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Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women reviews the report of Samoa

GENEVA (26 October 2018) - The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the sixth periodic report of Samoa on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Presenting the report, Faimalotoa Kika Stowers, Minister of Women, Community and Social Development of Samoa, via videoconference, reaffirmed the commitment of Samoa to promote and protect the human rights of all persons, and to advance its efforts to address discrimination against women.  The socio-economic wellbeing of the Samoan people remained at the core of the country’s development initiatives.  Highlighting some important developments since the country’s last review in 2012, Ms. Stowers referred to the first comprehensive legislative review of the Convention since its ratification by the Law Reform Commission, the constitutional amendment of June 2013 introducing the 10 per cent quota of female representatives in the Legislative Assembly, the passing of the Family Safety Act in 2013, the establishment of the Family Court of Samoa in 2014, and the passing of the Crimes Act and the Labour and Employment Relations Act in 2013.  The Government remained committed to combatting all forms of violence against women and girls, and it was promoting safe families and communities.  The National Council of Churches played a vital role in addressing gender-based violence through workshops and consultations among different church denominations within the country.

Committee Experts said that in light of the adoption by the Samoan Parliament in 2017 of the Constitutional Amendment Act which defined the country as a Christian nation, how would the State party ensure a balance between Christian values and women’s rights.  Given the country’s dual system of State and village governance, the Experts inquired about the effective prohibition of gender-based discrimination at the village level.  They further inquired about the timeline for the completion of amendments proposed by the Law Reform Commission, the powers and the mandate of the National Human Rights Institution, potential ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention, lack of an explicit definition of discrimination against women in national law, the low number of traditional matai titles held by women, recognition of women’s committees in the village decision-making bodies, the role of church leaders in addressing gender-based violence, gender stereotypes in education, representation of women in the National Parliament, school dropout rates by pregnant girls, and the provision of comprehensive sexuality education to adolescents.  Other issues that were raised included abortion, the high maternal mortality rate, the high number of teenage pregnancies, the high rate of obesity and diabetes among women, employment of women in formal and informal sectors, the gender pay gap, maternity leave, social and pension benefits, access to justice and health by rural women, and the comprehensive review of family laws.  

In concluding remarks, Ms. Stowers appreciated the thought provoking discussions and the Committee’s suggestions and comments.  The authorities would continue working to ensure that women and girls benefited from economic and social developments in all areas.  In that endeavour, Samoa would continue counting on the support of a broad set of stakeholders, national and international alike.  

Dalia Leinarte, Committee Chairperson, commended the State party for its efforts and encouraged it to address the outstanding issues highlighted by the Committee Experts.  The Committee would send the State party several select recommendations for immediate follow-up.  

The delegation of Samoa consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the Samoa Law Reform Commission.  

The Committee will next meet in public on Monday, 29 October, at 4 p.m. to hold an informal meeting with national human rights institutions from Mauritius, Tajikistan, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Lao People’s Democratic Republic.

Report

The sixth periodic report of Samoa can be read here: CEDAW/C/WSM/6.

Presentation of the Report

FAIMALOTOA KIKA STOWERS, Minister of Women, Community and Social Development of Samoa, speaking via videoconference, reaffirmed the commitment of Samoa to promote and protect the human rights of all persons, and to advance its efforts to address discrimination against women.  The socio-economic wellbeing of Samoan people remained at the core of the country’s development initiatives.  The Government strove towards equality and inclusion in order to ensure that all Samoans, particularly women and girls, children and persons with disabilities, benefited equitably from economic and social progress.  The country’s sixth periodic report responded to the recommendations from its last report presented in 2012, and it outlined many changes since then.  The preparation of the report included broad-based consultations and it benefited from the input of a wide range of stakeholders from both the Government and non-government organizations.  

