A senior New Zealand woman Army Officer whose tour of duties included South Sudan has commended Samoa for appointing women to senior positions in government.
Lieutenant Colonel Esther Harrop, who is the accredited New Zealand Defense Advisor Pacific for Samoa, Niue and the Cook Islands, told Samoa Observer in an interview that she experienced a lot of challenges in her 25-year Army career.
These included deployment on United Nations (U.N.) humanitarian operations in war-torn countries such as South Sudan in Africa, where she was the only senior female defence officer out of 114 staff.
“In the United Nations, there are lots of initiatives to get more women to serve because they make huge inroads where often men can’t in a conflict or post conflict situation.”
“If you imagine that your village is under threat the men all go out ready to fight but the women want to talk about practical things like, ‘what’s going to happen to the kids, what about the schooling, where’s the food, and where’s the medicine’,” she said.
Her deployment as a senior planer on the U.N. humanitarian relief mission had its challenges, where giving directions to male soldiers was difficult, but she worked to win their loyalty by appealing to their sense of honour.
When asked if she found that experience a challenge, she said: “Oh yes it was crazy and for a start, you got no mates. However, I’m not a person who would ever give up and think that something is too hard. When I first got to South Sudan it was difficult for anybody to listen to me.
As a senior officer in South Sudan having to tell men what to do, some of them wouldn’t even look me in the eye – I had to win them over by appealing to their sense of honour about what is the right thing to do.”
Relating her experiences to the gains that women have made in the Samoa civil service, she said government entities such as the Samoa Police is leading the way in advancing the cause of women.
“I met Monalisa Tia’i Nafo’i, the Deputy Police Commission and she’s impressive – what an amazing career.” She said “We met yesterday and we all got a long instantly, no drama – just straight to work. I think that Samoa is way advanced in that area, there’s women in the Samoa Police at every rank up to Deputy Police Commissioner.”
Finding commonalities and a sense of solidarity with Samoan women go far deeper than meets the eye in the case of Lieutenant Colonel Harrop, but that may be because she is part Samoan herself and has family ties to the village of Lotofaga.
Her ancestor, Gustav Kronfeld from Germany settled in Samoa many generations ago with his Samoan wife and the petite, blonde hair, blue eyed Samoan is very proud of that fact. In her late 20’s the Lieutenant Colonel came to Samoa for the first time on a journey to connect with a part of her heritage,
“Growing up I didn’t know that much about my Samoan heritage other than my mother would rock out the Samoan siva once in a while but I didn’t really understand the genealogy until I was older and I got interested in that. My first trip to Samoa I was in my late 20s when I went to Lotofaga and I had my maps, my pictures. I had my book about the children and grandchildren of Gustav Kronfeld, which the book was so solid and had a great history.”
“I met an elder who was the Matai at the time in the village. He took me down to the family house down by the water where they would have stayed –it was beautiful there. He couldn’t speak English but he interpreted through his grand-daughter.”
Having family connections to Samoa gives the Lieutenant Colonel more determination and a sense of obligation to ensure that relations within the Pacific region are strengthened to main that sense of family. In her role, she hopes to make a difference by helping to build capacity in both the Samoa police force and the New Zealand Defense Force by facilitating ways where both countries can work together and share capabilities.