Women's confidence more important than protocol: Y.W.C.A.

General Secretary of the Young Women’s Christian Association (Y.W.C.A.) of Samoa Taimalelagi Ramona Tugaga believes whether women run for Parliament is down to individuals rather than any village protocols that might disadvantage them.

Her comments come after local and international voices have spoken up on whether changes to how the concept of monotaga (village support requirements) is defined in the Electoral Act would affect how many women are eligible to stand for election.

Taimalelagi, who has worked with the Y.W.C.A. for around a decade is also the only Samoan and youngest executive board member of the Pacific Islands Regional Multi-Country Coordinating Mechanism (P.I.R.M.C.C.M.) with a focus on gender and women’s organisations.

She said while some villages continue to not have women sit on their village council or allow women to take on matai titles, part of the Y.W.C.A.’s work is to encourage women to work together in their own fellowships and committees to advance causes they care about. 

And alongside training and guidance on the nation’s Constitution and policies, women can prepare themselves for Parliament by leading in their own families.

“In most families, young women are now leading and providing for their families, [...] from there they will learn a few things along the way,” said Taimalelagi.

“We believe that despite village protocols hindering women’s participation in elections, it is really up to women themselves on who is willing to run for election with full confidence.”

With a date set and the General Elections 2021 now less than a year away, potential candidates are making themselves known to their constituencies.

As of May 19, few parties have announced their full list of candidates, and so far just one woman has explicitly announced that she will be seeking nomination: lawyer Leota Tima Leavai, who plans to run for Falealupo (where her father is the current Member of Parliament) but has not said for which party.

Tautua Samoa Party President, Luagalau Dr. Wood Salele has confirmed his party has “quite a few” women preparing to run.

Two parties, the Samoa First Party and the Sovereign Independent Samoa Party are led by women: Unasa Iuni Sapolu and Fesola’i Logomalieimatagi. 

And of the five women currently in Parliament, none have confirmed whether they intend to run again. They are Deputy Prime Minister Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, Chair of the Parliamentary Committee for Finance and Expenditure Ali‘imalemanu Alofa Tuuau, Minister of Health Faimalatoa Kika Stowers-Ah Kau, Gatoloaifaana Amataga Alesana-Gidlow and Faaulusau Rosa Duffy-Stowers.

Since the last elections in 2016, Y.W.C.A. has not put as much effort into political workshops as it did back then. 

“However, trainings and workshops in villages on governance and gender equality continues to be addressed and young women with matai titles have the opportunity to be part of it,” Taimalelagi said.

The Y.W.C.A. programme Rise Up! and its accompanying Transformative Leadership manual can be used to talk to girls and young women about politics, especially as they prepare to take on matai titles from their families.

She said the programme has seen many young women participants taking up leadership roles in their communities and hoping to become Members of Parliament in the future.

Earning a matai title is just one step on the journey.

“We always encourage village young women to host more women participation meetings through their mafutagas and komitis (women’s fellowships and committees) and support gender equality issues as a way to challenge the men village council's interests, after all it is the women that organise things nicely and well,” Taimalelagi said.

“We also hope that we get to have an opportunity to provide workshops and escalate women’s participation in politics for the upcoming election and work together with current female leaders already in Parliament.”

The Y.W.C.A. also offers counselling and home economics training, especially to anyone feeling unsafe while under state of emergency restrictions at home. 

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