Digitally Transforming the CRVS and Birth Registration System: A Catalyst for Gender Equality in Samoa

By Accelerator Lab

October 26, 2023

Community birth registration

Photo: UNDP Samoa

The UNDP Accelerator Lab (AccLab) and the Samoa Bureau of Statistics (SBS) are together on an exciting wholistic journey of modernizing and digitally transforming the Civil Registration and Vital Statistics (CRVS) System in Samoa with a sharp focus on strengthening the birth registration system.  

Through this successful partnership, we are not only pushing the needle on safeguarding every child’s inalienable right to a name and legal identity, but also positively contributing to Samoa’s efforts on gender empowerment. This blog post shares AccLab’s insights on the catalytic effects of strong birth registration for gender empowerment in Samoa.

Samoa has a strong commitment towards gender equality and is making significant strides in its pursuit of this goal, yet there are challenges that hinder the full realization of gender equality in Samoa. Our work informs us that one often overlooked, but critically important aspect of making progress on gender empowerment, is through strengthening the birth registration and CRVS system.  

As AccLab started its work on augmenting the birth registration system in Samoa, a strong gender focus lens was embedded right from the exploration and sensemaking stages of the AccLab learning cycle to accelerate learning on building a strong birth registration system. In this process, AccLab engaged with a broad range of stakeholders including mothers, pregnant women, hospital nurses, mid-wives, village mayors (Sui Tamatai o Nu’u (STN) and Sui O Nu’u (SN)) and faith leaders. AccLab also partnered with a telecommunications company and conducted interviews of 400 respondents across Samoa to unpack the community’s understanding on the importance of the birth registration system, challenges and perspectives on timely birth registration responsibilities.

In addition to surfacing gaps in the current birth registration system, the exploration and sensemaking also informed that, although the community sees birth registration as a shared responsibility of both parents, in many nuanced ways, the onus of birth registration falls disproportionately on women, with some of these playing out as:

  1. Community perceives mothers as the primary caregivers, responsible for all child-related tasks.  In a traditional Samoan household, men are regarded as the providers, while women are seen as caregivers. Hence, most of the child rearing work is seen as women’s (mother’s) primary responsibility. The women are expected to be responsible for the child's wellbeing and ensuring all children-related tasks like daily care, schoolwork, immunization and birth registration, etc. are performed on time. 

  2. Men are overseas for work, leaving women to shoulder significant household responsibilities. Like many Pacific countries, Samoa too is negatively impacted by the huge outward migration for employment schemes such as Recognized Seasonal Employment (RSE). With many men migrating overseas, women (mothers) are responsible for timely birth registration.   

  3. Single and underage mothers fear discrimination during birth registration. Although Samoa has a provision for single mothers to register their children, many women are hesitant, especially if the father of the child is married to another woman.  

These, combined with other socio-economic factors such as women having fewer resources such as time, money and support to travel to the centralized birth registration system at the BDM office, was one of the key barriers for the community and mothers, to access timely birth registration services.  

As AccLab progressed to the next stage of the learning cycle – testing a portfolio of experiments to increase access to the birth registration services, the voices from the community with strong gender sensitivity was at the heart of our innovative solutions design.  

Based on the insight, “It is difficult for community members, especially women, to go to the birth registration services”, AccLab tested the hypotheses - “Can we bring birth registration to the community?”

AccLab, in collaboration with SBS, experimented end-to-end remote birth registration at the community level. This remote birth registration experiment saw a high level of women participation, as they found it easier to access birth registration services almost at their doorsteps. SBS also leveraged this as an opportunity for awareness raising, especially on the provision for single mothers to be able to register their children without having to name the father. 

The success of this solution has encouraged SBS to make remote birth registration drives a regular feature in their efforts to improve the birth registration rate in Samoa.

As AccLab continues to work on strengthening the birth registration and CRVS in Samoa, we believe that it will also positively impact the gender equality efforts in Samoa through:  

  • Increasing access to education: Strengthening the birth registration and CRVS system in Samoa can have a profound impact on access to education, particularly for girls. A registered birth provides a child with a legal identity, making it easier to enroll in school and access educational resources, including scholarships, grants, and government-funded programs. This ensures that girls have the same opportunities as boys to pursue education and be better equipped to break the cycle of poverty, pursue their career aspirations, and contribute to their communities.

  • Better access to welfare services: A well-functioning CRVS system can provide gender-disaggregated data, which is essential for policymakers and organizations to design gender-responsive policies and programs. The CRVS data can also be used to target and deliver essential services, such as healthcare, education, and social welfare programs, especially to women and girls in need. This helps bridge gender disparities in access to these services.

  • Preventing child marriage: Child marriage remains a concern in Samoa, affecting the lives of young girls who are forced into early unions. As per the reports from Girls not Brides, 11% of the girls in Samoa are married before the age of 18 years and 1% before the age of 15 years. A strong birth registration system can help verify the ages of individuals, providing data for advocacy for laws against child marriage. This protection would allow girls to delay marriage until they are physically and emotionally ready, thereby promoting their overall well-being and prospects.

  • Combating gender-based Violence: Birth registration and CRVS can aid in the fight against gender-based violence by helping to establish a person's identity and age. This is crucial when prosecuting cases of child abuse, child marriage, and other forms of violence against women and girls. Birth certificates provide evidence that can be used to protect victims and hold perpetrators accountable.

  • Improving maternal and child health care: Birth registration is instrumental in improving maternal and child health outcomes. When children are registered at birth, it becomes easier to track their healthcare needs and ensure they receive essential vaccinations and healthcare services. Additionally, CRVS data can be used to track maternal mortality rates and birth registration. It helps ensure that women have access to appropriate healthcare services, including reproductive healthcare, ultimately reducing maternal and child mortality rates.

  • Protection of Rights: Birth registration is not just a bureaucratic formality; it is the first step in ensuring that every individual's rights are protected. It helps safeguard the rights of girls and women, including their right to nationality, identity, and non-discrimination. This is especially crucial in preventing statelessness and ensuring that women are not excluded from participating in society due to undocumented status.

  • Strengthening inheritance and property rights: In many Samoan communities, women have faced challenges in securing their inheritance and property rights. A well-functioning birth registration and CRVS system helps establish clear lineage and ensures that women have access to their rightful inheritances. Proper marriage and divorce registration also contributes to a woman’s ability to inherit financial assets, obtain a fair division of assets, lay claim to spousal and child support, and provide proper birth registration for her child. This empowerment allows women to be economically self-reliant and actively participate in their families' decisions.  

  • Increasing political participation and leadership: In Samoa, where traditional systems of leadership and governance are intertwined with modern political structures, knowledge of lineage is highly relevant. Many leadership positions, including matai titles and village councils, are based on traditional customs and hereditary principles. Birth registration enables women to demonstrate their lineage and better positions them to participate in these leadership roles, including increasing political participation. 

  • Promote economic empowerment: Economic empowerment is a vital component of gender equality. Legal identity like birth registration facilitates access to financial services, including the ability to open bank accounts and access credit. When women have control over their finances, they can make informed financial decisions and invest in their future. 

    In Samoa, strengthening the birth registration and CRVS system is an essential step towards achieving gender empowerment. It is a cornerstone for access to education, protection of rights, combating child marriage, improving healthcare, securing inheritance and property rights, fostering political participation, and promoting economic empowerment. As Samoa continues its journey towards gender equality, a robust CRVS system will ensure that every individual's rights are protected, and it paves the way for a more inclusive, empowered, and prosperous society where both men and women can thrive and contribute to the nation's development.