SEATTLE — For generations, the women of Samoa have been obligated to live in a role that limits what they are capable of. Now, women’s empowerment in Samoa is more prevalent than ever as they assert their rights and independence.
If a Samoan woman opts to marry outside of the village she grew up in, she is given the title of “nofotane”, which means “to stay or live with husband”. Nofotane women tend to be disrespected, including being denied having a voice in matters regarding their own community and enduring domestic abuse from men.
Women’s empowerment in Samoa is gaining attention through the support of the U.N. Women’s Fund for Gender Equality and the Samoa Victims Support Group (SVSG), who have advocated for nofotane women’s rights.
Set in motion by Samoan women and men who seek progress for women, the community has become more open and accepting by changing its mindset towards gender equality. Women’s empowerment in Samoa is a positive movement, as it has resulted in a nofotane representative being allowed to have a voice in village council meetings.
Taliilagi Salamō, a 72-year-old nofotane great-grandmother from the village of Fuailolo’o Mulifanua in rural Samoa, has been living in her husband’s village for 50 years. Prior to now, her husband’s beliefs made him view his wife and other women as possessions.
Salamō had a hard time convincing her husband, who like most men in Samoa has heavily ingrained beliefs and cultural practices that restrict women. Yet, during a closing village council meeting in front of the SVSG last December, he spoke about the issues regarding women’s empowerment in Samoa while also setting the tone for how men should respect their wives and women in general.
“I am ashamed of how I have been treating nofotane women in my family. A nofotane woman is another family’s treasure, a sister, a daughter,” said Seualuga Tauasā, Salamō’s husband and one of the commanding chiefs of the village.
In October 2016, when the SVSG, supported by the U.N. Women’s Fund for Gender Equality, first provided advocacy training in the Fuailolo’o Mulifanua village, Salamō was excited and ready to be involved, as she saw a chance to transform the future for nofotane women.
SVSG’s mission is to attempt to engage traditional leaders like Tauasā, who have agency and influence over other men, to acknowledge women’s rights and apply them to the way they interact with and treat women.
The SVSG was created in 2005 and began as a refuge to provide integrated, personalized, professional service to all survivors of crime. After seeing the many cases of victims needing help aside from sexual crimes, SVSG has extended its influence to embrace victims in any area of need, whether it be domestic violence, harassment in the workplace, victims of poverty, etc.
Further progression for women’s empowerment in Samoa can be accounted for in the United Nations Human Rights Council Independent expert group’s assessment of the region’s performance regarding discrimination against women.
Their research found that Samoa has moved towards a more equal society, as a 10 percent quota for the Legislative Assembly was introduced through the Constitution Amendment Act of 2013. This initiative for women’s empowerment in Samoa allows for meaningful growth and relevance in the political arena. Women in Samoa have taken on over 60 percent of leadership positions in businesses and have advanced in their educational endeavors.
While growth is apparent, more effort is needed to guarantee that women receive respect from their male counterparts. The inclusion of men and boys in discussions and adjusting how everyone processes their beliefs about women’s roles in society are just a few actions that will confront these issues.
– Jalil Perry