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UPR: Samoa, 25th Session, 2015

United Nations Human Rights Council

Universal Periodic Review: Samoa

Executive Summary

Drawing on ICAAD’s research, this submission highlights issues of structural discrimination that impact women and girls in Samoa. The research examines Samoa’s compliance with its international human rights obligations on the issue of violence against women and girls.

Structural Discrimination

Structural discrimination occurs when laws, policies, and societal/cultural norms generate outcomes for certain groups because of their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation. Certain practices in a region or nation may appear to be facially neutral, but in practice, impose significant barriers that disadvantage certain groups in achieving substantial equality. This perpetuates barriers of social exclusion and prevents marginalized groups from fully integrating into the social, economic, and cultural fabric of society.

Violence Against Women and Girls

  1. Systematic Discrimination:
    1. Violence against women is “endemic and pervasive” in Samoa.[i]4% of women and girls between the ages of 15 and 49 years who have entered into a relationship experienced physical and/or emotional and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner. [ii] Attitudes in Samoan society reflect the depth of the problem: about half of men believe that beating a woman is sometimes justified and 70% of women believe that husbands sometimes have good reason to beat their wives.[iii] According to a 2006 “Samoa Family Health and Safety Study” by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community and the UNFPA found that 87.7% of women did not seek help for physical abuse, and 72.5% of those did not seek help because they believed physical abuse was normal or not serious.[iv]
    2. Violence against women and girls is also prevalent outside the context of intimate partner violence: one survey reported that 64 percent of female respondents experienced some form of abuse by someone other than their partner. [v]
    3. Rape is underreported because of social attitudes that discourage such reporting. [vi] Spousal rape is not criminalized. [vii]
    4. While the government passed the Family Safety Act, focused on protection orders, the government has yet to enact specific “laws to enforce protection of women from all forms of violence and abuse.”[viii] Cases of domestic violence are covered under the law against common assault.[ix] Law enforcement agencies are reluctant to arrest perpetrators of domestic violence in close-knit communities. [x]

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This Civil Rights and Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we’d like to challenge you to reflect on how fear may have influenced your opinions, especially of others, and to take a step towards the courage to overcome those fears. Why the focus on fear you might ask?

Famed marketer and author Simon Sinek in his book “Start with Why” outlines six typical manipulations used in sales and marketing, one of which is the use of fear. On fear, Sinek says, “When fear is being employed, facts are incidental. Deeply seated in our biological drive to survive, that emotion cannot be quickly wiped away with facts and figures.”

In the current political atmosphere, in the U.S. and around the globe, fear is often used by politicians and campaigners to polarize debates and to demonize marginalized communities, using them as scapegoats for the real economic, social, and political challenges that societies face.

Martin Luther King, Jr. understood how important fear is, so much so that he gave a sermon on it named “Antidotes for Fear.” It’s worth reading in its entirety, especially because it recognizes the importance, necessity, and creativity of fear (kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/draft-chapter-xiv-mastery-fear-or-antidotes-fear). However, particularly pertinent section was highlighted by King’s wife Coretta Scott King in her book “My life with Martin Luther King, Jr”:

“First Martin spoke of the many kinds of fear that troubled men and women in this period of change and "calamitous uncertainty"— fear of illness or economic disaster, fear of personal inadequacy in our highly competitive society. More terrible was the fear of death, even racial annihilation, in this atomic age, when the whole world teetered on "a balance of terror . . . fearful lest some diplomatic faux pas ignite a frightful holocaust."

"Some fears are normal and necessary," he said, like the fear of snakes in a jungle, but when they become neurotic and unchecked, they paralyze the will and reduce a man to apathy or despair. He quoted Emerson, who wrote, "He has not learned the lesson of life who does not every day surmount a fear."

How, then, to overcome fear? First, Martin said, "We must un-flinchingly face our fears . . . this confrontation will, to some measure, grant us power. . . . "Second, we can master fear through one of the supreme virtues known to man— courage . . . courage is the power of the mind to overcome fear.”"

MLK Coretta Scott King Simon Sinek
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