Written by UNDP Officer-in-Charge, Verena Linneweber
Op-Ed: A Mother’s Day Message
May 15, 2023
Samoa, like many other countries, has been celebrating Mother’s Day for decades. This is in recognition of the critical role mothers play in every sphere of life – as nurturers, carers, teachers, role models, breadwinners, leaders, and so on.
As we show our respect and love for our mothers this Sunday, the epidemic of violence against women and girls in Samoa continues unabated, as the dismal statistics, anecdotal evidence and the all-too-frequent media stories on instances of rape, abuse and killing of women by their intimate partners show. Based on the available data, forty percent of Samoan women aged 15–49 years have experienced some form of physical, sexual or emotional violence by a husband or partner in their lifetime.
This begs the question of how many more Mother’s Day celebrations we will need in order for us to truly give mothers something worth celebrating? Marking important days is one thing; living up to the ideals and purpose of those days is quite another. We cannot continue to wish mothers well on their special day, but then turn around and ill-treat them, in many cases, for the rest of the year. Women are still being abused, mistreated and violated in their homes, churches, workplaces and in every other space they occupy. This is unacceptable and must stop now.
As part of its continued advocacy for eliminating violence against women and girls, the joint United Nations and European Union Samoa Spotlight Initiative this week conducted a media campaign aimed at raising awareness and, ultimately, a transformation in mindsets, attitudes and actions towards ending gender-based violence and violence against women and girls. You would have heard it on radio and television – the message is clear: Stop violence against women and girls now!
One thing that is important to remember is that violence is preventable.
End It Before It Begins
During one of the Spotlight Initiative’s community conversations with rural villages, a village chief memorably said that it is critical to end violence before it begins. The community conversations were held in numerous villages around the country to develop the National Prevention Framework to end violence against women and girls as a joint activity of the Spotlight Initiative and Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development (MWCSD). The underlying expectation is that village chiefs take responsibility to be at the forefront of prevention efforts. The chief’s message was a reminder for all chiefs – men and women – in the village council to be more proactive and alert to risks and possible harmful behaviour that can endanger the lives of every person, and more so, women. Chiefs have the duty to act to prevent violence before it happens. Beyond the chiefs, however, others in the villages too, including women’s committees, men’s groups, youth groups and church leaders, have an important role to play in spotting potential triggers of violence and intervening before violence occurs – many of them are doing this already. Building on the Spotlight Initiative’s community performing arts concerts that were held in eight rural villages during the 16 Days of Activism campaign in 2021 to advocate for ending violence against women and girls through traditional songs and dance, two villages – Savaia and Satitoa – integrated dedicated sessions on gender and violence into their church youth programmes. These help youth understand the dynamics of violence against women and girls and mobilise them to be advocates of ending violence through modelling appropriate behaviour and messages.
A malu I fale, e malu foi I fafo. This Samoan proverb speaks to the value of family and its role as the shelter for the wellbeing of all its members. It is about collective and shared responsibilities, as well as the complementary roles of individual family members to ensure the peace, stability and safety of the family.
The ‘Malu I Fale’ campaign of the MWCSD reminds us that ending violence against women and girls is everyone’s responsibility, and that violence is not part of the traditional family values, morals and behaviour taught within the home. E amata ia oe le matua fa’ata’ita’iga lelei – Parents are the best role models for safe and happy families. One of the Spotlight Initiative’s messages in the ongoing national media campaign is that parents are the best role models by being good listeners, communicating well and lovingly to their children, and correcting their mistakes with meaningful words and lessons rather than with harsh and abusive language and actions. E lē sauā le alofa – Love is not abusive or violent. In marriages or relationships, love should be the foundation, and there is no place for violence.
This Mother’s Day, let us embrace our individual and collective roles as members of a loving and mutually supportive community to live up to these ideals, and end the scourge of violence against women and girls in Samoa once and for all.