Inquiry into Samoa’s Family Violence set for ‘public hearing’ phase – a first for Pacific
Starting in September in Samoa, the ‘public hearings’ phase of a human rights inquiry into family violence will take place across Savaii and Upolu.
This particular phase of the 18-month Inquiry will last for about a month and is significant for two reasons.
Without evidence to the contrary, it is the first time that a Pacific nation has invited the general public to participate in an investigation into a systemic human rights problem.
It is also the first Inquiry launched by the National Human Rights Institution (NHRI) since its birth in 2013 when parliament amended the Komesina o Sulufaiga (Ombudsman) Act 1988 with the mandate to inquire into widespread and systemic human rights violation.
As Ombudsman, Maiava Iulai Toma wrote in his letter to the three Inquiry Commissioners that will preside over the ‘public hearings’, “Domestic violence has been around far too long and is increasing despite different measures by various agencies to combat it.”
Therefore, the core objective of the Inquiry into ‘Family Violence in a Samoan Family’ launched in December last year is to produce a report by June 2018. The report will set out the evidence received and facts found during the Inquiry, complemented by an analysis of the family violence landscape and importantly, include recommendations for a systematic ‘whole of Samoa’ response.
The lady member of the three-person panel is renowned Pacific academic Tagaloatele Prof. Peggy Fairbairn–Dunlop, twice honored by Queen Elizabeth II.
In 2015, the conclusion of a keynote address she gave as President of PACIFICA stated, “The customary systems which set Pacific women’s place, rights and entitlements are being impacted by education, training, technology and travel today.”
These are some of the learning, reservoir of experience and customary endowments as a Samoan woman that Tagaloatele will bring to the Inquiry. More of her thoughts ahead of the public hearings were revealed to Pacific Guardians earlier this week.
“First we must give credit to Prime Minister Tuilaepa for being bold and brave to open up this national campaign. Apart from awareness raising, this is a courageous move to publicly lay out on the table the ‘ills’ creeping into our family systems – but the only way to deal with it, meet it face to face and pull it out from the roots.
“Also a very big fa’amalosi to the Ombudsman for taking such bold and decisive actions!”
PG: Broadly, with knowledge and information already acquired, how could the Inquiry report, once consolidated, help effect necessary systemic responses?
TAGALOATELE: Our children are our tofi mai le atua, safe families is my vision…and fundamental to the integrity of the faaSamoa is that our families continue to work to ensure that all peoples basic needs are met. That is what Samoa, and other Pacific states, pride ourselves on – ensuring safe families and communities. But these are being endangered.
However, the launch of this Inquiry has, for the first time seen our communities acknowledge that family security is a huge challenge. And that violence is not just a women’s issue. It is in equal measure a male issue, a children’s issue, a whole of community issue.
For example, there is evidence that our village-based community institutions (Fono a le Nuu) have not been able to cope with, or even in some cases, acknowledge abuse in particular, but not exclusive to our young women and girls due to:
- The village council (matai) are usually male, and whether we like it, a significant amount of attitudinal change is needed on issues of ‘male attitudes to females’
- It is absolutely devastating for women, young wives, girls to be taken before a village council (usually all males) to argue the case for abuse. Firstly, it’s a huge emotional sacrifice to even get to that stage but that is minor compared to when they do get there and sit alone, face to face with the full council. One young girl is quoted as saying she looked around the fono and saw people she was accusing sitting in the council. We know that in the past most victims have avoided lodging complaints which in turn continues the culture of abuse without redress.
And that could be the findings of this exercise, that family violence will only truly be addressed through a ‘whole of community’ approach with some added components such as legal and structural changes agreed to and actioned by legal and village processes.
This will be a long process.
PG: What are the ‘work and family areas’ that you bring into the Inquiry? And what are the potential it could have for using the report in your line of work post inquiry?
TAGALOATELE: Much of my research and practise has been in issues of equity/economic, educational, sports field for example. But more particularly in the areas of physical violence and against children.
Samoans will recall our ‘Tetee atu le sasa ma le upu malosi’ campaign we ran with the National Council of Women (NCW) from the 1990s through until mid-2000. At the time, the NCW (Laulu Fetauaimalemau and Masiofa Mele) said ‘start with physical’ – our ladies can do that first. So we ran training and research right through Savaii and Upolu.
We marched on Samoa Independence day with our banners, t-shirts, bumper stickers and so forth. This present family violence activity will lead to a stronger movement driven from within communities.
Tagaloatele is joined by politician Tolofuaivalelei Falemoe Lei’ataua, and the National University of Samoa’s Leasiolagi Malama Meleisea. The commission will be chaired by Ombudsman, Maiava Iulai Toma.
She also singled out Auckland University of Technology (AUT) Vice Chancellor, Mr Derek McCormack, “A big faamalo and faafetai tele lava for your support to this activity and for releasing me”.