Women leadership faces barriers, says study

Cultural, social and religious barriers are impediments for Samoan women with leadership aspirations, says an academic study.

The study in the Pacific-Asian Education Volume 31, 2019 journal titled “Women’s leadership in Samoa" was done by the National University of Samoa (N.U.S.) academic Alo Dr Silia Finau Pa’usisi.

It discussed factors behind what she said is an under-representation of women in leadership positions in the country, and included feedback from a survey of 15 women leaders.

The survey revolved around the research question: “What are the gender inequalities pertaining to Samoan women’s leadership, representation, and participating in the local government of village communities?”

According to the study, the 15 women participants identified a number of factors, which they say are obstacles to women taking up leadership positions within their communities.

“Results from participant interviews identified cultural, religious, and social barriers as major hurdles that restrain potential women leaders from participating in local government of traditional village communities in Samoa. These major hurdles are continuously enforced by rules and practices and are monitored and controlled by local governments,” the study states.

Alo said the women who participated in her study had standing in the community through their various positions, have championed women's rights before, and were observed promoting social justice in their churches and villages.

The interviews with the 15 women revolved around four questions: what are the challenges that prevent Samoan women from being traditional leaders? What is leadership for women in traditional village communities in Samoa? What are the strategies Samoan use to serve as leaders? And how do Samoan social philosophies, cultural beliefs and perceptions inform women’s leadership?

The survey feedback from the women were discussed in detail by Alo, who concluded that advocating for an increase in female leadership in Samoa is “a real struggle”, due to the cultural, social and religious implications.

“While potential women leaders believe in their right to leadership, the communities think otherwise. In countering this mind-set, women seek empowerment in leadership training and income-generating activities. Irrespective of their success, women advocates remain leaders of women’s organisations, and subordinates for male leaders.”

But a woman matai from Tufulele village, Leatupue Lualima Vito, told Samoa Observer that there are opportunities for women to ascend to higher positions in the community.

"The women can take on a high chief title or an orator title and there are still lots of female matai in Samoa. The women can still attend the village meetings,” she said. “But the reason why some villages ban women from the meetings is because when men give any sarcastic comments to each other, it wouldn't be polite to say it in front of women. The Government usually has workshops for the women in the village.”

However, Alo told Samoa Observer in an interview that women in Samoa are under-utilised despite being more qualified than men.

"There are more academic oriented women, more qualified in terms of qualifications. Women have more exposure to international forums than men. I am very concerned with the fact that there is a lot of potential that is not utilized because of these restrictions,” she added.

"The thing is its male leaders who establish these structures and they could either be social, religious or cultural. Samoa had matriarchal leadership before the times of the missionaries and it really worked well in a sense that the country had lived in harmony for more than 40 years, which is quite a long time.”

She added that under the Samoan Constitution, all men and women have equal rights to hold family titles, but those constitutional provisions continue to be overlooked by villages.

"Under the Constitution of the Independent State of Samoa it says that female and male heirs have equal rights to hold titles of their families. Unfortunately what most of the villages are doing is unconstitutional. They've established these rules to benefit themselves for their advantage and disadvantage women.”

The academic said she looks forward to the day when a woman will become Samoa’s next prime minister. 

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