It's your right to live a life free of violence, oppression and injustice

Next month will mark a year since the release of the report of the Office of the Ombudsman’s National Public Inquiry into Family Violence. 

The report was a result of 12-months of “research, consultations and submissions of information and evidence” by and from the various stakeholders in Samoa. They included survivors, perpetrators, church ministers, matais, government officials and experts according to the Ombudsman.

The inquiry report was a comprehensive assessment of family violence against women and girls and the impact of violence in the upbringing of children in Samoa. It had 39 recommendations, for the consideration of the various national and local institutions, to tackle violence.

But how much has been done by the various stakeholders to implement the recommendations of the Ombudsman’s National Inquiry report since its public unveiling on September 12 last year?

Therefore, the timing of the campaign against violence, stigma and discrimination this week by the Samoa Fa’afafine Association (S.F.A.) is critical as it puts the spotlight back on the National Inquiry report and its findings.

The report’s findings showed a nation in danger of being strangled by violence. Nine out of 10 women had experienced physical or emotional violence at the hands of family members. Six out of 10 women experienced intimate partner violence in their lifetime and one in 10 women have been raped by a family member in their lifetime. The inquiry survey also revealed that 86 per cent of the 1,500 survey respondents experienced physical violence in a family setting.

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi lamented the findings of the report at its unveiling in September last year, saying the suffering started from “many generations past” and continued to today.

“As the leader of Samoa, I call upon everyone – our political leaders, traditional and religious leaders, fathers, and families to acknowledge the widespread pain and suffering in which we are all complicit,” he said. 

“Now, for the sake of the future, it is up to us and especially those in positions of power to stand up and be counted – to demonstrate our dedication to the fa’asamoa and Christian values upon which this country was founded. 

“Enough is enough! It is time for us all to stand together for the sake of our future generations and say I will not hide in the shadow of the tree.”

Tragically, a number of people opted to hide in the shadow of the tree since that speech by the Prime Minister, and laid bare their disdain for human rights and another person’s right to a life free of violence. They include Peter Tulaga; Afa Tila and David Crichton amongst others.

The Inquiry report only makes a subtle reference to the fa’afafine. Inquiry finding 4 states: “Violence against specific groups such as persons with disabilities, the elderly, fa’afafine and SOGISC (sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics) persons are poorly understood. Anecdotal evidence suggests that rates may be high and specific responses are required for these groups.”

Early this week Miss Roger's Malingling Bonovisda (2019 Miss Samoa Fa'afafine Contestant number one) told of her mistreatment by her own family members and her assault by four boys while on her way to a concert some years ago.

"They beat me and told me to perform the Manu Samoa haka, take off my shirt and use your bass voice, ‘you are a boy’. I ran away naked and found refuge at the gas station in Vailoa which they cared for me and returned me to my family."

On Tuesday this week the SFA President Alex Su’a appealed for the violence, discrimination and stigma targeting the fa’afafine to end and for women and children to live their lives free of violence.

He said the violence uncovered in the National Inquiry report was getting worse and it should be immediately addressed.

"It’s actually increasing," he said. "While doing that our stakeholders are also struggling in their own territorial issues. We’ve come across challenges where we struggle to address how we can obtain the assistance that is needed to address these very issues.”

The S.F.A. and its membership should be commended for returning the spotlight to the National Inquiry report and its findings, and highlighting the need for all stakeholders to rise up and act on the report’s recommendations to rid the community of violence, stigma and discrimination.

Samoa is also a signatory to key United Nations conventions including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) 1992. As a member state, the country and its people are obligated to uphold the international treaty.

Nonetheless, failure by the relevant State and non-State Actors to act on the recommendations of the report only puts another Samoan life – regardless of whether it is a girl, a woman or a fa’afafine – in danger. Everyone has a right to live a life free of violence, oppression and injustice. 

Have a lovely Friday Samoa and God bless.

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