Samoa Victim Support Group (SVSG) is joining the community and the law and justice sectors this week in celebrating small victories being made, in advocating for social justice for the survivors of gender based violence in Samoa.
The victories, from SVSG’s perspective, range from the successful completion of the ‘Rise Up’ retreat of young women survivors who have formed the feminist movement to fight against sexual violence in Samoa; to playing host to the community conversation by civil society actors and advocates on Preventing Violence Against Women and Girls as part of the Spotlight Initiative; to the one-on-one consultation with the relevant Ministry on SVSG’s report to the Human Rights Council as part of Samoa’s Third Universal Periodic Review (UPR); to being part of the Gender Empowerment Disability Program by one of its partners.
Culminating the small victories being celebrated this week was the official launching by the Ministry of Women, Community & Social Development, of the National Child Care & Protection Policy, the first for the children of Samoa. As a child safe organization, this calls for a celebration, given years of lobbying for policies and legislations specifically to govern work for children. Thank you UNICEF Pacific for seeing to it that Samoa’s child protection system is based on communities, families and the Fa’aSamoa.
The greatest victory this week for SVSG was the guilty verdict handed down by the Supreme Court to a 62 year old father who committed rape and sexual connection to a 15 year old girl. The child has been under SVSG’s shelter care since 2019. The offender has been slapped with a 12 years and 4 months imprisonment sentence, which is nothing compared to years of trauma this child will go through, before recovering.
And this is why SVSG existed; the reason behind the continuous lobbying and adovocacy for relevant policies and legislations in place; and why we are grateful this week of the small advocacy victories.
But life as a Response Service Provider continues. SVSG’s 800-7874 Help Line is still ringing day and night from people who need help during violent situations, from people who are still in financial distress from the impact of COVID-19 and required basic necessities such as food, clothing and utilities. “For this, we are greatful of the partnership with the UNDP through the Spotlight Initiative Project, which enabled SVSG to scale up delivery of GBV responsive services for women, children and vulnerable groups in the context of the COVID-19.” Siliniu Lina Chang, SVSG President
The young women; who were once victims of sexual abuse, who have gone through shelter care for their safety, who have taken the lonely stand within the Courts to fight for justice; and who have endured the stigma and the discrimination from the community upon their reintegration, are laying down a challenge vulnerable young women out there to “Rise up, just as the sun rises up on the dawn of a new day.”
The challenge is issued by the young women, who called themselves Sisters of Hope, as they gathered for a three days retreat over the weekend, to check up on how each other is doing, and to share on the challenges they have faced following life within the safety of the Campus of Hope shelter facility.
We are talking about young women who were sexually abused at the ages as young as 6, young women who were pregnant from abuse and gave birth at the ages 11 – 12, and have attempted suicide at the age of 10 due to the trauma they have gone through.
But seeing the young women formed the feminist movement to fight sexual violence in Samoa is encouraging, especially in light of the dramatical spike in the percentage of gender based violence cases in Samoa since the COVID-19. This is even after years of advocacy work for the safety of children while lobbying for policy and legislation to be in place for the protection of children. Who could be the better fighters in this field than these young women?; and who can better reach other vulnerable young women who slip through the cracks of existing programs than them?
Through the FRIDA young feminist funding support, the Sisters of Hope have made a domino effect in the elevation of survivor centred empowerment to rise above and lead initiatie that are relevant to young women, who have been traumatized and deeply affected by sexual violence.
The participants to the 3-days retreat are locally based young feminists of the Sisters of Hope, who are joined virtually by other Sisters of Hope now residing overseas; some have built families of their own while others are continuing with their studies.
From the Sisters of Hope camp, thank you to the FRIDA feminist fund for believing in the Sisters of Hope’s ability to push throught with the movement in Samoa. Have a safe weekend Samoa, and God bless.
The 16th SHINE Workshop venue at Vaipuna came alive with a festive atmosphere as village leaders and trainers joined together in singing and dancing to celebrate the empowered nofotane women.
Who wouldn’t want to celebrate when out of the 33 participants to the workshop, or 20 of them or 60% are now self-employed nofotane women, earning an income from the livelihood skills there were trained on during the initial women’s empowerment program in 2017. The women are from Vaipuna, Vaiala, Leone, Aai-o-Niue and Tufuiopa.
We are talking about the heart of Apia here, yet, the presence of village leaders attested to two milestone achievement for the project within these town area villages:
1) Increased recognition and support by village leaders of women's positive economic contributions and importance of participation in domestic and community matters; and
2) Increased awareness of employment rights of nofotane women and the importance of sustainable self-employment of these women
The story of Salome Paulo of Leone is a classic example of how an economically empowered woman decreases the risk of domestic violence. This is a mother of 14 children, who have been at the receiving end of domestic violence due to the stressful economic situation at home. Salome collects fresh flowers to make garlands sold at the nightclubs six days a week. Her earnings have helped in putting all her children to school and supported her husband financially. We asked Salome about the possibility of a backlash of this financial stability should her husband feels threatened by her achievements; but she just smiled with a thumb up sign, and said ‘No more Violence’.
A lot more similar stories of positive changes in families have been shared by the self-employed nofotane women as the SHINE workshops continue.
“The funding support from the European Union through the Civil Society Support Program is therefore acknowledged for the difference that it continues to make, in the lives of the nofotane women under the program, with cascading benefits to the rest of the women in Samoa.” Siliniu Lina Chang, SVSG President