Press Releases

    WOM/1481
    25 January 2005

    Bias in Election Elibility, Lack of Legislation on Violence against Women in Samoa among Concerns Voiced by Women’s Anti-Discrimination Committee

    NEW YORK, 24 January (UN Headquarters) -- What was unusual -- and even exceptional -- about Samoa was that contrary to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, only a minority of women in the Pacific island nation were eligible to stand for election, members of the Committee monitoring implementation of that instrument said today.

    As the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women took up Samoa’s initial, second and third reports in two meetings today, many of its 23 experts stressed that concerted efforts were needed to overcome discrimination in election eligibility requirements there.

    According to the country’s reports, Samoan women had gained the right to vote and be elected in 1991, but only “matai”, or chiefly titleholders, were eligible to run for Parliament. Even though women had the same rights of access to chiefly titles as men, there was still a traditional preference for men to hold such a responsibility. Also, by tradition, Samoa’s head of State was drawn from a line of paramount chiefs.

    Experts stressed that, according to international law, universal suffrage implied both the right to vote and to be elected. Although there had been positive change, Samoan women were still under-represented in all bodies, including the Parliament and various government departments. Women constituted only four out of the country’s 238 mayors, and three out of its 49 members of Parliament.  The fact that all women did not benefit from the right of eligibility for election represented flagrant discrimination, an expert said. As the first Pacific island country to ratify the Convention, Samoa had to ensure that it was fully implemented.

    Many members of the Committee emphasized that the Government’s measures to address the situation were clearly insufficient. To rectify the situation, Samoa needed to target measures at both women and men to combat deeply entrenched stereotypical attitudes, several speakers said. Also, with some 43 per cent of the country’s population under the age of 18, it was particularly important to change stereotypes among the younger generation. 

    Responding to comments, members of the delegation stressed the delicacy of the issue, its cultural foundation and the control that extended families held over the system. Rather than enforce change, the Government sought to bring about a gradual shift in attitudes. There was an increasing participation of women and growth in their self-esteem. Within the delegation, three women had chiefly titles, and throughout the country, the number of women with chiefly titles had increased to over 2,000. Women were encouraged to participate at every level of society, and the Government took steps to provide them with options, particularly beyond the urban areas.

    Experts also noted a long delay in the submission of Samoa’s reports, stressing that regular reporting was an important part of States parties’ obligations under the Convention, which stipulates that an initial report has to be submitted within one year after the instrument’s entry into force and subsequent reports at least every four years thereafter.

    Samoa ratified the Convention at the conclusion of the United Nations Decade for Women in 1992 and was the first of the Pacific island States to set up a separate Ministry for Women’s Affairs. That Ministry was involved in project coordinating committees of all development projects, as well as in enhanced awareness-raising of women’s rights through collaboration with non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

    While the Government reported that Samoa’s Constitution forbade discriminatory actions on the basis of sex and that the country’s laws “favoured women”, the experts addressed the gaps in the national legislation, including the lack of special laws addressing violence against women. The Constitution did not oblige the Government to implement the Convention, which was operating parallel to the national legislation, and experts asked for clarifications regarding the legal status of that international instrument in Samoa’s legal system.

    It was evident from the report that despite the changes introduced in the country, the daily lives of the majority of Samoan women were regulated by customary law and practices that were based on female subordination and stereotypical gender roles, an expert said. In particular, the report stated that widowed and unmarried women had a high social status, almost equivalent to that of men. Married women, however, did not have any privileges: they were expected to serve the families of their husbands. Among other issues addressed in the experts’ dialogue with the delegation was the need to address the issue of illegal abortions, the situation of rural women, and health-care services in Samoa.

    In her concluding remarks, the head of the delegation, Luagalau Foisagaasina Eteuati Shon, Chief Executive Officer of Samoa’s Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development, said that Samoa’s culture and social traditions influenced many aspects of people’s lives. Many areas were very sensitive, and she hoped it would be possible to address the experts’ concerns “in small steps”. She hoped that, in four years, many of the Committee’s recommendations would be implemented.

    The Committee will begin its consideration of Italy’s reports at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 25 January.

    Background     

    The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women this morning was expected to take up Samoa’s combined initial, second and third reports (documents CEDAW/C/WSM/1-3).

    Samoa is the first Pacific island country to ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, at the conclusion of the United Nations Decade for Women on 19 September 1992, and the first to set up a separate Ministry for Women Affairs.  Women obtained the right to vote in 1991; affirmative action has been introduced; and there was now enhanced awareness of women’s rights among the public through strengthened coordinative work of the Ministry and non-governmental organizations (NGOs); and increasing number of women occupy senior positions in the public sector. However, there are still gaps that need to be addressed. For example, there is no legislation against sexual harassment, cases of which, while reported, have been considered only if they constituted sexual assault.

    Other changes in the economic, social and political lives of women in Samoa include increased participation in paid employment, an increasing number in management positions, decreased fertility and a reduction in family size.  Customary laws accord women a status of prestige in Samoan society.  Gender ideology underlying Samoa’s social system features complementary male and female roles, and the concept of family goes beyond the nuclear family. Family arrangements are thus complex and multifaceted, and a married woman may be affected by the decisions not only of her husband, but of members in her extended family, as well. However, social safety nets are fast changing and have impacted on the family and the role of women. De facto relationships occur, although there is considerable societal and church pressure against it. There is a rising incidence of teenage pregnancies, and the number of female heads of households is increasing.

