Empowering women is essential to sustainable development

There is a consensus that empowering women and girls is good for development – there’s also a general agreement that to get anything moving and working in a Samoan village, the women’s committee have to be involved. 

But there are terms to that engagement of course, the village council have to endorse and agree to it. 

Su’a Julia Wallwork, the Executive Director of the Adventist Disaster Relief Agency (ADRA) Samoa has attested to this. “Women tend to take on ideas easier, and have the tendency to apply them more collectively,” Su’a said in a recent environmental meeting. 

Having delivered resilience, relief and livelihood programmes to thousands of beneficiaries across Samoa, Su’a has a pretty good idea on the approaches that work when it comes to project implementation at the village level. But this is consistent in many villages and is testament that in order to truly affect change in line with decision making at the village level – women can effectively do it.

 

Her contribution

This 8th of March we will be celebrating International Women’s Day – it’s a gentle reminder to continuously reaffirm the rights of women whether it be in the home, community, political sphere or as an individual member of our society. When a woman doesn’t feel safe in her home or community – she is unable to effectively contribute to society, and this has far reaching impacts in all other areas of her life. 

According to the International Institute for Environment and Development gender equality is a moral imperative whether you’re in government, business, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) or research institutions – it’s simply the ‘right thing to do’.

“Gender bias is still deeply embedded in cultures, economies, political and social institutions around the world. Women and girls face unacceptable levels of discrimination and abuse, which is not only wrong, but also prevents them from playing a full part in society and decision-making,” says Gender Expert, Jenny Hawley.

 

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SDG 5

Sustainable development goal 5 aims to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. Samoa has come a long way in the empowerment of women and girls. We ratified the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1992. By accepting the Convention, Samoa committed to undertake a series of measures to end discrimination against women in all forms, including:

 •to incorporate the principle of equality of men and women in their legal system, abolish all discriminatory laws and adopt appropriate ones prohibiting discrimination against women;

 •to establish tribunals and other public institutions to ensure the effective protection of women against discrimination; and

•to ensure elimination of all acts of discrimination against women by persons, organizations or enterprises.

At the policy level, we are therefore doing all the right things – but translating this to the village level is another undertaking that needs careful consideration. 

 

Cultural perceptions

Despite the advancement of women in the political and professional level, there continues to be discrimination at the family and village level that hinders some progress. These practices, includes the continued separation of women based on their marital status and/or the status of their husband which continues to reinforce the value of women as a supporter or an extension of a man, or her husband in the village. Some women, despite holding Chiefly titles are not allowed to sit in the Council of Chiefs, because of her gender. This is irrespective of the fact that this same woman may be a high-ranking Government official or academically accomplished. 

As long as a woman is judged and discriminated because she is a woman, then her contribution to our society professionally, academically and personally is hindered. 

In education, women are well represented and tend to be better performing than their male counterparts. 

Fundamentally a shift in mind frame is needed - from the traditional approach of using culture as an excuse for the continued suppression of women and hindrance of the full participation of women to development – to an enabling environment that considers obstacles at the village level.

Where professional and academic merits are the only pre-requisites for advancement, women have advanced without many obstacles. This is the case in public service where many high level officers of Government are women. So, it seems, there is hope after all.

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