Highlighting some important developments since the country’s last review in 2012, Ms. Stowers referred to the first comprehensive legislative review of the Convention since its ratification by the Law Reform Commission.  The constitutional amendment of June 2013 had introduced the 10 per cent quota of female representatives in the Legislative Assembly.  Samoa had also achieved a critical milestone in the legislation landscape with the passing of the Family Safety Act of 2013, which provided for the greater protection of families and the handling of domestic violence and related matters through the use of protection orders.  Additionally, the Family Court of Samoa had been established in 2014.  Another notable legislation was the Crimes Act of 2013, which had introduced several significant changes to provisions relating to sexual offences, such as increased penalties and a more inclusive definition of those offences.  Samoa had also enacted the Labour and Employment Relations Act of 2013 which had introduced significant changes to the country’s employment laws for both employers and employees, including new maternity and paternity leave entitlements, equal pay for equal work, and restrictions on forced labour.  Ms. Stowers said that since its establishment in 2013, the National Human Rights Institution had held A status.  So far, it had submitted to Parliament three reports on human rights, including on family violence.  While the Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development continued to lead the implementation of the Convention, the Ministry of Finance had further refined a policy mandate through the development of sector planning guidelines, promoting the mainstreaming of gender and disability and other cross-cutting issues across sector plans.  

The Government remained committed to combatting all forms of violence against women and girls, and it was promoting safe families and communities.  The National Council of Churches played a vital role in addressing gender-based violence through workshops and consultations among different church denominations within the country.  The authorities had launched a national public awareness campaign in December 2017, focusing on a combination of multimedia, social media and village community conversations to create awareness but also to understand the root causes of violence and how they could be removed.  Ms. Stowers noted that a major development in the country since the last periodic report was the District Development Planning, which was a programme coordinated by the Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development that brought together the leaders, both women and men, of the villages in an electoral district.  

In terms of women’s participation in political and public life, in addition to the increase of women in Parliament, there had also been their increased participation in management-level positions: about 60 per cent of management-level positions were held by women.  Samoa had also appointed three more female judges, thus increasing their number to four.  There were two female Cabinet members, and two female parliamentarians who chaired parliamentary committees.  Village women’s committees continued to play an integral role in carrying out programmes for the benefit of rural communities, such as essential non-communicable disease interventions.  When it came to vulnerable families, the Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development had facilitated livelihood support on the basis of the community development approach, such as skills building training funded by the Samoa Women Shaping Development Programme.  

The Disaster Management Office under the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment had developed a policy on gender in disaster risk management, ensuring that gender considerations were fully addressed in all phases of disaster risk management in Samoa.  Given the country’s vulnerability to climate change and the more frequent and severe weather events, such policies were an example of the country’s gender mainstreaming efforts across all sectors.  Concluding her presentation, Ms. Stowers said that some of the constraints in the implementation of the Convention included resource constraints, capacity building, data collection, and slow changing of attitudes and behaviour.      

Questions by the Committee Experts

An Expert inquired about the principles of non-discrimination in Samoa’s law, reminding that there was no explicit definition of discrimination against women, and noting that women needed to engage in costly civil actions to defend their rights.  Had all the amendments been enacted by the Law Reform Commission, more specifically the Marriage Ordinance?  

What was the mechanism for making complaints to the National Human Rights Institution?  What were the powers of the National Human Rights Institution when it found violations?  Could it inquire into potential violations of human rights pointed out by the Committee?  Why had Samoa not ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention?  
In light of the adoption by Parliament of the Constitutional Amendment Act (No. 2) on 6 June 2017, which defined the country as a Christian nation, how would Samoa ensure a balance between Christian values and women’s rights?  Given the State party’s dual system of State and village governance, how were the constitutional provisions of gender equality and prohibition of gender-based discrimination effectively enforced at the village level in line with the Convention?

Had there been assessments and monitoring of alternative dispute settlement processes and of the negative impact on women of the use of negative characterization of women (ifoga) in cases of family violence?

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation explained that although discrimination against women was not directly defined by the national law, it was expressly included in the Constitution.  There was currently no intention by the Government to amend the Constitution.  Draft provisions of amendments to the Marriage Ordinance were currently under discussion.   Discussions were also under way about the possible ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention, and about Samoa’s international obligations under other conventions.  