    The Government reports that, having achieved modest economic growth in the second half of the 1980s, the country suffered a setback after two major cyclones in 1990 and 1991.  Economic recession in Samoa’s major trading partners and the impact of the taro leaf blight disease also had an adverse impact in the first half of the 1990s.  Rehabilitation of infrastructure, supported by generous aid, dominated economic activity through the mid-1990s. As the cyclone rehabilitation programme was completed, agriculture recovered, tourism picked up, and the fishing sector experienced dramatic growth. Overall, growth was 2.8 per cent in 1998 and 3.1 per cent in 1999, and increased substantially to 7.3 per cent in 2000.

    Regarding the country’s legislation, the Government reports that Samoa’s Constitution forbids discriminatory actions by the State on the basis of sex. The Employment Act has special provisions intended for the protection of women from undertaking activities not suited to their physical capacity and work after midnight. International law does not automatically become the law of the country, but can serve as an interpretative tool. In this capacity, the Women’s Convention and other international instruments can be used to monitor State activities. There is no official policy aimed at accelerating the de facto equality of women because there is the generally accepted underlying principle that discrimination on the basis of gender is not a problem in Samoa.

    Affirmative action measures taken in the reporting period include setting a 50 per cent quota for scholarship awards for women going abroad, special scholarships to encourage female students to take up trades and other non-traditional programmes of study, such as maritime training, and gradual integration of gender issues in policy formulation and programme development.

    According to the reports, traditional division of labour exists in Samoa.  However, boys and girls are no longer expected to strictly adhere to such practice, “particularly when all members of a family are expected to contribute to the maintenance of its well-being”. Stereotyping still exists in some curricula and trade education, although the situation is being remedied through curriculum review, gender sensitization workshops and affirmative action. The media and civil society have been influential in removing stereotypes through highlighting issues, which can be viewed as discriminatory, such as violence against women.

    Censorship laws existing in the country apply to movies and films, as well as video recordings for public viewing and renting. Pornography is illegal, but pornographic materials are smuggled in and circulated through social contacts. It is believed that pornography has increased with the advent of Internet access. Civil society is active in creating awareness of the dangers of children’s exposure to, and involvement in, Internet pornography.

    Samoa has a highly developed primary health-care system that is predominantly public and networks into every village through women’s committees. Pre-natal care is provided free of charge in the public health system.  Monthly clinics are held at villages to provide monitoring and screening for children and pregnant mothers, facilitate family planning and health education.  Health indicators include low infant mortality, high life expectancies of 65 for males and 72.5 for females, and excellent rates of immunization coverage. However, one of the leading causes of morbidity for women is a result of complications with pregnancy and childbirth. Abortion is prohibited by law even in the case of rape, unless it is done to save the life of the mother.

    Rural women constitute 78 per cent of the total female population.  They are highly organized within the traditional social hierarchy, involved in a number of activities ranging from homemaking to the marketing of goods. They are also responsible for overall village hygiene and raising funds for such community projects as schools, health centres and church activities. Women holding chiefly titles participate in the village council. Where they own farms in their own right, they become members of the Farmers Association or other specific organizations, such as the Flower Growers’ Association. The distinction between urban and rural women is not definitive, the main difference being that urban dwellers do not live under the same conditions of conformity as those in the rural areas.

    Women and men have the same right to enter into marriage and the choice of a partner is based on individual choice.  Customary marriages which were strategically arranged in the past to enhance family alliances rarely, if at all, exist any more. Adultery is an offence under the Crimes Ordinance 1961. The age of consent in civil marriage is 18 for boys and 16 for girls. No legislation exists regarding matrimonial property and the courts rely on the common law and precedent to determine the rights of each party. The dissolution of marriage is based on the principle of proving the “fault of the other party”.  The documents state that this practice merits review.

    Introduction of Reports

    Samoa’s reports were presented to the Committee by Luagalau Foisagaasina Eteuati Shon, the country’s Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development.

    The delegation also included Brenda Heather-Latu, Attorney General of Samoa; Ali’ioaiga Feturi Elisaia, Permanent Representative of Samoa to the United Nations; Noumea Simi, Ministry of Finance; Apoiliu Warren, Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labour; Louisa Apelu, Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development; Seletuta Visesio of Women in Business; Lakisa Toelupe of Yasaki Samoa; and Perine J. Sila and Angela Ula of Samoa’s Permanent Mission in New York.

    Introducing the reports, Ms. SHON said that the status and human rights of Samoan women had long been recognized in the Constitution and laws of the country, formally since its independence in 1962 and earlier in the Samoan culture and traditions. That was evident from equal opportunities in education, health services and employment.

    As a result of the Government’s overall reform agenda, the lead agency for the promotion of the interests of women was now included under a new integrated Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development, which was also responsible for all aspects of the country’s internal affairs and the broad range of community and social development. In terms of the legal framework, the country’s Constitution was the supreme law of the land. Article 15 of the Constitution was a companion provision to article 1 of the Convention, stating, inter alia, that all laws should be non-discriminatory and that all persons were equal under the law.

    Samoa’s head of State was drawn from a line of paramount chiefs according to cultural traditions, she said. The country’s economy had changed and developed significantly in recent years as economic and public sector reforms had been implemented. The past decade had seen many developments in the advancement of women, such as affirmative action through the inclusion of the Women’s Ministry in all project coordinating committees of all major development projects. Special attention was given to women’s concerns in all policy formulation and project implementation.

