Tagaloatele Professor Peggy Fairbairn-Dunlop at AUT is one of four commissioners appointed to oversee Samoa’s national inquiry into family violence.
Led by Samoa’s ombudsman, Maiava Iulai Toma, the inquiry involved six months of community-based research. It recently concluded with four weeks of public hearings in Savaii and Upolu.
The first national inquiry into family violence in the Pacific Islands comes in the wake of several high-profile cases and national reports from donor agencies on family violence in Samoa, including strong international pressure to resolve widespread human rights issues.
In addition to submissions from government, NGOs and community groups, the inquiry heard testimonies from survivors and perpetrators of family violence.
Professor Fairbairn-Dunlop noted that around 80 percent of the dialogue shared in the hearings focused on physical abuse.
“There is less understanding of verbal abuse, which is fairly prominent, or sexual and psychological abuse. There is also less understanding of the full impact of family violence on children,” she says.
The importance of the inquiry was evidenced by the number of submissions received, particularly the personal accounts of sexual abuse and incest shared in both open and closed hearings.
“The hearings were clearly regarded as safe places for sharing. Many things, which were never talked about in the past, are now in the public domain.”
The available data indicates that violence against women, girls and children has become endemic and widespread in Samoa, as in other Pacific nations.
Of those surveyed for the State of Human Rights Report 2015, 39 percent had seen abuse against women and girls, and 34 percent had seen abuse against a child. All of the incidents took place in their respective villages within the previous year.
Professor Fairbairn-Dunlop maintains that economic development models, which have become the primary focus for the Pacific region in recent years, do not always recognise the value of people and their wellbeing. As a result, social concerns have increasingly become the domain of NGOs.
The commissioners are drafting a national report to be lodged with cabinet in early 2018.
Family violence is a national concern to be solved not only by government and families, but in collaboration with village councils, churches and community groups.
This will require a coordinated effort at all levels to raise awareness of related issues, change community norms around violence and increase the status of women in society.
“Everyone and every child has a right to feel safe and protected,” says Professor Fairbairn-Dunlop.
“If we really value the place of the family unit and the faasamoa (the Samoan way), then we need to work together to eliminate family violence. It is timely for Samoa to rethink and to relearn the traditional family values.”