‘We need to do better, we must do better’

By A statement from the Samoa Fa’afafine Association Inc ,

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SADLY MISSED: Jeanine Tuivaiki.

SADLY MISSED: Jeanine Tuivaiki.

Ed’s note: This statement from the Samoa Fa’afafine Association Inc. is published in verbatim, unedited: 

The article by the Sunday Samoan (published and owned by the Samoa Observer newspaper) of 19th June 2016 was in our view and indecent document and publication because it not only misgendered a member of the S.F.A, it went beyond the acceptable code of ethics in journalism and published an image of Ms. Tuivaiki in her final repose at death. 

In doing so, the Samoa Observer, a champion of freedom of the press in Samoa, violated and robbed what last dignity and humanity Ms. Tuivaiki had. 

But as is the nature in all things in our fa’aSamoa, this beautiful country and culture we are a part of, we raised our voices in anger at an injustice committed, supported by so many here in Samoa and overseas, apologies were given, and we rise again to work together to improve, to be better, to do better, to make sure nothing like this ever happens again. 

It is in that spirit that we accept Samoa Observer’s apologies specifically their reaching out to Jeanine's family and making their peace with the most important people in this whole affair. 

We would like to take this opportunity to thank the many voices that stood by us, and lead with us in calling out the article concerned. We don't have to look far, you were, are, and always will be there in our defence and we are deeply grateful for your shoulders and your voices. 

In the coming days a lot of what happened to Jeanine will be unravelled as we await the conclusion of the investigations by the authorities. It is premature for us to assume that Jeanine’s case is a possible or suspected suicide – that only brings forward a false sense of security that we are safe from harm when there is the possibility that this could be a hate crime, that everything is ok, without giving awaiting the final outcome of the Samoan Police’s investigation, and the Coroner’s conclusions. 

Together with the Samoa Observer, we agree to work to combat violence, exploitation, abuse and harassment of Samoan faa’afafine and fa’afatama in the media. 

The takeaway from all this is that we all need to recognize and understand that the deliberate and destructive misuse of language is a major weapon used by the ignorant and insensitive to haunt and disable fa’afafine and fa’afatama from living meaningful lives free of fear. 

Before we attack, before we discriminate, before we judge, before we kill with the power of our words, looks, opinions and before we endorse a front page to gain an extra dollar, we have a moral and Samoan responsibility to reflect, to go back to our roots, back to our fa’asamoa back to our fa’asinomaga and we ask... 

O ai lona ioga? (What is her name?)

O le tama a ai? (Who are her parents?)

O ai nai ona tei? (Who are her siblings?)

O fea lona nu’u? (Where is here village?)

O se teine, tama po’o se fa’afafine? (Is she male, female or transgender?)

Because this simple act of fa’aSamoa was not accorded to Jeanine, this is the response: 

Her name was Jeanine Tuivaiki
Her parents are (names withheld for to protect their privacy) Her siblings are (names withheld for to protect their privacy) She comes from Vaiusu and Tapatapao
She is fa’afafine 

Our country has just completed its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on the status of Human Rights in Samoa for the 2nd cycle and there were no media violations reported on fa’afafine and fa’afatama, which is a remarkable achievement. 

But this goes way beyond media violations of fa’afafine and fa’afatama in Samoa. 

For many years our fa'afafine and fa'afatama community has been silent as we consciously adapt to the norm because Samoa is our home, it is our land, it is our identity and we understand the responsibilities and duties of being Samoan. 

But these attacks cut us at our very core, and we bleed to the extreme – that, validates our need to break the silence and say Enough is Enough! 

This is about the environment and the framework we live in – our fa’aSamoa, our aganu’u, our communities, our Ekalesias, our very own aiga and families, and our own community, the LGBTI community, the laws that govern our behaviour – this is about as massive a wakeup call as any, for all of us to support those members of our communities that are marginalized through existing legislation. 

Religion, the foundation of Samoan society, verbally targets fa'afafine and fa'afatama, and this often plants the seeds for contempt, which becomes hatred, which can ultimately lead to violence. 

But we are all made in the likeness of our God. Our Ekalesias teach that. We have to believe that. Whilst we try to live our lives and serve our families and our communities, we are often judged from some kind of religious background, that our behaviours are a sin, that our very existence is not natural, that we are disgusting, and therefore must be harmed. 

For whatever reason, right or wrong, legal or illegal, fa’afafine and fa’afatama can never be fully functional free and equal citizens of Samoa whilst these behaviours and laws are in place. 

Because these behaviours are legislated, it becomes acceptable to discriminate, and it becomes the norm, which leads down to one path – the victimisation and harm of fa'afafine and fa'afatama. 

In its submission to Samoa’s UPR, SFA has made these concerns very clear and calls for the removal of all forms of discrimination against citizens based on their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. 

We hope that in the coming days, clear guidelines about the treatment of sensitive issues such as suicides, homicides, fa’afafines and fa’afatamas will be guidelined by the Office of the Ombudsman in Samoa and the newly
formed Media Council. 

The Samoa Faafafine Association is here to help any organisation understand what is non acceptable misgendering of faafafine and faafatama who have
expressed their freedom of expression guaranteed under the Constitution of Samoa, to live and be who they are in a free and equal Samoa. 

We value and respect life. All lives matter. Especially those that are marginalized, abused, and subjected to homophia and transphobia at the hands of those that should know better. 

On a final note, we ask that we respect this young fa’afafine / transgender woman. We ask that we respect her family and we do everything we can to accord Ms. Tuivaiki some form of dignity in death. 

And we ask that you stop the persecution of fa’afafine and fa’afatama under the guise of religious correction. It has no place in current Samoan society. This persecution belongs in the anals of history, the same place where we have banished the abuse and victimization of women children and other marginalized groups. 

For all our sakes, we need to do better. We must do better. 

Say her name in your thoughts. 

#MyNameIsJeanine #BeautifulJeanine

 

© Samoa Observer 2016

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