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UN: Samoa - Women’s rights integral to mindset-change

UN experts say women’s sexual and reproductive rights integral to mindset-change in tackling gender discrimination in Samoa


GENEVA / APIA (18 August 2017) – Samoa has made huge strides forward in tackling a pervasive issue of gender-based violence, but much more remains to be done to tackle deeply rooted gender discrimination, a United Nations human rights expert panel has concluded after its first official visit to the Pacific nation.

“We welcome the adoption of laws that honour Samoa’s constitution and international human rights obligations regarding discrimination against women and gender-based violence, in particular the criminalization of domestic violence, the legal guarantee of employment equality, and the constitutional requirement for minimum quotas of women in parliament,” said Kamala Chandrakirana, who currently heads the UN Working Group on discrimination against women.

“However, these laws cannot be fully effective unless women’s sexual and reproductive rights are met and they are economically empowered.”

Addressing the root causes of violence against women would require a major shift in cultural perceptions about women and their place in society, the experts noted. They said many Samoans had been profoundly shocked by a recent government report revealing the scale of gender-based violence.

“Significant efforts have already been put into changing cultural perceptions, with encouraging results, but major leaps are still necessary. There is still a huge need for open dialogue on ‘taboo’ subjects and on the meaning of the ‘Samoan way of life’ (fa’asamoa) and ensuring women’s right to equality within the family,” Ms. Chandrakirana added.

“This cannot happen without the leadership of government and other local stakeholders, including community and religious leaders, alongside women and men at all levels of society.”

The delegation, which also included human rights expert Eleonora Zielinska, visited the capital Apia and the villages of Poutasi and Vavau during its 10-day mission. The experts attended consultations with representatives of the Salani, Sapoe, Utulaelae, Siuniu, Salesatele, Salelesi communities as well as Government officials, representatives of State institutions, civil society organizations, individuals, religious leaders and academics.

Ms. Chandrakirana said that Samoa was only at the beginning of a long journey. “There is a sense of urgency in making necessary reforms in the nation’s laws, policies and institutions to address these changes, while tensions and contradictions in social, cultural and political practice abound,” she said.
She added that, with a growing youth population, this was the right time to fully honour women’s rights by ending gender-based violence, while tackling some of the misunderstandings about human rights, recognizing that family life was at the core of Samoan society.

The experts urged new policies including a state-sponsored social welfare system, full support for women and girls who had suffered sexual or physical violence, and better funding for the civil society groups making an immense contribution despite limited resources.

The Working Group will present a full report including recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2018.

ENDS

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