The amendment declaring Samoa as a Christian nation would in no way impact the rights of women.  Church leaders were very much part of the Government’s district development planning, and they delivered messages on the protection of women’s rights.  The authorities ensured that community, church, women’s and youth leaders were informed about the Convention.

The National Human Rights Institution was empowered to investigate systemic violations of human rights, such as the recent inquiry into family violence.  As for balancing between customary law and women’s rights, courts decided on clashes on a case-by-case basis.  There had been no proper assessment of the use of ifoga and of the alternative dispute settlement process in cases of family violence.

Questions by the Committee Experts

The Experts noted the State party’s significant progress in implementing its international obligations.  Nevertheless, its constitutional amendment declaring Samoa a Christian nation seemed to be a step back because it could strengthen patriarchal values and male interpretations of the Bible.  

The Experts asked about the restructuring of the Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development.  How had its restructuring taken into account the reports of the National Human Rights Institution?  How far had the State party progressed in implementing the recommendations of international human rights bodies to consider the annual report of the National Human Rights Institution in Parliament?  

Turning to temporary special measures, the Experts inquired about the efforts to increase female village representatives.  Most traditional titles were held by men, with women holding only 11 per cent of the titles.  Women only comprised 5.5 per cent of all village-based matai titles.  How did the State party plan to ensure the equal participation of women in the village decision-making bodies?  What specific proposals were being considered to ensure gender equality in traditional and non-traditional villages?  Would the women’s committees be given recognition in the village decision-making bodies?  

Was the State party planning to extend temporary special measures to areas of health, education and employment?  Was the National Human Rights Institution properly resourced?

Replies by the Delegation

The restructuring of the Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development had stemmed out from a number of consultations among ministries in order to pursue an integrated approach to social development and governance.  The key rationale behind the restructuring was to ensure that the needs of all social groups were taken into account.  The Government had taken on board the recommendations of the National Human Rights Institution on including community and church leaders in addressing family violence.

Most women matai title holders were part of the decision-making process in villages.  However, often they were the wives or daughters of village chiefs.  The authorities were supporting the participation of women matai holders in village decision-making processes through different funds.  Formalized village bylaws could be challenged if they jeopardized women’s rights.  The Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development conveyed all relevant information regarding the implementation of the Convention to the village level through female Government representatives.

The delegation noted that the issue of adequate resources was a recurring theme in Samoa as a small island developing country.  Accordingly, the Government tried to implement the principle of task and burden sharing among ministries and partnering with non-government organizations.  

Questions by the Committee Experts

An Expert reminded that gender-based violence seemed to be deeply entrenched in Samoa.  Had there been any deliberate strategy to modify social behaviour patterns and attitudes, such as through the change of school textbooks and modified teaching?  Had any study been undertaken to calculate the social and economic cost of gender-based violence?  Was there a network of male champions for ending gender-based violence?  

Domestic violence had tripled over a three-year period.  What was the result of harsher sentences for related offences?  Was the approach of the church against domestic violence driven by the scriptures or doctrines?  Was the role of the church in fighting gender-based violence systematic?  How did the State party ensure that church ministers delivered a message of gender equality rather than a message that reinforced traditional views about the role of women and men in society?  

On trafficking in persons, the Experts drew attention to the sexual exploitation of boys and girls in Samoa.  What measures had the State party taken to rescue those children and had there been legal proceedings against the perpetrators?  Did the State party intend to ratify the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children?  The Experts recommended that the State party decriminalize voluntary prostitution by adult women, but that it kept the criminalization of those persons who exploited prostitution.  

Economic violence was not mentioned in the Family Safety Act, and the Experts suggested that the State party include it in the act.  

Replies by the Delegation

As for the approach of the church against domestic violence, the delegation said that it basically reflected the content of the Convention with the messages from the Bible.  Since the overwhelming majority of Samoans were Christians, the role of the church in delivering messages on gender equality was an important one.  The National Council of Churches carried out its programmes in close collaboration with the Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development.  The delegation confirmed that there was a male network of champions to end gender-based violence.  

