Privacy and shame still barriers to essential services, pilot project finds

The Government and United Nations trial into mobile services called Rights, Empowerment and Cohesion (R.E.A.C.H.) has found there are still major social barriers for rural Samoans needing to access legal services.

A two-week pilot across 10 villages in Savai'i and Upolu finished last week and participants are gathering to reflect on the lessons learnt.

R.E.A.C.H. intended to help rural Samoans access justice and law services they might not travel to town for. It was successfully implemented in Fiji for three years and has now been trialed in Samoa and Tonga.

The Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration and the Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development were the primary leaders of the trial. The Ministry of Police, Office of the Ombudsman, Office of the Attorney General and the Samoa Law Reform Commission were also involved.

A major focus was empowering women to access services they are entitled to and be educated as to their rights enshrined in Samoa’s laws.

Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration Assistant C.E.O. Tofilau Shamila Leavai said the pilot programme proved Samoan people are not likely to approach a government ministry representative on their own to ask for help. 

One on one opportunities were not taken up and individual spaces for each agency were not hugely popular either.

“I don’t know if it is shame or just not feeling comfortable or confident to go up, we saw it was a bit difficult,” Tofilau said. 

Early on in the pilot, the group decided to run mixed agency focus groups instead, which was more successful.

“This is still a pilot project and we have to learn how to properly approach the community.”

“In group conversations, because people were asking questions, that would prompt discussion and that was a great way to facilitate inquires,” said United Nations Women Coordinator, Papali'i Mele Maualaivao.

“They were just more comfortable because it was a group scenario so there wasn’t any sense of feeling isolated on an issue."

Papali'i, whose agency U.N Women helped implement R.E.A.C.H., said access to information can lead to access to justice. Many women in rural communities do not know their rights or how the law protects them from violence.

“Just being able to talk about how marital rape is a thing, and that is against the law,” Papali'i said.

“It’s not likely someone will raise an issue they have in a public space but it’s about making sure there is awareness, and contact details, so that they can reach out at a time that is right for them.”

Papali'i said communities were taught that there is a Domestic Violence Unit, that people are entitled to seek family protection orders and how those are issued – all services that some villagers never knew of before, even though they may have needed them

For victims of violence, the village environment can be a difficult place to seek help because of the fear of social repercussions for speaking out. Papalii and U.N Development Programme Manager, Andrew Harrington, agree the health sector can be the best tool.

“We have to be really strategic about the realities of what it’s like to be a survivor and where survivors feel safe,” Papali'i said.

“Sometimes you need to create a means by which people aren’t singled out.”

Mr. Harrington said the “benign cover of a medical clinic” can sometimes be the only privacy a victim can get in their village.

“That gives time for the person who has been trained to do some screening as part of the medical exam, and if there is anything that comes up they can be counselled on their options and put through into a national referral system. 

“That is obviously not a complete solution, but when you are talking about villages where everybody is living almost right on top of each other, there is not much more you can do to isolate. You just create opportunities and pathways,” Mr Harrington said. 

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