Two years ago, the Government took a gigantic step forward as part of widespread efforts to address the scourge that is domestic violence in Samoa.
It happened when Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi launched a National Public Inquiry on Family Violence at the T.A.T.T.E. Building.
Chaired by the Ombudsman, Maiava Iulai Toma, the Inquiry members included former Cabinet Minister, Tolofuaivalelei Falemoe Lei’ataua, Tagaloatele Professor Peggy Fairbrain Dunlop, Meleisea Leasiolagi and Falenaoti Mulitalo Oloialii.
The Inquiry’s objective in a nutshell was two-fold. First it was an attempt to get a comprehensive understanding of the extent of domestic violence in Samoa and then from that understanding use the knowledge gained to formulate workable countermeasures to address the issue. Prime Minister Tuilaepa set the tone at the start.
“Domestic violence is an ugly violation of fundamental human rights faced by many people around the world, including in Samoa, with serious repercussions for children, women, families and communities,” he said at the launch of the Inquiry.
“A national inquiry will allow survivors of family violence and anyone who is affected or interested to come forward and give evidence to the Ombudsman and his fellow Commissioners. Studies have shown that when a survivor is presented an opportunity to come forward and tell his or her story of human rights abuse to someone of authority, it helps in the long road to recovery and reconciliation.
“The Inquiry will assist the government, as well as relevant non-government organisations, villages and the churches to better understand the overall situation, to see what is working well, what the gaps are in the current systems that need to be addressed, and most importantly to identify new counter measures and new participants to join the fight against violence in the Samoan home.
“The Inquiry will provide a report with recommendations to the Parliament at the end of its work. I look forward to receiving that report and to using it to enable the Government and Samoan society as a whole to better protect people and to strike a telling blow to family violence.”
Well that was two years ago. Yesterday at the same venue, Prime Minister Tuilaepa was presented with a copy of that comprehensive report. And the findings are alarming.
For instance, the report found that domestic violence affects almost all families in Samoa. Almost 9 in 10 women who were consulted during the Inquiry said that they had experienced physical or emotional violence in the hands of family members. Six out of 10 women experienced intimate partner violence in their lifetime.
These are grim statistics but they merely confirm what we’ve been suspecting – and in some cases known – all along. Indeed to say that domestic violence is a serious problem in Samoa is an understatement. It’s not just a problem; it has become part of who we are. And if that is the case, then the problem is us.
Listen to Loukinikini Vili, the Director of Human Rights at the Office of the Ombudsman/N.H.R.I. Said Ms. Vili: “Throughout the Inquiry it became increasingly apparent that family violence in some form has become an accepted part of life for most people in society. It is something which is inevitable, tolerated or simply goes unnoticed. This in itself is a significant barrier to both reporting family violence and contributes to an ever worsening cycle of violence at a societal level.”
Yesterday, the Inquiry Chairman and the Ombudsman, Maiava Iulai Toma, alluded to one of the biggest problems we have today.
“One of the key themes that emerged from testimonies is that family violence thrives because it is kept behind closed doors, where perpetrators are allowed to continue under no threat of having to face up to their responsibility,” he said.
“It is about time that we openly talk about these issues, front up and allow the right thing to be done.”
Getting back to Prime Minister Tuilaepa, when he accepted and launched the Inquiry report yesterday, he issued a rallying call to the nation.
“On this day, for the sake of the future, it is up to us and especially those in positions in all levels of our society to stand up and be counted – to demonstrate our dedication to the fa’a-Samoa and Christian values upon which this country is founded,” Tuilaepa said.
“Through the National Inquiry and today’s release of its findings, we hope and urge that we together take action to address this issue head on at last. It is time and we can do it.
“Let us not shirk our duty to future generations of Samoa. We can reclaim and strengthen our social fabric and take pride in true Fa’aSamoa and genuine Christianity.
“Enough is enough! It is time for us all to stand together for the sake of our future generations and say: I will not hide in the shadow of the tree. Let the truth be out and right be done.”
Today, the Samoa Observer News Group joins Prime Minister Tuilaepa and all the people of Samoa to come together and do our part to end family violence in Samoa. It will not be easy but one small step at a time will do it.
Start within our homes and begin by being nice to people that matter to our lives, like our spouse, children, family members and people near you.
Have a great Thursday Samoa, God bless!