Centre for Samoan Studies
Political Representation and Women’s Empowerment in Samoa
This report provides the findings, analysis and policy significance of research aimed to better understand the barriers to women’s political participation in Samoa. The paradoxical situation is that Samoan women have achieved approximate equality to men in most modern spheres of government and the economy, yet have never, since Samoa’s independence in 1962, succeeded in winning more that five seats in the 49 seat parliament. In most parliaments, women have held only one or two seats, usually for a single term. In 2015 Samoa was among the countries ranked lowest int he world for women’s representation in parliament, at 128 out of 140 countries.
The research was conducted with assistance from, and in collaboration with, the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture (MESC) and the Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development (MWCSD) over the period April 2013 to July 2015. It consisted of (i) a nationwide survey of women’s participation in political and economic village-based organizations, covering all villages and sub-villages in Samoa; (ii) a qualitative study of village organisation in a sample of 30 villages with and without formal obstacles to women’s participation in village government, and (iii) interviews of women candidates who have stood for past elections.
Please view Errata for the original copies of the report Volume 1 that were distributed during the launches.
1. The Village Fono Act
The current proposed provision to amend the Village Fono Act 1990 will extend the powers of the village council to define village council policy (faiga fa’avae) and establish procedures to be followed in making village council decisions (i’ugafono). The proposed provisions of the bill will give legal recognition to the authority of the village council to protect Samoan customs and traditions, and to safeguard village traditions, norms and protocols. On the basis of the research findings we recommend that the Government of Samoa give further consideration to gender equity in the proposed amendments to the Village Fono Act 1990, and hold further consultations to include the following:
- In keeping with constitutional provisions (Article 15) for the equality of citizens, and the rights of Samoan families to bestow their matai titles (Article 100), the Village Fono Act 1990 basis of sex with regards to the recognition of matai titles or the right of a mtai to participate in the village council.
- The amendment of the Village Fono Act 1990 should include provisions requiring village councils to formally consult with the Nu’u o Tama’ita’i and the Faletua ma Tausi on the formulation and provisions of village council policy (faiga fa’avae) and on the establishment of procedures to be followed in making village council decisions (i’ugafono).
- The amendment of the Village Fono Act 1990 should include provisions that village council policy (faiga fa’avae) and procedures be followed in making village women’s committee and/or the village women’s representative (Sui o Tama’ita’i o Nu’u) may directly represent issues and concerns of the village women’s committee to the village council at its meetings, rather than indirectly through the village representative (Sui o Nu’u).
2. The Samoa Council of Churches
The survey found that justifications for the exclusion of women from decision-making roles in villages were more frequently based on religious grounds than on customary grounds. Furthermore, about half of those consulted in the survey considered that the churches are of equal importance to the village councils in local leadership.
The church is an important arena for demonstrating leadership ability and generosity, and leadership in a church community is important, even essential, for those aspiring to stand for parliamentary election. Most village-based churches are Congregational, Catholic or Methodist. The LDS (Mormon) church has both village- and district-based parishes.
In most other countries the Methodist and Congregational churches have ordained women for many years past, but in Samoa, where these churches are self-governing, the trend has been resisted. The Catholic Church and the Mormon Church are governed in accordance with the centralised organisational rules of their faiths and are not fully self-governing. The Catholic Church does not ordain women as priests. In most parishes in Samoa, leadership and religious education is provided by catechist ministers (fesoasoani) and although there is no doctrinal bar to women holding these positions, in Samoa they are all held by men. The LDS Church allocates separate roles and statuses to male and female leaders in the church.
On the basis of the research findings, we recommend that the Churches of Samoa, through the Samoa Council of Churches, and within the respective established processes and procedures of each Church, consider ways and means to:
- Formally remove leadership barriers in the Church based on sex.
- Give women more voice in the government and leadership of the Church at village level.
- Increase Church leadership towards ending family violence.