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UN experts say women’s sexual and reproductive rights integral to mindset-change in tackling gender discrimination in Samoa

GENEVA / APIA (18 August 2017) – Samoa has made huge strides forward in tackling a pervasive issue of gender-based violence, but much more remains to be done to tackle deeply rooted gender discrimination, a United Nations human rights expert panel has has concluded after their first official visit to the Pacific nation

“We welcome the adoption of laws that honour Samoa’s constitution and international human rights obligations regarding discrimination against women and gender-based violence, in particular thecriminalization of domestic violence, the legal guarantee of employment equality, and the constitutional requirement for minimum quotas of women in parliament,” said Kamala Chandrakirana, who currently heads the UN Working Group on discrimination against women.

“However, these laws cannot be fully effective unless women’s sexual and reproductive rights are met and they are economically empowered.”

Addressing the root causes of violence against women would require a major shift in cultural perceptions about women and their place in society, the experts noted. They said many Samoans had been profoundly shocked by a recent government report revealing the scale of gender-based violence.

“Significant efforts have already been put into changing cultural perceptions, with encouraging results, but major leaps are still necessary. There is still a huge need for open dialogue on ‘taboo’ subjects and on the meaning of the ‘Samoan way of life’ (fa’asamoa) and ensuring women’s right to equality within the family,” Ms. Chandrakirana added.

“This cannot happen without the leadership of government and other local stakeholders, including community and religious leaders, alongside women and men at all levels of society.”

The delegation, which also included human rights expert Eleonora Zielinska, visited the capital Apia and the villages of Poutasi and Vavau during its 10-day mission. The experts attended consultations with representatives of the Salani, Sapoe, Utulaelae, Siuniu, Salesatele, Salelesi communities as well as Government officials, representatives of State institutions, civil society organizations, individuals, religious leaders and academics.

Ms. Chandrakirana said that Samoa was only at the beginning of a long journey. “There is a sense of urgency in making necessary reforms in the nation’s laws, policies and institutions to address these changes, while tensions and contradictions in social, cultural and political practice abound,” she said.
She added that, with a growing youth population, this was the right time to fully honour women’s rights by ending gender-based violence, while tackling some of the misunderstandings about human rights, recognizing that family life was at the core of Samoan society.

The experts urged new policies including a state-sponsored social welfare system, full support for women and girls who had suffered sexual or physical violence, and better funding for the civil society groups making an immense contribution despite limited resources.

The Working Group will present a full report including recommendations to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2018.

The UN Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice was created by the Human Rights Council in 2010 to identify, promote and exchange views, in consultation with States and other actors, on good practices related to the elimination of laws that discriminate against women. The Group is also tasked with developing a dialogue with States and other actors on laws that have a discriminatory impact where women are concerned.

The Working Group is composed of five independent experts: the Current Chair-Rapporteur Kamala Chandrakirana (Indonesia), Eleonora Zielinska (Poland), Alda Facio (Costa Rica), Frances Raday (Israel/United Kingdom), and Emna Aouij (Tunisia).

The Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.

UN Human Rights, Country Page: Samoa

For inquiries and media requests, please contact Hannah Wu (+41 22 917 9152 / hwu@ohchr.org), Bernadette Arditi (+41 22 917 9159 / barditi@ohchr.org) or write to wgdiscriminationwomen@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

You can access this news release online

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