The village decision-making bodies promoted positive activities to support the implementation of the Convention.  The Government made an effort to ensure that all village decision-making bodies and leaders were familiar with the Convention.  There was no specific policy on gender stereotypes in education, but there was guidance on the inclusion of a gender perspective in education.  Culture and faith in Samoa were considered important factors that could promote human rights and prevent domestic violence.

The Government had recently finalized a policy on trafficking, smuggling and transnational crime.  The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children was one of the protocols that the Government had lined up for ratification.  The Attorney General was currently reviewing legislation on trafficking and prostitution, namely the Crimes Act.  Samoa was committed to eradicating child labour and exploitation.
 
The delegation noted that there was no definition of economic violence, but it added that the Family Safety Act was wide enough for its inclusion.  There was a gender-based violence police unit in place, and the National Human Rights Institution was working with the police to train them on attitude change.  

Questions by the Committee Experts

Turning to the representation of women in Parliament, the Experts stressed that many women could not stand up for election because they did not hold matai title.  Would the recommendation of the Law Reform Commission for the removal of the requirement of holding a matai title in order to run for election be adopted?  Were there plans to raise the quota for the representation of women to 40-50 per cent?

Reports indicated that most representatives of villages were men and that women in such roles were paid only about half of what men received.  What measures did Samoa plan in order to increase the number of women in such positions and to ensure that they received the same pay?  

Only two women headed one of the 25 State-owned enterprises.  How did the State party intend to increase the representation of women as members of company boards?  Were there measures in place to reach parity of women and men in the judiciary?  What measures had been taken to increase the representation of women in diplomacy?  

Replies by the Delegation

Part of the District Development Planning was to provide awareness and training to women who wanted to stand for office.  The Government was working towards an increased quota for women.  Out of 25 district committees, four were headed by women, and one was entirely composed of women.  As for the number of women in leadership positions in State-owned companies, there were 23 female chief executive officers.  The delegation stressed that there were more women in the legal profession than men.  The women holding matai titles held the same rights as men holding matai titles to run for office.

As for the recommendation of the Law Reform Commission for the removal of the requirement of holding a matai title in order to run for election, the delegation said that currently there was no provision that would allow a non-matai to run for election.  The matai title was an integral part of the Samoan tradition through which those serving the community were recognized.  Both women and men could become a matai, but the majority of women chose not to become one.

Questions by the Committee Experts

An Expert commended the State party for having adopted the Safe School Policy, which among other things ensured that students who became pregnant were not expelled.  However, she noted that cultural norms prevented many of them from resuming their education.  Comprehensive sexuality education was not taught at school, but it was left to community leaders.  Were there specific provisions in the Safe School Policy for protecting girls from sexual harassment at school?    

What training had been provided to teachers about the misuse of corporal punishment?  When would the State party ban corporal punishment in all settings?  

The Experts further inquired about male dominated academic fields, such as theology.  Who was teaching priests about gender in Christianity?  

The Experts pointed out to the lower labour participation of women in Samoa, as well as to the gender pay gap.  What measures had been envisaged to address those problems?  Would Samoa ratify the International Labour Organization’s Convention no. 189 on domestic workers?  

What measures had been taken to finance maternity leave in the private sector?  Was parental leave mandatory?  Child care could cost up to 50 per cent of the mother’s income.  Did the State party plan to strengthen provisions against sexual harassment at the workplace?

What measures had been taken to protect women working in the informal sector in terms of social and health benefits?  

An Expert welcomed the adoption of the new Sexual and Reproductive Health Policy of 2017, but called attention to the high number of teenage pregnancies, the high maternal mortality rate, the low access to information about sexual and reproductive health services, and the high rate of sexually transmitted diseases.  

What steps had been taken to address those problems, in particular to facilitate access to HIV/AIDS treatment?  What were the causes for the high maternal mortality rate?  When would the State party decriminalize abortion?

How did the State party plan to provide access to services to treat cervical cancer cases and remove social stigma associated with the disease?  How would the authorities promote education about sexual and reproductive health services for adolescent boys and girls?  

