Changing attitudes begin at home

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

Violence – especially the sort perpetrated against innocent women and children at the hands of husbands, fathers and men who are entrusted to protect them - is a menace we can definitely do without.

Unfortunately it’s easier said than done. 

In an ideal world, we’d all live happy violence-free lives. Everyone will be merry; they will love each other unconditionally in an atmosphere where law and order wouldn’t really become a big issue.

But then this is the real world. Where the war between good and evil rages every day. Where emotions run high and rational thinking sometimes run low. Where our actions are dictated by our circumstances and depending on what those are, it often leads to ugly unwanted situations where people get hurt. 

The reality of today is that it’s the most vulnerable among us are the most affected.

The fact is we’ve known for sometime now that domestic violence is a huge problem. And while as a community we’ve taken several steps to advance the fight against the scourge of domestic violence, we acknowledge that we still have a long, long way to go. 

The good news is that as a community, we are not ignorant about it. While some people say there is been too much talk, we must never deride the value of talking. At least when we talk about it, it shows that we are aware of the need to do something about it.

Last week on Human Rights Day, a National Public Inquiry on Family Violence led by the Office of the Ombudsman, was launched. Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi launched the Inquiry. To begin next year, year long Inquiry will be carried out by three Commissioners including former Cabinet Minister, Tolofuaivalelei Falemoe Lei’ataua, Auckland University of Technology’s Tagaloatele Dr. Peggy Fairbairn-Dunlop and the National University of Samoa’s Leasiolagi Dr. Malama Meleisea.

The Inquiry’s Chairman and Ombudsman, Maiava Iulai Toma, is certain that domestic violence is a “widespread, systemic and entrenched situation that violates human rights.”

“It is evident from reports we see on TV and the newspapers; we see also the many projects and programs by the Government, the Courts, NGOs and the community to address violence. We see the expanding operations of organisations such as the Samoa Victims Support Group,” he said.

“It is clear from surveys such as the Samoa Family Health and Safety Study 2006 that: (a) Domestic violence is widespread with sometimes extremely serious consequences for life and limb. (b) Incidents are under-reported for obvious reasons. The true scale of human rights violations and crimes in the form of domestic violence are never truly known in any country including Samoa. “

But that’s not all. On the international front, Samoa is urged to address domestic violence with regards to women, girls and children. 

“Recommendations from our Universal Periodic Review Report earlier this year reflect this,” said Maiava. “Rather than continuing to be reactive Samoa through this Inquiry is being more proactive with regard to the problem. 

“It is looking at family violence in the Samoan context with a view to opening up the issue and to understanding the problem ourselves for the shameful thing that it is, and laying out strategies and counter-measures that make sense to us and which are workable in Samoa.”

From our perspective, the Inquiry is extremely important and timely. Why?

Prime Minister Tuilaepa could not have said it better.

“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 last week.

“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.”

Well that’s good news. We hope everyone who is able to take part will use the opportunity to contribute to a meaningful solution to this very complex challenge. 

From where we stand though, we believe that one of the solutions is about changing mindsets and attitude. On that note, in Samoa it must be said time and time again that violence or making fun from it and to an extent glorifying it is not funny. 

We say this because it is truly sickening how some of our people believe it is fun to hit someone else. When it comes to what many of us would refer to as Samoan humour, sometimes we wonder. At best, our humour is about making fun of ourselves and seeing the lighter side of life in all that we do as a people.

But on the downside, if humour is a basis for the study of our national character, we are in deep trouble. We say this because judging by what some here find funny or humourous, it becomes a bit of a worry.

Take for example the faleaitu (comedies) we are constantly exposed to in different mediums. It’s almost not a faleaitu if it doesn’t involve a domestic argument that eventually leads to a fistfight or slapping someone.

It’s as if the more kicking and slapping and hair pulling there is, the better. It seems that our idea of fun is to kick and slap each other. If those things are absent, we’re not interested. Most times, all of this is on a national stage, watched by thousands of viewers throughout the country.

No wonder we have a domestic violence problem. We see it as entertainment. We see it as normal, and God forbid funny, when someone is being whacked on the head in front of a public audience.

But violence is not a laughing matter. Just ask the families whose homes have been stoned, burgled, burnt and destroyed in the past couple of months. Just ask all the schools, parents and people involved and victimised by the constant barrage of inter school fights and brawls in Apia?

Yes, it’s good to laugh at ourselves, but not about something that’s obviously a big problem in our society, especially now. By laughing at such acts, in fact by portraying such acts as funny in the first place, it seems to imply that we condone them.

Faleaitu is meant to be funny. And don’t get wrong me, sometimes it’s a great way to address some of the issues people would normally be scared to talk about.

But more often than not, the types that we’re being served at many of these public performances are so crass and tacky that they border on being offensive.

Most of the audiences for these comedy shows are unsuspecting children. At worst, many of them are adults who still cannot distinguish between what’s right and wrong. They would think that is normal and the next thing you know, they will be mimicking what they saw and heard. 

We don’t need to tell you again. Domestic violence and violence in general are major problems in Samoa today. We cannot afford to keep laughing at such a serious problem. We need to see it for what it is really worth and do something about it. 

By the way, this is not the be all and end all solution. What we are saying here is just one of the ways we can try to address and change mindsets that have become so common place. 

What do you think? 

Have an awesome weekend Samoa, God bless! 

© Samoa Observer 2016

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