Church has critical role to play in ending gender-based violence

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Mata'afa Keni Lesa

The writer was invited by Samoa’s National Human Rights Institution and U.N. Women as the Moderator for a session on the topic “Engaging with Religion and Faith-Based Actors to Address Family Violence” at the Ending Violence in Samoa (EViS) roundtable. The Panelists included Dr. Mercy Ah Siu-Maliko, Maiava Iulai Toma, Judge Talasa Lumepa Saaga, Afamasaga Faauiga Mulitalo-Afamasaga and Deacon Dr. Kasiano Leaupepe. This is what Mata’afa said:

 

A’o la’ala’a ane le tamaita’i o Sina i le maota paepaevalu i lana asiga o le gasegase o le Tuimanu’a, fai mai le tala, a la’a se vae o le tausala e fa’atulou, a si’i fo’i se lima o le tausala, e fa’atulou. E fa’apena le lagona i le aso.

O Samoa o le atunu’u tofi. O outou paia i ona tulaga fa’ale Atua, fa’ale-malo, fa’ale atunu’u, o le a nu’unu’u atu ia Fa’atini o Tausala. 

Ae tau ona ou fa’atalofa ma fa’afeiloai atu ia tatou malo fa’apitoa o afifio atu i le laulau nei, aemaise le paia loaloa o le tatou aofia. Ae o le ou fa’aogaina le gagana fa’aperetania e fa’atautai ai le tatou mafutaga ona o lo’o filogia le tatou fa’atasiga.  

When it comes to the movement to end gender-based violence in Samoa, we know that our va’a (canoe) has well and truly set sail. This is the continuation of a voyage; one we know is fraught with difficulties and challenges. 

But we have set sail nonetheless. We are here today because of the momentum, that has been generated by the wonderful work done by so many different people, partners and sectors, driven by UN Women, the Ombudsman’s Office as Samoa’s National Human Rights Institution, and their partners. 

I’d like to acknowledge with gratitude the work that has been done by Papali’i Mele Maualaivao of UN Women as well as Ombudsman Maiava Iulai Toma and his team. So much work has been done but we must also not kid ourselves that much, much more work remains to be done. 

Today is another step, a small but significant step. 

In Samoa, the church is one of the strongest pillars we have. Statistics show that more than 99 percent of Samoa’s population go to church with Christianity the predominant religion. Statistics from different sources also show that the issue of domestic violence is far from being resolved. More and more cases of domestic and family violence are being reported to the Police, ending up in Court.

I don’t need to explain this. 

Suffice to say, we believe the church has a critical role to play in efforts to stamp out gender-based violence. The church has such influence on the lives of our people, and when it is channeled correctly to help achieve our cause, it can be a powerful tool for change. 

Why has that not happened yet? Why has it taken this long for these conversations to happen? The questions are valid but the answer is not important. The important part is that it is happening and we have started it. One can never deride the value of this conversation. 

While the issue of gender-based violence is far from being resolved – and it probably never will be completely eliminated – the fact that you are here, is a positive step nonetheless. Talking about it is better than ignoring it completely. 

That said, this is an informal forum, where people who are passionate about achieving the goal of ending gender-based Violence, are free to discuss ideas, to further promote the cause. While there are experts in the different fields and many of us are great at the work we do, the truth is no one is an expert in ending gender-based violence. Not that we know of anyway.

If there were experts, we wouldn’t be having this gathering today. Our problem would have already been solved. 

As it stands, you and I know the sad truth.

When all is said and done, these discussions are about alofa, ava fatafata, va tapuia, tautua, mafutaga ma le Atua and our relationships with one another. 

This is why all views matter. Like a crew on a va’a, everyone has a critical role to play. I do a bit of paddling so let me tell you a little story. On a V6 canoe for example, Seat 1 and 2 set the pace, 3, 4 and 5 provide the power while Seat 6 steers and provides guidance from the back. 

For the canoe to go faster and slide along the water more efficiently, all six have to paddle. Together. They have to reach, get their paddle in the water and pull together. To do that, no one is more important than the other. 

Everyone has a function and it is only when all those functions are fulfilled, and carried out effectively and efficiently, that you will be able to sense the canoe glide across the ocean effortlessly. It’s a beautiful thing when the crew feel the rhythm of the canoe.

That’s how it is today. We each have a part to play, which is why we are here to share views about an issue that has continued to plaque our society. Violence, especially gender-based violence is nothing new. And there is also no shortage of what’s being said and written about it.

The questions are, what can we do? When? How? On our canoe for this session to help us provide some answers we have got some wonderful paddlers in our panelists.

Dr. Mercy Ah Siu-Maliko has done research on gender issues and violence against women from a public theology perspective. Her dissertation, of which she will present today, is “Tatala le Ta’ui a le Atua (Rolling Out the Fine Mat of Scripture): Transforming Church Response to Gender-Based Violence against Women in Samoa.”

Ombudsman Maiava needs little introduction. A Deacon of the All Saints Anglican Church, he has long advocated for Churches to become more committed to addressing Family Violence within their congregations.

We are grateful to have Judge Talasa Lumepa Saaga of the District Court and Family Violence Court with us. She has been a strong and vocal advocate for ending family violence and encouraging Faith based organizations to lead.

The Government plays a critical role in this effort. Which is why we are pleased to have Afamasaga Faauiga Mulitalo-Afamasaga, the Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development, joining us to talk about community-oriented interventions to end violence against women and children. 

Last but not the least, we welcome Deacon Dr. Kasiano Leaupepe, the Chairman of the National Council of Churches. We know the church has copped a lot of flak in relation to the issue. So Dr. Leaupepe’s views today will be very important to hear.

That said, think about that V6 canoe again. Which seat are you on? God bless!

 

 

© Samoa Observer 2016

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