    Violence against women was a crime in Samoa, she said, and the range of general offences was applicable to women in domestic situations, with the exception of rape in marriage, for which an amendment had been drafted and was under consideration. There was an intention to enact legislation, which would specifically deal with domestic violence and violence against women and children. That would also require an amendment of family law. Valuable data had been obtained through surveys conducted jointly by regional institutions and the Government, in cooperation with NGOs.

    An increasing number of domestic violence complaints by women and recent murder of women by their partners had led to serious consideration of the adequacy of the existing legislative framework and the role of the police. A new police strengthening programme, which had been initiated last year, was intended to provide a strategic focus on a “Safer Samoa” national campaign. Efforts were under way to increase the number of women recruits and provide gender training for all officers.

    The courts’ approach to sexual offences had led to a hardening of attitudes to domestic violence and an increase in the length of custodial sentences imposed on the offenders.  In 2003, a sentence of six and a half years had been given for an attempted rape and a sentence of eight years for rape –- the highest sentences ever imposed for those offences. With emerging migration of women to American Samoa for employment, attempts were also made to identify the extent of the problem of people trafficking in Samoa.

    Regarding women’s role in public life, she said that the country’s recognition of the role of women in village governance had been confirmed through appointment of government women representatives from all villages.  They were official focal points for two-way communications with the Government. Women held three of the 49 seats in the National Parliament.  Only “matai”, or chiefly titleholders, were eligible to run for Parliament.  Even though women had the same rights of access to chiefly titles as men, there was still a traditional preference for men to hold such a responsibility.

    However, the number of registered women titleholders had doubled in the last three years.  There had also been a marked increase in women candidates in elections from five in 1988 to 11 in 2001.  Samoa had enjoyed universal suffrage since 1990 -- a change from limited matai suffrage in 1962.  Of the total registered votes in the 2001 elections, 47 per cent had been cast by women.  Some 50 per cent of the assistant chief executive officers in the 13 government ministries were women.

    On employment, she said that the share of women in the formal wage sector had increased from 30 per cent in 1991 to 43 per cent in 2001.  Of the total workforce in the public sector, 58 per cent were women, reflecting the predominance of women in the teaching and nursing professions.  The Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labour was to review all employment laws as part of its 2003-2007 Corporate Plan.  The public sector, however, currently led the employment sector with beneficial employment conditions specifically for women, such as eight weeks paid maternity leave and up to six months leave without pay, as well as provision of paternity leave, flexible work hours, incentives for further study and vocational training.

    Experts’ Questions, Comments

    DUBRAVKA SIMONOVIC, expert from Croatia, asked the delegation to explain the reason for the long delay in receiving Samoa’s report.  Regular reporting was an important part of States parties’ obligations under the Convention.  She also noted the Government’s intention not to provide for the Convention’s direct implementation, but to put all of its legislation in line with the Convention.  The Convention’s definition of discrimination went beyond Samoa’s definition, as it encompassed both direct and indirect discrimination.  In order to domesticate the Convention, she stressed the need for the country’s laws to be in full compliance with it.  Did the Government plan to cooperate with NGOs in revising legislation?  What would happen in cases of possible conflict between the laws and the Convention?

    PRAMILA PATTEN, expert from Mauritius, noted that tradition was often invoked in the report.  What efforts were the Government taking to mainstream a gender perspective into programmes related to violence against women?  To what extent was it increasing awareness among judicial, medical, social and law enforcement workers on the issue of violence against women?   What was being envisaged concerning strengthening of institutional mechanisms so that girls and women could report violence without the fear of retaliation?  What special efforts were being taken to ensure that women with disabilities had information regarding protection against violence?  What plans did the Government have concerning the establishment of shelters, relief support, medical counselling and legal aid for women victims of violence? 

    She also asked if the Government intended to address the actual root causes of violence.  Noting that the act establishing the law reform commission had not come into force, she asked when that commission would become operational. 

    SALMA KHAN, expert from Bangladesh, asked if the Government planned to address the promotion of equal employment opportunities for women.  Samoa did not have temporary special measures to promote women’s advancement.  In terms of political participation of women, such reform could be introduced.  Noting that trafficking was being dealt with by immigration law, she said that system was not adequate for dealing with the related issues of trafficking in women.  What measures were being taken to disseminate the Convention, particularly in rural areas where some 78 per cent of the population lived?

    TIZIANA MAIOLO, expert from Italy, asked what measures the Government had taken to deal with sexual harassment in the work place.  Sex tourism affected both young girls and boys.  What measures were there to protect women from AIDS?

    CEES FLINTERMAN, expert from the Netherlands, noted that under Samoa’s legal system, which was rooted in the English common law system, international conventions were not part of the legal system unless they were transformed by law.  The Government indicated that it did not intend to pass such a transformation law, as the courts today were willing to enforce the fundamental rights under the Convention.  Could individual women invoke in court proceedings the rights provided for by the Convention?  Was the Convention more than an interpretative tool, and were there any recorded judicial decisions with a clear reference to the provisions of the Convention?  If not, he advised reconsidering the Government’s decision not to domesticate the Convention.

    ANAMAH TAN, expert from Singapore, said the lack of resources and capacity within the Government to prepare legislation was an obstacle to the advancement of gender equality.  Had the Government sought outside assistance for preparing legislation, including from other States parties, such as Australia and New Zealand?  When would the law reform commission act, which had been passed in 2002, become operational?  She also asked about the criminal law and its provisions for marital rape, which for more than 40 years had not been considered a crime.

    ZOU XIAOQIAO, expert from China, asked about how customary law affected women in daily life.  How did customary law afford Samoan women high social status?  Noting that the term gender equity had been used several times in the report, she noted that equity was different from equality in substance.  Why did the Government use the term equity?  She was glad to note that Samoa was the first island country in the Pacific to establish a ministry for women’s affairs.  What resources were available to the Ministry, and what major obstacles did it face in implementing the Convention?

