After a decade, Samoa’s campaign to end gender violence produces disappointing results

By Joyetter Feagaimaali’i
2022.11.28
Apia, Samoa
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After a decade, Samoa’s campaign to end gender violence produces disappointing results People holding a banner that says “Safety starts from within the home where mothers and their daughters should feel secure” march during an event in Apia, Samoa on Nov. 28, 2022 to mark the United Nations’ annual 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence.
Joyetter Feagaimaali’i/BenarNews

Samoa’s campaign to eliminate violence against women and girls has failed to produce results over the past decade, the Pacific country’s women and social development minister said, calling for renewed efforts.

Samoa is among the countries participating in the U.N.’s annual 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence from Nov. 25 to Dec. 10.

People marched through the capital Apia on Monday carrying placards and banners calling for homes to be safe environments for mothers and daughters.

“It has been ten years of advocacy at all levels. Ten years of reviews, refocusing, reformulation of policies, legislation, planning of frameworks and structures but sadly with very disappointing results,” said Minister of Women and Social Development Leota Laki Lamositele.

Fiame Naomi Mataafa became Samoa’s first female prime minister last year after voters rejected a ruling party in power for nearly three decades. She is the only woman head of government in the Pacific, a region with the world’s lowest level of women in parliament, at less than 10 percent.

The Samoa Family Safety Study conducted in 2017 showed that 60 percent of women had experienced domestic violence in their lifetime, up from 46 percent in the previous study in 2000, according to Leota. He said about 10 percent of women are raped by a family member. 

The statistics are “telling us that our families and communities are not safe, that our children, our people with disabilities, our women and girls and even us men are no longer safe,” Leota said.

Police Commissioner Auapa’au Logoitino Filipo said it's evident that Samoa needs to reorganize its anti-violence campaign, otherwise the trend will worsen.

“Ten years and yet cases being reported to the Police [are] on the rise. We need to do better in our reforms and it needs to address from the root level within families,” he said.

Decision-making power in Samoa is shared between the central government and the councils of village chiefs that are drawn from the country’s several thousand Aiga or extended families.

Auapa’au said it’s progress that some of the several hundred villages in Samoa are leveling penalties against men who abuse their wives, but churches in the devoutly Christian country should also play a role.

“The campaign should also be taken to the pulpits,” he said. “Samoans are Christians yet the actions of those arrested for violating their wives and daughters are unchristian-like.” 

Some 10 Pacific countries including Samoa passed domestic violence laws between 2008 and 2014, but the Pacific still has twice the global average of violence against women. Rape is punishable with life imprisonment in Samoa, which generally means 10 years. Judges have imposed longer sentences for rapes of girls.

Samoa this year changed its theme color for the 16 Days of Activism to black from orange. Leota said black reflects “power, elegance and solidarity” and the aim is to draw more attention to the anti-violence campaign.

Siliniu Lina Chan, president of the Samoa Victim Support Group, said the non-profit organization’s workshops for perpetrators of violence referred from the Family Court have been effective in changing participants’ mentality. 

“We will be able to end violence against women and girls in Samoa,” said Siliniu.

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