Can money stop domestic violence?

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 27 February 2019, 12:00AM

Here’s the good news. The fight to end violence against women in Samoa and throughout the Pacific region has just received a multi-million-tala injection thanks to the European Union and the United Nations Spotlight Initiative, launched in Samoa this week.

Amidst a number of high-level events, which took place at Taumeasina Island Resort, the launch of Spotlight was of particular importance given the pressing need to promote different ways to end the scourge of domestic violence on our women and girls.

Spotlight by the way is a project whereby the European Union and United Nations have committed €50 million (T$148 million) to the cause in the Pacific. It’s a noble gesture, no doubt about it.

 “We cannot fulfill the sustainable development goals and the Pacific Forum Leaders vision for ‘a region of peace, harmony, security, social inclusion and economic prosperity’, unless we end gender inequality and violence against women,” said UN Population Fund Executive Director, Dr. Natalia Kanem, at the launch.

EU Commissioner, Neven Mimica, said domestic and sexual violence is a worldwide phenomenon, a human rights violation, a story we see every day and we cannot continue to look away. 

“It is the stories of survivors. Collectively, all of us here today are here to help break this silence because the scourge of domestic violence will not be stopped by one person, one organisation or one country.”

Here in Samoa, this is something we can identify with. In fact, we don’t need to tell you how bad it is. Suffice to say, the findings of the National Public Inquiry on Family Violence in Samoa, chaired by the Ombudsman, Maiava Iulai Toma, were quite grim. For instance, the report found that domestic violence affects almost all families in Samoa, with nine out of 10 women experiencing physical or emotional violence in the hands of family members. Further, six out of 10 women experienced intimate partner violence in their lifetime. These figures are shocking, they should not be ignored.

At the launch of the report last year, Loukinikini Vili, the Director of Human Rights at the Office of the Ombudsman, made a very telling point.

 “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,” she said. “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.”

Ombudsman Maiava went further, saying: “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. It is about time that we openly talk about these issues, front up and allow the right thing to be done.” 

We couldn’t agree more. The question is, where do we begin? And how do we go about ensuring that we do the right thing? 

We say this because we have been talking about domestic violence for so long now and yet it appears to be getting worse. We don’t have to look far for victims. Perpetrators of domestic violence do not differentiate between women and girls. 

In Samoa today, we have many victims who are high profile women with wonderful jobs and qualifications. The sad trend goes right down to the village level where we suspect it is probably worse, given the few cases that are reported.

Now the question is, with Spotlight offering a lot of money to the region – and Samoa will get a fair share – how will that help address the problem? 

“Spotlight’s built on your ongoing efforts to address the root causes of violence against women and girls, to fill the legislative and policy gaps, to provide quality service for providers and their families and to change deep rooted stigma and attitudes forever,” said Mr. Mimica. 

That’s great to hear. 

But can all this money stop domestic violence?

The answer is no. Solving domestic violence is not going to happen overnight. We are dealing with attitudes and mindsets that have been nurtured and protected over many generations. We need to continue to chip away at it, bit by bit, believing that we are investing in the young boys and girls of today. 

In other words, projects like Spotlight and so many other wonderful projects that are being carried out, are properly too late for thousands of women who are abused physically and sexually every day.

But we cannot give up. We’ve got to believe that as a society, we are investing in the future, nurturing boys who will grow up to reflect the amount of effort that the global and the local community are putting into this issue, in a bid to one day get rid of it once and for all.

Some will say that this is a silly dream but hey, no matter how bad a situation is, we’ve got to be able to dream otherwise we should all just give up and wither away. Which is what we do not want.

So let’s acknowledge the source of this wonderful funding and make sure the results are translated and reflected upon the lives that matter the most – the protection of our women and girls.

Have a wonderful Thursday Samoa, God bless!

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa 27 February 2019, 12:00AM

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