    KRISTINA MORVAI, expert from Hungary, asked the delegation to explain how it evaluated the Convention in the country.  The media had shown interest in the report.  She hoped that the Committee’s recommendations would be followed up in the press and that there would be a detailed plan of action in that regard.  How did the law reform commission function in terms of women?  The Government had admitted gaps in gender equality law.  In 1991, there had been a leading court case of gender equality in elections.  Since then, it seemed that there had been no court cases in the field of gender equality.  Were women given free legal advice?  She also stressed the State party’s responsibility, as opposed to NGOs, in implementing the Convention.

    SILVIA PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, noted that while the Constitution embodied a strong commitment to assuring human rights, certain constitutional laws needed to be revised on the basis of the Convention.  In that regard, she stressed the need to create a special law on violence against women. 

    HUGUETTE BOKPE GNACADJA, expert from Benin, said the implementation of the Convention was carried out in parallel with other international documents.  The Convention’s legal strength and status were not clear.  What was the Convention’s legal status in the country’s legal system?  While she noted the desire for reform, the report seemed to contradict that in several instances.  Was everything “rosy” or was there a real need for reform?

    Country Response

    Responding to questions, Ms. SHON said that the preparation of Samoa’s report had begun in 1995, but due to the consultative process involved and the need to present updated figures, there had been a delay.  The country’s NGOs had been very active in the drafting of the report.  In general, the work for the advancement of women in Samoa had been shared by the Government and NGOs.  As for the implementation of programmes, in many areas, the Government had given its endorsement to those organizations.  For example, bilateral funding had been provided to an NGO to focus on small business development training for women.  That was admittedly a new area that her Ministry was focusing on, but up to date, it had been mostly NGOs that had been active in implementing related programmes.

    On the legal issues, Samoa’s Attorney General, BRENDA HEATHER-LATU, said that a review of the country’s legal system was under way, in particular in the area of domestic violence.  Recognizing the importance of bringing all domestic legislation in line with the Convention, the Government was making efforts in that regard.  To date, the country had been of the view that the provisions of the Constitution were consistent with international standards and that it was flexible and robust enough to ensure equality.  Regarding submissions in court, she said that her staff was both knowledgeable of international instruments and trained to put forward international conventions that provided the best practice in all areas.

    There had been huge strides in respect of the initial response to violence, she continued.  Women could make complaints, and training was provided to the staff involved in their processing.  There was now an intention to utilize a greater number of women police officers to assist women who wanted to make complaints.  A specific piece of legislation was now under consideration to address domestic violence.  The Government was acutely aware of its obligation to ensure that care and protection of women were translated into the country’s legislation.

    Regarding the country’s law commission, she said that it could recommend any new legislation independently, or upon recommendation of the Government.  The main areas of law that Samoa intended to review included domestic violence, family law, violence against children, land law and employment law.  The country currently had no specific provisions to deal with trafficking and exploitation of women, and the Government had been involved with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), from which it had received sample legislation to address that issue.  It also intended to review the existing fault divorce provisions. 

    Continuing, she said that the prevailing custom within the matrimonial law was a 50/50 split of property in cases of divorce, which clearly recognized the women’s contribution to the family.  The State, as an employer, provided a safe working environment and ensured that no workers were subjected to sexual harassment.

    Regarding customary law, she said that the country’s legal hierarchy included the Constitution, the laws under relevant proclamations, regulations, orders and by-laws, as well as “any custom and usage under the provisions of any act or under a judgement of a court”. 

    Responding to a question about a seeming discrepancy between the statements in the report and the real situation in the country, she said that the Government had moved from sweeping statements in the report to action.  As for the statement that national laws favoured women, she said that that had been a conclusion of a study undertaken in 1991.  That was not the case in 2005, and the gaps in the national legislation had been highlighted by both country representatives and members of the Committee.  The role and status of women in society needed to be advanced.

    Another member of the delegation added that the Convention was a living document.  The positive statements in the report should be understood in the real context existing in the country.  Even before the country had ratified the Convention, the status of women had been traditionally elevated in Samoa’s culture.  The Government was committed to the implementation of that instrument. The Women’s Ministry was represented in all major development activities in the country.

    A country representative also provided explanations on the status and budget of the Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development.  Prior to a budgetary increase in 2002, the Ministry had operated on the budget of some $62,000, with a “skeleton staff” of five.  In 2002, its personnel had been increased to 28 staff members.

    Experts’ Comments

    MARY SHANTHI DAIRIAM, expert from Malaysia, noted that the Office of the Attorney-General had effected a policy for the review of all current and future bills on compliance with the Convention.  It was not clear what framework would be used for that review.  It had been said that a review of the definition of discrimination was not necessary as the Constitution was robust and flexible.  She urged the Government to reconsider that stand as a review was needed to ensure that the country’s legal system ensured both de jure and de facto equality.  She also asked for information on the work of gender focal points in the different government ministries.  What was the content of the national policy on women and would it provide for compliance by the various government ministries with the various gender mainstreaming efforts?  Would it give the Ministry of Women the authority to carry out an essential coordination role?

    MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, noted that the national plan of action was to be finalized by the end of 2004 and implemented in 2005.  Was the plan currently in force and what was its relationship to the draft national policy?  What was the status of the draft national policy, which had been meant for the period for 2001-2004?  She emphasized the responsibility of States parties in taking appropriate measures in all areas of political, social and economic life.  While cooperation with civil society was important, the Government should not transfer responsibility to it.

