New Samoan Minister of Women wants more women in Parliament

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23 March 2011
Minister of Women, Tolofuaivalelei Falemoe Lei’ataua
Minister of Women, Tolofuaivalelei Falemoe Lei’ataua

Rome wasn’t built in a day, says Minister. The new Minister of Women, Tolofuaivalelei Falemoe Lei’ataua wants more women in Parliament. But he thinks the global minimum baseline will be achieved by Samoa perhaps in 2021. The former Speaker tells the Samoa Observer women’s affairs is the priority. He wants the public to be more aware of their issues and to drive development programmes to meet their needs.

“In a democratically elected Parliament, the minimum baseline globally is to have 30 percent women membership. New Zealand’s achieved that target,” he says. He points out, “In 2006, there were around 19 to 20 women candidates. This past election there were only nine. The question is why and I don’t think it was because the villages influenced them not to run.

“We must remember that in Samoa women are historically significant. The first Tafaifa (king of all Samoa) was a woman - Nafanua. Samoan traditions and customs places high esteem on its women.” Samoa does not have laws stopping women from becoming members of Parliament.

“That’s of great importance for the country to know and to acknowledge our past governments foresight unlike other countries like the Solomon Islands who still view women as second class citizens hence there is no representation in their Parliaments.” But Rome was not built in one day.

“My Ministry will be pushing women just as hard as villages push their men to run. But she must be prepared to work for it. Once a woman becomes a matai she must do the service not just sit there expecting to be asked to run. As the saying goes, the way to leadership is service.” He is not in favour of a quota set aside for women in Parliament. “This happens in other Pacific countries like Papua New Guinea. But, it doesn’t remove the opinion they are still viewed as second-class citizens. So in Parliament deliberations they are not considered full members because they have been selected and were not elected.

“So from my experience, if this happens in Samoa, it will not last. Prime Minister Tuilaepa says every woman has a right to enter politics but through election. It means they are elected through merit and if in the elections we have 49 women winning it means Samoa’s Parliament is run by women. Then so be it.”

Looking to the end of this Parliamentary term in 2016, Tolufua says, “there should be a huge improvement in terms of governance within communities. “In my personal view, that’s important because governance within communities will lead to continuation of prioritising issues important to women and development of youth nationally.” Youth starts from primary to tertiary and includes those working and studying towards higher qualifications. His aim is to incorporate Samoa’s traditional and cultural ways of living into new ways promoted from outside its shores.

“Just because the tidal wave of overseas ideas and concepts come to our shore doesn’t mean we give less import to our own traditional and
cultural systems. That would diminish our inherent governance which do impact on our women and youth. We should be more responsible by taking the utmost care when we do need to incorporate those foreign ideas into our systems. That they will improve our way of living rather than diminishing our community lifestyle and national identity.” He is aware of the many global programs pushing youth developmental issues and the need for government heed the issues and needs of its youth.

“Government must heed the issues and needs of our youth. That’s why we prioritise the CEDAW convention to protect the rights of women. This should be the same commitment to our youth. Essentially, Samoa should stay abreast of global movements on these issues and be part of the development. We cannot afford not to do that.”

But he did warn at the same time the exercise of rights doesn’t lead to abuse, exploitation or overstepping respect of elders or village councils. “So within those guidelines we have our young people pursue their dreams, our women’s rights are protected and empowered. And if the government plays its part to enacting laws that grow and improve the development of its people, then I believe government’s vision will be a blessing for Samoa. In regards to his approach in Cabinet and certain comments they will follow PM Tuilaepa as the pied piper.

“That is a very unfair illustration by your newspaper. Tuilaepa is the leader but every member of cabinet has their turn to voice issues. We don’t just listen and if there’s a wrong we must speak up – nothing like that happens. “Leading the country is not the task of one man. It’s only and extension that you see in the leadership of a Samoan family, village, of an electorate.

Just like any decision made in a Samoan family all members have the opportunity to voice their opinions but it’s the matai alone who takes their position to the Village Fono. And decisions made from that body is relayed by the matai to his family and they abide by that. “In the Samoan system there are no ballots, there are no votes. A decision is made by the decision making body to which the rest agree to by consensus it will benefit the whole village.

“I believe, this [2011] cabinet will work together. We will be guided by legislations under the overarching authority of the constitution.” His final words, “We cannot hide the fact the country, the many religious denominations have spoken in support of the HRPP. And all these things we will put in place are founded on God first because any government that puts God first will be blessed in its endeavours.”

Tomorrow cabinet will meet to discuss the allocation of Associate Minister portfolios. On Friday is swearing in ceremony for Associate Ministers.
Tolufua is hoping Gatoloaifaana Amataga Gidlow will be his Associate Minister.

“As Speaker last year I was chairman for the parliamentary advocacy group to improve healthy lifestyles and this Ministry plays a core role in that initiative which I want to take up another level. “The main areas include exercise, eating a balanced diet, women taking the lead in vegetable farming and market gardens, all those things will be under my watch. The committee delivers a very key message to our people that this government prioritises its ministries working together with communities and village councils and Gatoloa’i a key part last year is extremely valuable to take it up another level.”

[Samoan Observer - Aigaletaule’ale’ā F. Tauafiafi]  

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