Women of today and the pursuit for gender equality

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa

And so here we are once more today in Samoa and around the world commemorating International Women’s Day.

Since 1909 when the first National Woman's Day was observed in the United States of America – to honour women garment workers who went on strike in New York in 1908 against poor working conditions – this day has continued to stand out as a symbol of strength for women empowerment.

From small beginnings, the movement has only grown from strength to strength, amped up by demonstrations in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland in 1910 where more women stood up for their rights.

Fast forward to today, it’s fair to say the crusade for justice, empowering women and gender equality has come a long way and has made big strides.

While there are no more women garment workers protesting on the streets, the battle has become much bigger and more complex with the focus obviously shifted to the next level. That involves the fight to have more women in positions of power and the highest level of decision-making, especially Parliament and in the corridors of power.

How have we done? Are we there yet? And are things perfect?

The answer is an emphatic no. The truth is that there is much work to be done and we are far from reaching our final goal. The good news is that while we are not exactly where we want to be, we can see progress, slowly and surely.

And keep in mind; we haven’t done too badly ourselves in Samoa.

All you have to do is look through some of the stories featured in the edition you are reading. On the front page for instance, we are celebrating 50 years of having women in the Police service. This is no small feat, especially in a profession where many people still believe policing is a male domain. 

There is also the story of Karamia Muller, the first Samoan woman to achieve a PhD in Architecture. The daughter of Gafauatau Philipp Muller and Marie Muller with roots in Aleipata and Faleasiu, is among many young Samoan women who have excelled in their studies, and continue to make their families and this nation proud. This speaks volumes about how far we have come in terms of empowering girls and women to reach for the stars.

There is more of course. On page 10, the inspiring story of Pisaina Leilua-Lei Sam, of Tanoale’ia, Vaivase-uta – who is playing a critical role in the Integrated Flood Management to Enhance Climate Resilience of the Vaisigano River Catchment – is amazing.

We’ve said it time and time again; the appointment of Fiame Naomi Mata’afa as Deputy Prime Minister in this country is a huge step forward as far as gender equality goes. When we talk about pressing for progress, that is massive progress, especially for a small country where sometimes, colonial and chauvinistic attitudes are our worst enemy.

But there are more to women rising to take their place than just Fiame becoming the Deputy Prime Minister. The growing number of women taking up key positions within the Government and the private sector is nothing short of impressive.  

Ten years ago, one could confidently named the women who were chief executive officers of government ministries and corporations in this country. Not anymore. The next level down in terms of Assistant Chief Executive Officers, an increasing number of women are also filling those roles. Eventually, they will graduate to occupy the most senior seats in those departments or ministries, which is a wonderful thought.

Outside Government circles, take a look at some of the biggest private companies in Samoa. Many of them are being run by women who are doing a mighty fine job at it. They are driving the economy, so to speak.

And that’s not all. Girls are totally dominating the sphere of academic achievements and excellence in schools and learning institutions. All you have to do is flick through the pages of the Samoa Observer, during the festive season to see how girls have continued to dominate the podiums at prize givings and graduation.

Which brings us back to the point that considering where we used to be and where we are today, we have certainly come a long way. And we’d like to think we are still progressing, one glorious step at a time.

Today, the international theme is “Think equal, build smart, innovate for change.”

According to the United Nations, the theme is focusing on innovative ways to “advance gender equality and the empowerment of women, particularly in the areas of social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure.”

“Innovation and technology provide unprecedented opportunities, yet trends indicate a growing gender digital divide and women are under-represented in the field of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and design,” the United Nations say. “It prevents them from developing and influencing gender-responsive innovations to achieve transformative gains for society. From mobile banking to artificial intelligence and the internet of things, it is vital that women’s ideas and experiences equally influence the design and implementation of the innovations that shape our future societies.”

We couldn’t agree more. Here in Samoa, today is an opportunity to acknowledge the growing and critical role of women in our society, reflect on their achievements, measure the progress made in terms of the push for gender equality, and most importantly plan concrete steps for a better and brighter future. Not just for women but for everyone.

But let’s not forget the less fortunate ones. On page 2 of today’s edition is a tragic story about another woman whose life has been turned upside down by violence. As we commemorate International Women’s Day today, let’s remember her and many others. We have a responsibility to do as much as we can to help them.

Have a beautiful Friday Samoa, God bless!

By Mata'afa Keni Lesa
Samoa Observer

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