27 Feb 2019

Pacific peoples fight family violence

3:38 pm on 27 February 2019

Samoa's ombudsman says a national inquiry has brought home the reality that family violence is real and dangerous in Samoa.

Samoa Ombudsman Maiava Iulai Toma

Samoa Ombudsman Maiava Iulai Toma Photo: RNZ/Christine Rovoi

Maiava Iulai Toma was among those who gathered for a fono in Auckland last week to try and come up with solutions.

A commission of inquiry on domestic violence in Samoa found that nine out of 10 women in Samoa have suffered physical or emotional violence at the hands of a family member.

These women also suffer in silence, enduring years of mental and physical torture and abuse.

Maiava warns this is the inheritance Samoans are leaving "or rather breeding for their future generations" if they do not act to bring about change.

"We have become very much at home with violence," he said. "As a result, our children grow up desensitised and accustomed to violence as a viable ready response in situations of everyday life," he said.

Maiava said traditional leaders, church leaders and parents need to do more.

Fiji's Minister for Women Mereseini Vuniwaqa

Fiji's Minister for Women Mereseini Vuniwaqa Photo: RNZ/Christine Rovoi

Fiji's Minister for Women said a shift in power between men and women has contributed to violence in her country.

Mereseini Vuniwaqa said Fijians need to change their mindset and attitudes towards women and girls.

"Because women are now coming out into the workforce - coming out into the various sectors of the economy in positions - a bit different from how women are viewed before," she said.

"This shift in power bases - more often than not - contributes to this violence."

But Ms Vuniwaqa said despite the ongoing problem, women were reporting the abuse and talking about it more now.

"Domestic violence is a huge problem in Fiji as well," she said. "I believe culture, the way that we've always seen violence in the homes. It's been treated as a domestic issue. That the state never really intervened. But that culture has changed."

Ms Vuniwaqa said a review would be held in 2021 to see if current programmes are working in Fiji.

Samoa's Maiava Iulai Toma said they had also discovered that control was rife in domestic violence cases in Samoa.

"Domestic violence is about power. It is about one person's desire to control another person by brute force and other means," he said. "It's as simple and as ugly as that."

Maiava said alcohol, jealousy, poverty - often cited as causes - could be very powerful.

"We found that some of these triggers, for example poverty, are not helped but exacerbated by practices that are within the power of important institutions such as the churches to curtail."

From left, Academics Dr Ana Koloto and Dr Konai Helu Thaman and Rev Setaita Veikune of the Methodist Church in NZ.

From left, Academics Dr Ana Koloto and Dr Konai Helu Thaman and Rev Setaita Veikune of the Methodist Church in NZ. Photo: RNZ Pacific/ Christine Rovoi

Tongan academic Ana Koloto said the church should shoulder some responsibility.

"The role of the church. I think we've been challenged," Dr Koloto said. "Some of the texts within the Bible and the stories are very difficult because it seems to be used to promote violence.

"We've been challenged to look at those and use and engage with the texts because those texts seems to create a world view that violence was acceptable."

When the relationship between the church and its people is not right or damaged, Dr Koloto said it's time to look at their culture for solutions.

Samoa's Ombudsman said a Family Violence Prevention Office within the Ministry of Women would be set up to lead the national drive to eradicate violence in the country.