Women and Political Participation – Follow the Sun Project
This year’s theme for International Women’s Day was ‘Choose to Challenge’ and it couldn’t be more appropriate considering that this year 2021 and in fact next month is the general election in Samoa. Twenty two women will continue in their quest to hold political office, and despite the numerous achievements made by women in terms of education and employment, holding political office remains one of the steepest hills to climb. With the introduction of the constitutional special measure in 2013 that allocates 10% of seats to women, the path was made a little easier but still impediments exist. To celebrate these achievements and to have open discussion on the challenges that remain for women who aspire to and for those who have held political office, the Centre for Samoan Studies under the “Follow the Sun” project organized an esteemed panel on March 8th 2021.
Following the Sun is aspirational and visionary as one pictures the warmth and welcoming of the new day. In the 110 years the International Women’s Day has been celebrated, women had strived and overcome many hurdles, including holding political office. This project brings together academics from the University of Lincoln (UK), University of Casablanca (Morocco), Monash University Malaysia, National University of Samoa and a researcher based at Te Papa Museum in New Zealand to further discourse through panel discussions and the production of a film (based on the panel discussions) that shares and examines the experiences of women and political participation across Samoa, Morocco and Malaysia. The project is generously sponsored by the British Academy and the local panel received additional financial support from the British High Commission and the Women in Leadership in Samoa program (WILS) funded by the Australian Government and administered by UN Women.
The esteemed panel comprised Dr. Simona Marinescu UN Resident Coordinator for Samoa, Hon. Fiame Naomi Mataafa Independent Member of Parliament and candidate for Fa’atuatua i Le Atua Samoa ua Tasi (F.A.S.T), Taulapapa Brenda Heather-Latu Partner Latu Lawyers, Mulitalo Mauga Fetogi R. Vaai Assistant Chief Executive Officer Legal Policy & Investigation, Office of the Electoral Commission, Muliagatele Ausia Manaia Potoae Roberts Aiafi Development Consultant, Aliimalemanu Alofa Tu’uau – M.P. for Alataua West, Candidate Human Rights Protection Party and was moderated by Meleisea Leasiolagi Dr Malama Meleisea, the Director of the Centre for Samoan Studies. The Vice Chancellor Aiono Professor Alec Ekeroma and the British High Commissioner to Samoa H.E. Mr. David Ward delivered welcoming remarks to start off the event on a positive note.
The discussion was illuminating, thought provoking and frank with keen interest from the youth in the audience. As they take their place in the world, it was incredibly heartening to hear the questions they posed and the wonderful rapport with the panelists.
Some participants from the Peer 2 Peer student initiative shared their experiences of attending the event.
“International Women’s Day really had a great impact on our peers this year 2021.Choose to challenge as its theme made it more interesting and empowering for us the new and future generation of our country’s women. I found our panel discussions quite interesting and informative.It not only revealed the reality and barriers that women often face in any society but it also identified and addressed ways in order for us to cope with these issues.
“Facing your fears instead of running away from it“……is a phrase that I really took to the heart from her Afioga Aliimalemanu Alofa Tu’uau’s discussion…Sometimes when we are faced by obstacles and barriers we panic and ignore it. However, that’s now how we should deal with our fears we got to stand tall, be brave, bold and courageous when problems arise we shall not cower or hide from it rather we have to deal with it. All in all, I’m really grateful that our peers were able to attend and be part of today’s celebration..Special thanks goes to Ms Ramona and everyone that has made today’s event possible.. A big faamalo and faafetai goes to our panelists for the amazing stories and lessons that they have all shared as well. To conclude my thoughts, I just want to say Happy International Women’s Day to all the women around the world and in whatever you do always let God lead the way.”
Grace Puai’i – Peer 2 Peer Initiative Group Member
“I was encouraged by what Fiame Naomi said and that is to “Be Ourselves”
Serafi Fui Vaá – Peer 2 Peer Initiative Group Member
“I have learned that women can also achieve great things in life, not just men. Their positive contribution and leadership impacted organizations, political and social factors around the World. As Malama Meleisea describes his mother, ” O ia o le pae ma le auli i totonu o le aiga”, it indicates that wherever they go, they always fulfil their duties and responsibilities without a complaint. As for today, we celebrated the marvelous things accomplished by women and their good things they do for the development of societies, and it is a pleasure to witness women in Politics and leadership give words of encouragement for everyone. Respect and love”
Tineiafiolemaluapapa Tuia– Faculty of Arts, BA student
“Today’s event was very successful and well thought out from the start to the end. This was a powerful way to support international women’s day is by holding an event based on women and leadership. We also supported IWD by discussing the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. This is such an important day for it celebrates the power of women-their roles in our lives and the society of Samoa. A special thanks to our leaders of women in Samoa who took their time to discuss their experiences of leadership in Samoa and also the Peer2Peer group for hosting this event every year. Happy International Women’s Day!”
Zelda Ah Ching– Peer 2 Peer Initiative Group Member
And from the Peer 2 Peer Initiative Faculty Coordinator, Rosa Filoi
“The Peers have celebrated International Women’s Day for more than three years now. Today’s event offered an important platform for our students to be part of the conversation on Women in Leadership and especially Women in Politics. It was a great opportunity as well for our students to experience firsthand, what it means to have only a few to represent and carry the voice of a group. That was witnessed today with our Peer reps who were present at the main event, and the rest of our Peers and students who were at the Viewing session set up for students. In this space, young women and men were reminded of the importance of this conversation and why we should empower, encourage and celebrate our women.”
In addition to an in person audience the panel discussion was streamed on the NUS Facebook (the video recording is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Fwvwm7FCW8) and the Peer 2 Peer Initiative Group at NUS organized a viewing session for students. Approximately 195 people attended across the different platforms. The acceptance and usage of online platforms such as social media to widen access to an audience divided by oceans was evident with 110 persons viewing the discussion via Facebook at one point. The audience was diverse with attendees from academia, development agencies, community members and non-governmental organizations. Nuanua O le Alofa’s Disaster Preparedness and Response Coordinator, Annika Tierney Lemisio who attended the in person session shared.
“The diversity of the voices and perspectives presented at the NUS International Women’s Day Panel was wonderful to see. Each Panelist came with her own experience and expertise, all united in the commitment to further efforts towards gender equality in Samoa. It was a wonderful way to celebrate International Women’s Day and a fantastic showcase of the powerhouse women in Samoa who are forging the way towards a better tomorrow.”
Event Coordinator Dr. Ramona Boodoosingh was elated at the turnout and the interest in the event.
“Heading into the general election, this panel provided a wonderful opportunity for women who have achieved so much to share, challenge and to inspire those who follow in their stead, and for the young Samoan women to interact with these esteemed women panelists and to be motivated to envision themselves as leaders in the future.”
Happy International Women’s Day on behalf of the organizers of this event.
If you would like more information on the Follow the Sun Project please contact Ramona Boodoosingh at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you would like more information on the Peer 2 Peer Initiative at NUS please contact Rosa Filoi at email@example.com
Reminder you can watch the entire video of the panel discussion at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Fwvwm7FCW8