Samoa’s universities to have “safe space” offering

Maluseu Doris Tulifau and her international movement Brown Girl Woke (BGW) are on the shores of the National University of Samoa (NUS) and the University of the South Pacific, with regular meetings now on for students to share, and learn from each other.

The club meets weekly at NUS for the first time on February 20 at 12pm, in the student counsellor building, and meetings will begin at USP shortly. And in the spirit of Brown Girl Woke (BGW), Maluseu is not running this herself – two student interns have taken the lead: Fetu Healani Petelo and Karameli Amiuana’i. 

BGW is a group determined to carve out safe spaces for tough conversations in Samoa. Maluseu wants young women to find their voices, especially on taboo topics that affect them, like gender equality, domestic violence, sexual assault and more.

“We have to make safe spaces, in every level – school, church, in the villages, that people can always go to, and that you as the NGO doesn’t have to be there,” she said.

“You know you have partnership with people who are there. It’s about providing safe spaces, and having good relationships, and understanding those kinds of friendships.”

The interns have taken the lead on the whole project, which makes bringing BGW to the universities more sustainable, said Maluseu. They’ll run each session too.

“I told them, I’m not going to hold your hand, you figure it out, you find a space, you talk to the administration… It’s probably something they’ve never done, but they did, and they’re so excited, telling me ‘Doris, we found a space, Doris we did this,’” she said. 

In the university clubs, student aged women (and men, invited to listen and learn) will be encouraged to hash out issues that matter to them, and share what is on their minds. This kind of environment is sorely needed here, Maluseu said.

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“What I am building up is the girls,” she said.

“Men do need to learn about women’s rights, and that’s why they’re encouraged to come in – not to debate on issues.”

“For me, for the basis for a lot of these kids it’s about understanding gender equality, because it’s something that is not in our culture or our religion here in Samoa, it’s not clear. It should be very clear,” Maluseu said. 

She said she wants women to be bold to use their voices, and to not be intimidated by the men around them, who are well practiced and encouraged to speak their minds.

As well as weekly gatherings, BGW hosts conferences and workshops, enabling groups of women to learn from each other, and build each other up. Last month’s conference focused on dance and spoken word to talk about social issues.

Next month sees BGW partnering up with female rugby players to talk in detail about the issues the athletes face in a still male dominated world. 

“With all my programs, it’s about gender based violence. From that, I’m hoping I am going to build up leaders who take their own story and go from there, find spaces for them and build whatever they want to build,” Maluseu said

For the last year, Maluseu has been consistently running after school activities in partnership with the United States Peace Corp in rural schools, in Solosolo and Safata in Upolu, and Iva, Asau and Safotu in Savaii.

She and dance mentors from Le Tiu Salasala dance group facilitate the children’s to learn Samoan dances that tell stories about their heritage, their earth, and their experiences. As well as traditional dances, the children will choreograph their own and tell their own stories.

A performance about alcohol abuse was entirely choreographed by children and inspired by things they had witnessed in their own homes and communities, Maluseu said.

“We didn’t have to tell them anything.”

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