    HANNA BEATE SCHOPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, said it seemed that there might be confusion in the Government’s understanding of general policies, on the one hand, and special temporary measures, on the other.  It had been said that no specific efforts had been taken because the Government sought to assure women’s equal access.  Experience had shown, however, that assuring equal access might not be sufficient given past discriminations.  She asked if the Government had discussed general recommendation 25 on special temporary measures for areas in which equality might need to be accelerated.

    Country Response

    Responding to the questions, Ms. HEATHER-LATU said the legislative review, consistent with the Government’s interpretation of discrimination, had adopted a liberal definition of discrimination.  The interpretation adopted by parliamentary counsel had to be broad as the country could not afford for its legislation to be overturned by the courts.  The review, therefore, had attempted a broad look at the interpretation of international conventions.  Regarding the Women’s Convention, it would take the broadest definition of discrimination, as it was the only way to protect the country’s draft legislation.

    Regarding the State’s responsibility, she said that while the Government was fully committed to undertaking its responsibilities on behalf of Samoan citizens, it did so with the advice and guidance of civil society.  On special temporary measures, she said the matter had been raised as a consequence of preparing the report.  The issue of accelerated progress had been raised regarding women’s representation in the legislature.  The question of how to have such measures in a way that was consistent with Samoa’s culture was a delicate one.  Did one change the Constitution?  Those with chiefly titles were entitled to sit in the Parliament.  Women could hold chiefly titles and their number had doubled in the last three years.  Measures to accelerate progress needed to be consistent with the way the country functioned on a daily basis.  In short, the issue was under consideration, but in a manner that was consistent with Samoa’s unique culture.

    Another member of the delegation said the establishment of gender focal points in all government ministries had begun several years ago.  Success in the establishment of focal points had been slow.  The Ministry of Women, Culture and Social Development intended to establish a gender management system within the Government before the end of 2007, which would facilitate, among other things, gender training.  She hoped training would commence in 2005.

    On the national policy, she said the work of drafting the policy had begun in 1999 with the assistance of a programme funded by New Zealand.  Fourteen components had been identified as projects in the programme.  Those 14 components were directly in line with the Beijing Platform of Action.  In 2001, it had been submitted to the cabinet.  The cabinet returned the draft policy for further review.  The Ministry of Women’s Affairs at the time had reviewed the draft national policy and was ready to resubmit it when the cabinet established a special task force to review the whole Ministry of Women’s Affairs Act, focusing on its mandate to identify areas of discrimination against women. 

    The task force, she continued, had submitted a draft national policy.  The Government had been awaiting the realignment.  The revised draft national policy had been put on hold until after the realignment.  At the current point, the national policy on women was being reviewed to reflect the realignment, as well as new issues, such as women and trade liberalization and women with disabilities.

    Experts’ Comments

    DORCAS COKER-APPIAH, expert from Ghana, said that it was evident from the report that, despite the progress made, the daily lives of the majority of Samoan women were regulated by customary law and practices that were based on female subordination and stereotypical gender roles.  In particular, the report stated that widowed and unmarried women had a high social status, almost equivalent to that of men.  Married women, however, did not have any privileges:  they were expected to serve the families of their husbands.  Such obvious discrimination against married women could be linked to the incidents of domestic violence, including psychological violence.  What was being done to address such practices?  Also, how would married women, confined to their homes, be able to report domestic violence?

    NAELA GABR, expert from Egypt, agreed with the delegation that respecting tradition was very important.  Some traditions had a negative impact, however.  Therefore, it was extremely important to develop the positive aspects of the culture and overcome the negative.  She wanted to know if the Government had any intention to address that issue in light of the country’s commitments under the Convention.  Also in the report, the Government talked about women’s status being connected to the status of their husbands.  She asked what was being done to change such negative stereotypes.

    HEISOO SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea, expressed appreciation of the Government’s plans to enact legislation on domestic violence and inquired about the time frame in that regard.  She also wanted to know if the police had clear guidelines on the actions required to respond to complaints of violence.  Did the country have training for prosecutors and did it intend to set up hotlines for victims of violence?  Domestic violence needed to be identified as a social crime and perpetrators had to be punished.  Passing the legislation in itself was an important awareness-raising action.

    Ms. MORVAI, expert from Hungary, said that one of the main stereotypes was that women had an obligation to serve men. As Samoa wanted to address prostitution and trafficking, as well as violence against women, she encouraged the country to ratify the existing international conventions on those issues.  In the report, the Government had stated that violence was now more openly discussed in the country.  In that connection, she asked for clarification on the statement in the report that the Government provided more family and social-oriented measures, while the NGOs adopted a human rights approach to violence.  The human rights approach was an all-encompassing one, and it was important to address the issue from that point of view.

    Country Response

    The ATTORNEY-GENERAL said that the complexity of Samoan culture was perhaps not properly reflected in the report and that attitudes were changing.  Regarding the issue of married women confined to their homes, she said that the reality of the situation was less disturbing than one might assume from the report.  Women had important roles in the village and had “numerous layers of recourse” in cases of violence.  For example, village councils had a traditional role in governance and the country did not rely solely on the national police force. On the contrary, it was the national police that relied on village councils in many cases.  The courts had no tolerance for domestic violence.  Once a complaint was formally lodged, they refused to allow the case to be withdrawn or discontinued.  Her Office completely supported such a policy.

