Law and Justice Sector prioritizes the protection of women and girls

October 2, 2022

As a strong Samoan woman, mother, CEO and chairperson of the Law and Justice sector, Mrs Moliei Simi–Vaai puts the ‘spotlight’ on the Law and Justice Sector’s vision and speaks towards the Samoa we want.  “The protection and safety of our people, including the protection of women and girls, is fundamental to the work of the Law and Justice Sector”

The Spotlight Initiative is coming to us at a crucial time of the Law and Justice Sector’s work was a miracle. It was good timing as we were at a point in our journey where we were reflecting on our previous work and contemplating the purpose and how we were going to take this purpose to the future for the sector. The Samoa we were operating in ten or five years ago, is not the same. It was imperative the sector adjusted and rethink its purpose according to the emerging times and needs of the people and communities rather than doing the same thing over again.  

Law and Justice is one of the 15 sectors in Samoa. The law and justice sector is made up of 15 diverse members from Government: Five seats are occupied by the Ministry of Police, Prisons and Corrections, Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development, Office of the Prime Minister, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Justice and Courts Administration (lead Ministry and secretariat for the sector). Six Non-Government Organisations or Civil Society: Samoa Umbrella for Non-Government Organizations, Samoa National Council of Churches, Village Matai (Council of Chiefs) Representative, Village Women Committee Representative, Village Representative, Samoa Law Society and four constitutional bodies: Office of the Attorney General, Public Service Commission, Office of the Ombudsman and the Samoa Law Reform Commission

The Spotlight Initiative’s partnership through UNDP was very timely as it provided us with the financial and technical means to review and revamp the work of the sector through four key milestone achievements: (1) Samoa Law and Justice Sector Plan 2020/21 – 2025/26, (2) review and recommendations for strengthening the sector coordination mechanisms through its LJS coordination unit and steering governance committee, (3) REACH (Rights, Empowerment and Cohesion) outreach to remote villages and; (4) Sector Guide on how to respond to survivors. The CEO testified to the great support from Spotlight which provided them with much-needed information and specifically what the Spotlight was bringing into this equation.

“The protection of women and girls is such a fundamental issue that speaks to most of the themes and objectives of the Law and Justice Sector and we are so blessed with this partnership. It was pre-ordained. It lifted our hopes and enhanced the vision and prospects and where the sector was going with that support”.

The process undertaken for the review and development of the new sector plan created the foundation and opened up the future direction of areas of focus and strengthening multisectoral partnerships for coordination and delivery, the whole review was done through wide, intensive consultations at national and community levels. The support of Spotlight helped us to reach our communities, our service delivery partners, civil society partners working with survivors of violence, persons with disabilities, gender diversities, marginalised groups.

The plan encompasses the prevention of domestic violence and gender-based violence as often we overlook the importance of prevention interventions from a gender lens in this sector. In relation to gender-based violence, it is part of breaking the law, and we must ensure laws and regulations are framed accordingly, making the connection with the current review of family laws, including laws on domestic violence, which are extremely important. Ensuring the accessibility of the services to our people, women and girls when in time of crisis, we were able to talk to victims and perpetrators and communities who were involved about domestic violence and being able to bring the awareness of what the sector is about and how people across all levels of the community are aware of such services and it was such a huge find for us in assisting in this service.

The weaknesses of the previous sector plan and coordinating mechanism was that we were more on our own journey as a Ministry, and less about inclusion and collaboration. Building the unity of the sector through capacity building and mentoring support, we were able to stay in the driver’s seat and effectively apply and link the leave no one behind principles of gender equality and inclusion in their everyday scope of work and coordinating functions. The unit is primarily responsible for coordinating the Steering Committee and the sector plan. The review of the unit and the governance steering committee has brought reinforced the awareness of the sector partners and agencies in how they can better work together.

The REACH programme, taking advocacy of legal services to Tufutafoe, Savaii and Manono Island (covering the sub-villages of Lepuiai, Faleū, Apai, Salua) implemented during the 16 Days of Activism Orange Samoa in November 2021, brought all the sector partners, communities and Spotlight together. Manono Island, a remote community separated by an ocean of water, was an experience for the sector that opened up our eyes. “Being able to reach all of Manono Island by small dingy boats, and then we walked from one village to the other.  It was extremely poignant because the sector had never been to Manono Island before. We give thanks to the community, to their committees and churches for utilizing this opportunity to voice their stories and to allow the sector to inform on the services we can provide in times of crisis".

Our duties and programmes cannot advance if one support beam is missing. Our main support beam for the sector is the civil society organizations. CSOs are the life link between the government and the people of Samoa. We cannot perform our functions as a sector if not for the CSOs. In the review of the sector plan, the coordinating unit worked hard to build this relationship with the relevant CSOs so it can be strengthened and we can work together in harmony. We needed to enable that, so we are all singing from the same song sheet. It is a work in progress but the foundation that we started on from all the consultations and collaboration has been all positive. As the lead agency, we have made the effort to attend and see first-hand what they are doing. For example, we participated in the SUNGO CSO Taskforce meetings; at the same time, we are encouraging the participation of their expertise in terms of contributing to the work of the Ministry and the sector.

The guide is a practical tool to make it easy for the sector and agencies that are part of the work to have a collaborative approach in terms of dealing with the issue of DV from survivors’ perspective. And the completion of the guide is much appreciated because it aligns with the national framework that is being set across the board being led by the Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development. It filters down to the sector what we can do, from the lenses of the survivor and the means to put it in place and carry it through.

Furthermore, we have linked the areas of border security to gender-based violence. There is a massive, all-encompassing reach of the sector in the upholding of peace and safety of our people not only at our borders but also within our communities, and the application of the law in the protection of women and girls”.

Sharing her thoughts on some of the challenges, Ms. Vaai said, some that were brought to light were hard to swallow as they were honest reflections of the past and current performance. “But they are life lessons that we learnt, and it was never about putting blame on any Ministry or partner, however, it was about finding a way forward for the sector to meet the needs of Samoans”.

In the practical implementation of the plan, it is our hope to raise the bar of friendship and collaboration so our people, victims, survivors and at some point, the perpetrators, can receive the highest standard of service because the end goal is to prevent violence from occurring in the future.

By Louisa Apelu and Laufaleaina Lesa