Family Safety Committees Pilot Project resumes

Samoa's National Human Rights Institute and UNDP (United Nations Development Program) has resumed work on the Village Family Safety Committees Pilot Project. 

The project aims to establish Family Safety Committees in six pilot villages in a bid to address the issue of violence within families in Samoa. 

Six out of 10 women in Samoa have experience some form of intimate partner violence in their lifetime, nine out of 10 children in Samoa experience physical, harsh verbal and sexual violence in their lifetime, and one out five women are raped in their lifetime. 

These were some of the grim statistics that the National Human Rights Institute has unveiled in their line of work, including the 2018 National Public Inquiry into Family Violence.

This pilot project is in partnership with the UNDP through the Spotlight Initiative which is a global partnership between the European Union and the United Nations to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls, including harmful practices.

Coordinator for UNDP Spotlight Initiative, Louisa Apelu, said the Spotlight Initiative is supporting the implementation of key recommendations outlined in the National Public Inquiry into Family Violence 2018, where staggering statistics on the high prevalence of violence were documented.

The Village Family Safety Committee Pilot Project is also a result of implementing key recommendation 20 from the National Public Inquiry into Family Violence 2018 through a partnership NHRI (National Human Rights Institute) and the UNDP.

The recommendation aims for "village fono to take a leading and proactive role in the prevention of family violence."

"The recommendation has been translated into practical breakthrough initiatives spearheaded by the NHRI in partnership with village leaders and implemented at the village level through setting up village family safety committees and putting in place village strategies to address violence from a prevention lens," Ms Apelu said.

"They aim to spur personal and village commitment to work together in transforming deeply rooted social norms and attitudes towards gender-based violence through engagement in a series of community planning dialogues and training."

Six villages were selected as part of the pilot programme with the objective of building stronger alliances with the mostly male local leaders at village council, church and family levels to create and sustain change by practising “zero tolerance” to gender-based violence or violence of any form.

The villages were selected by the NHRI based on the village plan development processes, where domestic violence was identified as a priority issue warranting intervention. These villages included Asau, Taga, Lotopue, Vaiee, Mulifanua and Saleia. 

Due to the state of emergency (S.O.E.) restrictions, most of the activities are on hold but now that the S.O.E. has eased, some activities have resumed but with some limitations.

According to Ms Apelu, UNDP was able to utilize some of the funding available for the Spotlight Initiative to meet the increased demand under the S.O.E. orders for safe digital platforms to connect with vulnerable populations, through supporting S.V.S.G. and F.L.O. (Faataua le Ola) to run free helpline. 

"In total, since 21 March 2020, S.V.S.G. and F.L.O. responded to 498 calls through the two separate nationally operated helplines, online Facebook messages, e-mail and physical offices for walk-in clients. The data recorded from the S.V.S.G. helpline indicates that domestic violence in the home has jumped – from 9 calls to 46 in the same time period," Ms Apelu said

All these cases were evaluated as high risks and were immediately referred for police intervention. 

"Data indicates that the majority of users of this helpline service (over 85 per cent) are women who are experiencing multiple vulnerabilities and threats including domestic violence, but also unemployment and loss of their livelihoods," she added.

"Both S.V.S.G. and F.L.O. provide women, children and families seeking help with immediate essential services, ranging from counselling for women and families including suicide-affected families in need of support; evacuation; shelter; case management; health, legal, police and welfare assistance; and community referral support."

Ms Apelu said that changing deeply rooted social norms, beliefs and attitudes are not easy and will take time. 

"The fact that these village leaders and representatives – male and female alike – are stepping forward is critical for creating social change that lasts, and it shows in the six villages, every woman and girl matters," she added.

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