    Regarding the differences in the Government’s and NGOs’ approaches to addressing violence, she said that the NGOs were providing counselling and assistance to victims.  Law officers, however, looked at violence from a different point of view, undertaking prosecution of the offenders.  On trafficking and prostitution, she added that Samoa was reviewing its criminal laws to include specific offences for trafficking and exploitation of women.

    NOUMEA SIMI said the description provided in the report presented the original form of traditional village institutions.  The times and social organization were changing, and the country was committed to advancing the status of women.  Samoan women did not perceive themselves as subordinate.  Women had a right to be part of village councils, for example.  As far as violence against women was concerned, the situation in Samoa was unlike any other country in the world.  The issue had only come out because of the influence of the media, which had prompted women to report such cases.

    Another member of the delegation added that the range of NGO activities in the country included training, capacity building, leadership development, advocacy and lobbying.  The country intended to revise negative cultural practices.  The Government had initiated such measures as mothers and daughters’ meetings, skills development for women, and discussion groups on the Convention, which included men’s participation.

    Experts’ Comments

    FUMIKO SAIGA, expert from Japan, addressing the issue of women’s participation in public life, noted that very few women had the title of chiefs.  She also asked for information on village mayors.  Women appeared to be quite active in the villages.  Where village women’s committees permanent institutions? 

    MAGALYS AROCHA DOMINGUEZ, expert from Cuba, noted that women only obtained the right to vote and be elected in 1991.  Although there had been positive changes, women were still under-represented in all bodies, including in the Parliament, as mayors and in the various government departments.  With some 43 per cent of the country’s population under the age of 18, Samoa had a young population.  In that regard, it was important to bear in mind the need to change stereotypes among the younger generation.  If the Government did not consider adopting special temporary measures for women’s access to power, what concrete measures had it planned to guarantee that a greater number of women were elected to public office?  What was the Government doing to promote a new mind set among the country’s youth on the role of women in public office?

    FRANÇOISE GASPARD, expert from France, said Samoa reflected a rare situation.  The fact that all women did not benefit from the right of eligibility was almost exceptional.  Contrary to the Convention, only a minority of women were eligible for election to the Parliament or as representatives at the local level.  The chiefly title was held mostly by men.  How were chiefs identified, and what was their legal status?  Only women chiefs were eligible for election to the Parliament.  Others could be, however, if they were on “individual voter roles”.  What was the actual status of those roles?  The Committee wanted concrete numbers.  While women’s committees existed in each village, they seemed to deal with very traditional issues.  Was the position of a woman in the committee dependent on her husband’s ranking in society?  Women were not encouraged to enter into political life, and there seemed to be a discrepancy in the way society was evolving.

    MERIEM BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI, expert from Algeria, said she was struck by the number of those who could vote.  If universal suffrage had been the case since 1991, why did the information indicate that there were women who could vote, and those who could not?  Some women had rights equal to men as regards chief title holders.  It seemed that only a few women shouldered that responsibility.  That was flagrant discrimination.  As the first Pacific island nation to ratify the Convention, Samoa had to ensure that it was fully implemented.  Out of 238 mayors, only four were women; and out of 49 parliamentary seats, only three were held by women.  Concerted efforts were needed to overcome discrimination in voting eligibility requirements.  She also asked for more detail on the position of the church when it came to the Convention’s ratification and implementation.

    VICTORIA POPESCU, expert from Romania, noted that while some progress had been made in the area of women’s public participation, women still faced difficulty and discrimination in comparison with men.  The report did not contain much information on measures to remedy the situation.  It even seemed to indicate a sense of fatality or lack of serious concern in that regard.  According to international law, universal suffrage implied both the right to vote and to be elected.  With women, it was only the right to vote, as they needed to have the title of chief to be elected.  Did the same “half way” procedure apply to men?  Did men also need that title to be elected?  Did the Government envisage amending its legislation in line with international standards? 

    Among the obstacles to women’s participation in public life, the report had described both a lack of recognition by men of their skills and women’s low self esteem.  The Government’s measures to address the situation were clearly insufficient.  Samoa needed to target measures both at women and men in order to combat deeply entrenched stereotypical attitudes.

    Mr. FLINTERMAN noted that some 94 per cent of Samoans were Christian.  Could the Government consider organizing seminars with church leaders to discuss the implications of the Convention to church society?

    Country Response

    Ms. HEATHER-LATU noted that one of the experts’ main concerns related to women’s eligibility to be elected to the Parliament.  It was important to understand the context of the situation and the degree of the problem, however.  The chiefly title was carried through blood -- not according to gender.  Since 1991, when universal suffrage had been introduced, not only hereditary leaders, but also individual voters could take part in the elections.  Individual voters represented a group of Samoans of European descent, who were accorded two seats in Parliament.  The progress from holding chiefly titles to universal voting had been a huge development, and it had taken a long time to introduce it.

    She went on to say that within the delegation, three women had chiefly titles.  Throughout the country, the number of women with chiefly titles had increased to over 2,000.  Because of the delicacy of the issue, its cultural foundation and the control that families held over the system, the Government relied on changes in attitudes.  There was increasing participation, and growth in self-esteem, of women.  Women were encouraged to participate at every level of society, and the Government took steps to provide them with options, particularly beyond the urban areas.

    There had been a number of comments on whether or not the Government considered the issue an important one, she continued.  There was certainly a great deal of concern, but traditions were what made Samoan women what they were. Rather than enforce change, it was important to bring about a gradual shift in attitudes.  On the issue of voting age, she said that it had been set at 21 years for both men and women.  Family legislation review would include introduction of consistent age limits, which currently stood at 21 for voting, 18 and 16 for marriage, and 16 for criminal responsibility.

