrated against them or whatever, our conscience should point our moral compass to the right direction. It is about doing the right thing.

Speaking of doing the right thing, today we celebrate the fantastic achievements of many great women. 

But let’s not forget the less fortunate ones. Think of women like Filemu Ta’uneia whose story featured in an article titled “Plight of Filemu and her family” published in the Sunday Samoan. The article was printed with photos that should stop us all and make us think.

Yes those photos don’t lie. 

And if Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi and his administration have had the chance to see pictures of the squalor this family lives in, the question we should be asking then today is: What are they going to do about it? How can we “press for progress” in the face of such desperation, poverty and hardship?

As we commemorate International Women’s Day today, let’s not forget Filemu – and many other women like her in Samoa. They need help.

On that note, we want to wish all women a wonderful International Women’s day, God bless!

© Samoa Observer 2016

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