Group reports findings on their Samoa visit

By Joyetter Feagaimaali’i-Luamanu 20 August 2017, 12:00AM

The women need to change their mind-sets about themselves. 

This is one way to ensure their rights to equality within the family are respected.

This is according to the preliminary report of the Working Group of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. 

Led by Kamala Chandrakirana, Head of UN Working Group on Discrimination Against Women and Eleonora Zielinska, a Human Rights expert, the group was in Samoa to honour an invitation from the government.

According to Kamala, the invitation from the government demonstrates its openness and commitment towards women’s human rights. 

 “This is the first country in the Pacific region which has opened its door to our independent mechanism,” said Kamala. 

During the 10-day visit, they held meetings Apia, Poutasi, Vavau and attended consultations with representatives of Salani, Sapoe, Utulaelae, Siuniu, Salesatele, Salelesi. 

In the report, the Working Group emphasised the need for mechanisms to ensure protection for those who are speaking out against strongly held beliefs that undermine human rights, including in relation to acts of reprisal. 

“In Samoa, family is the foundation of society in Samoa and the family institution plays a central role throughout the life cycle and in all aspects of life,” the report reads.

“Distinctive roles are assigned to women and men based on their perceived function, namely that the primary role of a woman is to care for her family while the husband is the head of the household. 

“Women have been assuming the role of good wives and good daughters and sisters and mothers, as a matter of course.

“Historical and sociological studies as well as academics we met during the visit have shown how the Samoan culture has evolved over the centuries, in which cultural practices and traditional village institutions have responded to new opportunities and challenges at different moments in time.”

The Working Group observed the vibrant public discussion on what constitutes the Samoan culture, including in the media, particularly as a response to the pervasiveness of violence in the lives of Samoan women, children and the youth. 

Many interlocutors have made a point of distinguishing between the core values of the culture versus the individual responsibility of perpetrators of violence who opportunistically use culture to justify their acts. 

“Our expert group met with trainers and counsellors who use references to the Samoa’s historical origins to present alternative cultural narratives, including on women’s esteemed role and position in society, in order to change mind-sets about long-held views on gender relations. 

“We also appreciate the work advocates in schools, civil society organizations and business associations who integrate into skills training initiatives and service delivery conversations on the idea of equality between men and women and to advance the empowerment of women. 

“Service providers, particularly in the field of sexual and reproductive health, M.W.C.S.D facilitators in community development planning, information gatherers from the Ombudsman’s Office and research projects also have played important roles in breaking taboos related in particular to sex and gender-based violence in the family. 

“It is in these spaces that the processes of cultural adaptation and change from within occur.” 

The Working Group expressed their concerns over the resources. 

“Both human and financial, are precarious for these initiatives and institutions and this puts their sustainability and long-term effectiveness at risk.

“In the meantime, the work of changing mind-sets and ensuring women’s right to equality within the family is not without challenge and resistance. 

“Some of our interlocutors conceded that they were still uneasy to speak out about certain aspects of Samoan tradition for fear of being stigmatised as “not being good Samoans or good Christians”. 

“In a hierarchical and patriarchal society such as Samoa, the impact of opposition from the most powerful actors will be significant.

“We learned that artists do not feel totally free to express their potential and many choose to go overseas, also due to a sense of the arts as a whole being undervalued in Samoa. 

“The Government, the private sector as well as international partners should invest in supporting women artists and artisans, which would not only give them more space to express themselves but also open new avenues for women’s economic empowerment.”  

By Joyetter Feagaimaali’i-Luamanu 20 August 2017, 12:00AM

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