Flying Samoa’s flag in New York

25 March 2016, 12:00AM

Samoa’s election of 2016 has been a milestone achievement for women. 

Not only was the 10 percent quota activated to guarantee the reservation of five seats for women in parliament, but Fiame Naomi Mata’afa was sworn in as the first female Deputy Prime Minister. 

This decision has made waves on national, mainstream, and social media and international discourse given that Samoa, let alone the Pacific region, has been known to have the lowest number of women parliamentarians in the world. 

As locals watched and listened in anticipation last Friday on who the selected members of the Cabinet would be, Samoans around the world were also eagerly staring at their phones, tablets, and PCs; checking the feeds on their social media pages also awaiting the results.

It was also at this time that Samoa’s delegation in New York were preparing to address the 60th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, on progress that the small island developing state has made on advancing the status of women thus far. 

The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women.

A functional commission of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), it was established by Council resolution 11(II) of 21 June 1946.

The CSW is instrumental in promoting women’s rights, documenting the reality of women’s lives throughout the world, and shaping global standards on gender equality and the empowerment of women. 

During the Commission’s annual two-week session, representatives of UN Member States, civil society organizations and UN entities gather at UN headquarters in New York.

They discuss progress and gaps in the implementation of the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the key global policy document on gender equality, and the 23rd special session of the General Assembly held in 2000 (Beijing+5), as well as emerging issues that affect gender equality and the empowerment of women.

Member States agree on further actions to accelerate progress and promote women’s enjoyment of their rights in political, economic and social fields. The outcomes and recommendations of each session are forwarded to ECOSOC for follow-up.

Samoa’s delegation constitutes of Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development Chief Executive Officer Fuimapoao Beth Onesemo-Tuilaepa, Assistant Chief Executive Louisa Apelu and Nuanua O Le Alofa (National Disability Sector) Representative and Disability advocate, Faatino Utumapu. 

This year the CSWs priority focus looks at Women’s Empowerment and its linkages to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As the international community begins implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs, this session provides an important opportunity for ensuring that this work accelerates the momentum towards achieving gender equality and women’s rights and empowerment. 

Below is some of the progress in which the delegation tabled to the international community in one the Commission’s plenary sessions, which focused on the priority theme of the year.

- The temporary special measure was activated during Samoa’s election which saw the guarantee of 10 percent of parliamentary seats reserved for women, and Samoa’s first female Deputy Prime Minister was announced; the largest contingent of women ran for elections this year which is an impact of intensified cross-sectoral efforts to advocate for more women to run for Parliament.

Community led initiatives also contributed to the increase of women candidates as part of a ‘step-it-up’ campaign, to educate and raise awareness on the value of inclusive and gender equitable governance at all levels;

- Implementation of electoral laws was also strengthened to eliminate corruption and unfair practices; a key barrier to women’s candidacy. As a result, there was a 200% increase in the number of women candidates compared to the last elections;

- Women now occupy 42% of the Public Service Chief Executives positions, again, the highest number of women at this level;

- Intensified focus on prevention through community education harnessing not just modern technology but also the use of traditional learning methods to deliver key messages on the accountabilities of traditional leaders for the safety of women, children and other vulnerable groups in their respective communities as a yardstick to address the prevalence of gender based violence;

- Ongoing commemoration of international campaigns such as White Ribbon Day and 16 Days of Activism for Ending Violence continued to be used to shine the spotlight on vexing issues;

- Usage of available legal protection under the Family Safety framework has increased, with its accessibility and effectiveness supported by the passing of the National Prosecutions Act and; Community Law Centers Act in 2015 which ensures legal representation for those who need it but cannot afford it;

- Response and rehabilitative capacity continues to be developed with the set-up of a specialized Alcohol and Drug Court recognizing the aggravating role of alcohol and drugs in more than 70% of crimes including family violence. Continual investment in capacity building of response agencies and communities; 

- Completion of Samoa National State of Human Rights Report 2015 which complements country progress reports on CEDAW and CRC. Findings from this report is informing Samoa’s next national development blueprint which is anticipated to be aligned to the 2030 Global Agenda (SDGs);

- Launch of the Implementation Strategy for Reproductive and Sexual Health of Women. Programs target women and girls with disabilities which intend to improve access to information and services on sexual reproductive health;

- A Gender Equality Policy and Action Plan is being developed with an integrated approach to Economic Empowerment of Vulnerable Groups, aimed at supporting the growth of micro-small-medium sized businesses owned by women, youth and persons with disabilities and supporting members of vulnerable families into formal employment. 

While Samoa continues to face challenges, they provide critical learning which enables sail adjustment towards our priorities in the Small Island States development document, the SAMOA Pathway, in relation to Gender equality and climate change which remain relevant.

The prioritization of inclusive governance, ending gender-based violence and economic empowerment of women and other vulnerable groups are guided by, inter-alia, the “leave-no-one-behind”, and “help first those who need it most” - principles.

Samoa acknowledges the support of development partners including the UN agencies and look forward to continue strengthening of the Delivering as One Framework as well as harmonization with other partners in support of national and regional efforts.

The Commission will close its 60th Session this Friday, the 25th of March 2016.

25 March 2016, 12:00AM

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