    Expanding on the chiefly system, Ms. SHON said that women did have a right to vote and be elected, but to be elected, they had to be chiefly title holders.  A chief, regardless of gender, was a representative of the extended family, including through the voting system.  The weight of responsibility was one of the reasons women did not take on the title, often deferring to their brothers.  The women’s village committee was essentially the council for the women of the village.  As for why there were women’s and not men’s councils, the council for men was a village council, which now, in many cases, included women.

    Regarding concrete measures for young women, she said that the Division for Women and Division for Youth were conducting training, including self-esteem and negotiation skills seminars for young people.  The Division for Youth held an annual youth forum.  Contained in the draft national plan of action on the Women’s Convention was a strategy on education and training to encourage participation of women in national politics, and promote advocacy and skills.

    Turning to the problems associated with HIV/AIDS, she said that the Government had a national coordinating committee, which was responsible for elaborating national policies on HIV/AIDS.  The Ministry of Women’s Affairs had developed a national plan on the disease in relation to women in Samoa.  A multi-sector working group had been set up to implement the national plan in that regard.  Through the village women’s committees, women were provided with funding to organize seminars on HIV/AIDS.

    Experts’ Questions and Comments

    Ms. SAIGA and Ms. COKER-APPIAH asked for clarification on the transfer of Samoan nationality to children. 

    Ms. DAIRIAM asked what role women would play in the new strategy for development 2005-2007.  Given the country’s recent economic growth, she asked if women were benefiting from that growth.  What framework was used to assess that impact?  Would temporary special measures be included in the development plan?  Public sector reform had resulted in good growth policies for women.  Who would monitor public sector reform to ensure that women’s equality was integrated into all sectors of society?

    Ms. AROCHA DOMINGUEZ asked for more detailed information on women’s economic participation.  She also asked about the likely impact of economic change on women.  For example, what would happen with women working in manufacturing for transnational companies?  On women’s participation in agriculture and rural activities in general, she noted that many women were involved in family holdings, which was not remunerated.  There were also the climate factors affecting women.  Also, what access did women have to credit?  She asked for additional clarification on the proportion of women in non-paid jobs, which seemed to contradict the usual pattern. 

    Ms. PATTEN asked for information on pay inequalities.  Was there legislation to guarantee equal pay for work of equal value?  What mechanisms were in place for women’s equal access to job training?  Had the occupational health and safety bill been passed?  What efforts were being made to ensure the observance of labour and health and safety laws, particularly those affecting women? 

    Ms. TAVARES DA SILVA asked about the provisions of the law regarding maternity leave.  She also asked about elderly women and the growing tendency to send them to homes for the aged.

    Country Response

    Addressing questions on nationality, Ms. HEATHER-LATU said that as a result of the 2004 Citizenship Act, the entitlement to nationality was the same for men and women:  it could be attained by marriage, birth, descent or through naturalization. 

    Concerning access to credit, she said the idea of microcredit had become very popular.  Microfinance policy had particularly impacted women in cottage industries.  Regarding pay issues, she said the Labour and Employment Act was trying to improve the current situation.  The Government had attempted to adopt best practices regarding women’s employment in that regard. 

    Ms. SIMI addressed the issue of the impact of economic growth on women.  The microcredit and small-scale enterprises were a niche area, in which women were involved in the economy’s growth.  About 49 per cent of the economically active workforce was engaged in subsistence agriculture. 

    Experts’ Comments

    A number of questions were raised regarding Samoa’s health-care system, with several experts commenting on the high number of pregnancy-related deaths and the high fertility rate.

    Ms. KHAN commented on the unusual situation in Samoa, where women had longer life expectancy than men, but represented a markedly lower segment of the population.  Despite high literacy rates, women in Samoa also had a high fertility rate.  She also asked several questions on stereotypes, which prevented women from availing themselves of the health services available in the country, including family planning services.  Her other questions related to illegal abortions, women with disabilities, availability of contraceptives to minors and suicide rates among women.

    Ms. BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI noted from the report that pre-natal health care was provided free of charge. In that connection, she asked what the situation was with post-natal care. She also asked about the functioning of the country’s ambulatory clinics, contraception and the use of family planning services and abortions.

    GLENDA P. SIMMS, expert from Jamaica, referred to the country’s infant-and-young-child feeding policy, which was of great importance.  Also mentioned in the report were the Government’s efforts to restrict importation of foods, which put the country’s women at an increased risk of several diseases, including diabetes.

    Also, from the report, boys had greater access to reproductive health information, and she asked if there was a plan to implement policies in a more equitable manner.  The documents before the Committee raised several important culture-related issues, and she said that cultures should not be glamorized or demonized.  However, it was important to struggle against the “entrenched prerogatives of the patriarch”.

    Ms. ZOU noted that 78 per cent of Samoa’s population lived in rural areas, but many had jobs in urban areas.  She asked about the percentage of women and men engaged in agricultural production.  Introduction of liaison officers’ positions in villages had been a major achievement, and she wanted to know if women in rural areas could be elected as liaison officers.

    Ms. PIMENTEL said that rural women suffered generally from the lack of access to health services.  What was being done to avoid the health consequences of illegal abortions, especially for rural women?

    Country Response

    Ms. SIMI said that the country’s fertility rates had dropped in recent years. The current contraceptive prevalence rate was around 42 per cent –- also an improvement.  Family planning was not carried out on a large scale, but that was more a matter of attitude than real constraints. Services were provided throughout the country.  Measures were being taken to place services in urban centres, where they could be readily accessed in anonymity, especially by youngsters.  Time was needed to overcome traditional attitude barriers in that regard.

    Responding to other questions, she said that a recent nutrition survey had shown that malnutrition rates had fallen significantly.  Some 25 per cent of suicides were women.  Pre-natal and post-natal care were provided free of charge.  Some 48 per cent of women were involved in agricultural production, as opposed to 52 per cent of men.

    Ms. HEATHER-LATU said that the country’s laws on abortion had not kept up with the real situation and there was a clear need to address the situation.  With abortion being illegal, babies were abandoned at birth, and many women sought the services of backstreet abortionists.  Last year, Samoa’s Chief Justice had issued a directive that the Government consider the issue of abortion.  The discussions on the issue were about to begin.

    Any woman could become a liaison officer on women’s issues, another member of the delegation said.  Those officials were elected by women of the village and did not have to hold a chiefly title.

    Experts’ Questions and Comments

    Ms. TAN appreciated the community discussion on the issue of domestic violence, in part due to media awareness of the issue.  Did the Government plan to devise an alternative route for the victim who did not want to go to the criminal courts, but needed an immediate protection order? 

    Ms. GNACADJA stressed the need to adopt legislation to raise the minimum age for marriage.  Noting that customary law could imply certain restrictions on the choice of domicile, she asked if the courts ruled on the basis of customary or case law.

    Ms. SIMONOVIC asked for information on divorce, noting that the grounds for divorce were different for women and men.  She was particularly concerned about the need for women to provide proof of habitual cruelty for three years.  Were there plans to review the grounds for divorce?

    Ms. SHIN noted that the legal marriage age of 16 for girls and 18 for boys not only ran contrary to the Women’s Convention, but also to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Given that people were getting married at an older age, would the Government consider amending the marriage age?  She also asked for information on teenage pregnancy, including measures to prohibit punitive behaviour at the village level.

    Country Response

    Ms. HEATHER-LATU said that on the question of domestic violence, part of the process would be to review the various legislative options around the world and how they would work within Samoa’s culture.  The emphasis had been on the punitive side of legislation in terms of appropriately high penalties for domestic violence.  Protection orders and rehabilitation measures would have to be included in legislation.  She agreed that the difference in marriage ages was inappropriate and would need to be reviewed.  Regarding property, Samoa had a fault-based system, which was a remnant of the country’s colonial past.  Her recommendation of no-fault divorce had been well received throughout the country.  The legal profession had also been active in discouraging couples to go through the courts, encouraging them to wait the three-year period.  Issues such as teenage pregnancies, abortion and attitudes to sexual reproductive health needed to be addressed. 

    Concluding Remarks

    ROSARIO MANALO, Committee Chairperson and expert from the Philippines, presented highlights of today’s article-by-article consideration of the Convention, noting that the discussion had reaffirmed the validity of the Convention for Samoan women.  Among the Committee’s concerns was women’s participation in political life in view of the chiefly title system.  The lack of official statistics on issues such as HIV/AIDS and human trafficking had also been addressed.  On the issue of employment, equal pay for work of equal value had been stressed, with the Committee expressing concern that Samoa had not adhered to the International Labour Organization’s Convention regarding maternity.  Women’s high morbidity and fertility rates, despite their high literacy rates, had also been emphasized.  On the issue of abortion, the Committee was concerned with the number of girls having illegal abortions.

    Experts’ Follow-up Questions

    Ms. SAIGA asked for more information on village structures, the chiefly title holder and the extended family.  Did the chiefly title requirement also apply for mayoral elections?  She also asked for clarification on the women’s committees and village counsels.

    Ms. SHIN asked if the Government could issue a decree regarding punitive actions against family members at the village level.  Family education should be implemented, but the Government should make it clear that it was not up to the village councils to exercise punishment.  Regarding the discrepancy between the male and female population, it was common knowledge that there were 105 males at the time of birth per 100 females, and that the situation usually balanced out with the passage of time.  In the boy-preferred society, abortions were performed to get rid of female foetuses.

    Responding to the final round of questions, Ms. SHON said that chiefly title holders represented all members of the extended family.  The unit of the extended family comprised the chiefly title holders, their wives and an assortment of relatives, no matter how far they lived.  Universal suffrage had been passed in 1990 and implemented in the election of 1991.  All persons 21 and older had the right to vote.

    The traditional structure in the villages comprised the village of men and the village of women.  The council of women represented the village of women.  The village council was the village council of chiefs.  It consisted of all persons who held chiefly titles, be they men or women.  Those individuals took part in decision-making and maintenance of law and order.

    Regarding punitive measures, another member of the delegation said that the decisions of the village could be challenged when they were in breach of the Constitution.  However, villages were self-governing bodies and, prior to colonization, there had been no national government.

    Concluding Remarks

    Ms. SHON said that the session had greatly facilitated an enabling environment, in which members of the delegation had been able to respond spontaneously.  Suggestions and ideas put forward by the members of the Committee would be considered by the Government.  Today’s exchange had proven to be a constructive dialogue.  Members of the delegation had been as candid as possible, presenting the measures put in place and planned by the Government.  Although achievements had been made, the Government recognized that much work remained to be done.  The country’s culture and social traditions influenced many aspects of people’s lives.  Many areas were very sensitive, and she hoped it would be possible to address the concerns in small steps.  She hoped that, in four years, many of the Committee’s recommendations would be implemented.

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