The rate of obesity and diabetes among women was very high.  What steps would the Government take to recognize family violence as a health issue?  Did the State party intend to review its vaccination programme?

Had a comprehensive survey been conducted on the implementation of the principle of equal pay for equal value?  

How many women had graduated from the theological colleges and how many had been ordained?  How had those women influenced the curricula of those colleges?

Replies by the Delegation

The Safe School Policy covered cyber bullying, and the protection of girls at and outside school, and it involved parents in countering violence at school.  The authorities were working to collect data on school dropout rates among girls and the re-entry of young pregnant girls, which was not banned.

Women who had graduated from the theological colleges had not been ordained as ministers.  The delegation did not have information on how those women had influenced the colleges’ curricula.  

Gender equality and sexual and reproductive health were covered at school as part of the health and physical education curriculum.  Family planning, family structures and relationships were integrated within the social studies curriculum.  Teachers received training on how to deliver content on those sensitive topics, as well as the required training on the use of reasonable force.  The Education Act prohibited corporal punishment.

Samoa’s Decent Work Programme stipulated that the Government would sign various International Labour Organization conventions by 2020, including convention no. 189.  Samoa had signed collective bargaining agreements to implement the principle of equal pay for equal value.  The Ministry of Commerce and Labour was looking to amend the law to increase maternity leave in the private sector from six to 12 weeks.  

There had been cases of sexual harassment at the workplace in which courts had ruled in favour of victims.  The Ministry of Commerce and Labour was looking to expand the definition of sexual harassment.  The Public Service Act operated under a code of conduct which prohibited the sexual harassment of employees in the public sector.  
The Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development, in partnership with small businesses, provided training for people working in the informal sector to address health and social benefits through a small-grant scheme.  

Treatment for HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases was free of charge, as were family planning sessions.  The authorities had undertaken measures to target maternal deaths through an increased number of midwives and focused analysis of high-risk pregnancies.  They had also organized training for clinical pathologists to look into cases of cervical cancer, and recently they had organized a public campaign to encourage women to undergo screening.  

In order to address the high obesity and diabetes rates, the authorities were conducting screening programmes at the community level and review of clinical management guidelines.  The country was currently undergoing a review of the immunization review in order to address quality gaps.  The delegation stated that currently family violence was not considered a health issue, but it added that it would take on board the Committee’s comment.

The question of abortion had been part of a nation-wide consultation conducted by the Law Review Commission.  Abortion was illegal, unless the pregnancy posed a threat to the mother, and the sentence for illegal abortion had been reduced from 14 to seven years in prison.  There were discussions under way to legalize abortion in case of rape or incest.  

The Ministry of Commerce and Trade did not have reliable data on the remuneration levels for women and men, but it would work to improve data collection in that regard.

Questions by the Committee Experts

Were women feeling more empowered to participate in sports and cultural life?  What other State benefits fell under the constitutional provision on women’s right to equal entitlements to State benefits, in addition to the Samoa National Providence Fund?  What steps had been taken to comply with the State party’s commitment to extend social security to women in the informal economy and home-based work, in particular regarding maternity and old age?  What steps had been taken to establish a social protection floor in line with the International Labour Organization’s recommendation no. 22?  

What happened with the 48 per cent of women who were not formally employed?  Had the State party adopted any measures to address women’s unpaid household work?  

Experts asked if the State party had put in place macroeconomic, fiscal and monetary policies to protect its workers, in particular female workers, from the type of situation where a transnational corporation was the largest employer in the country, the case of the closure of Yazaki EDS.

Moving on to the situation of rural women, the Experts stressed that it was very difficult for rural women to access justice because of the high costs.  Women were expected to go to village councils and the church to address cases such as domestic violence.  Village councils and the church often perpetuated patriarchal values and often the perpetrators of gender-based violence were members of village councils.  The Community Law Centre Act of 2015 had not been implemented, which left rural women without access to law centres.  What concrete short-term measures had been undertaken to protect rural women from violence, and promote sensitivity about that problem?

Rural health clinics continued to be understaffed and without properly trained personnel.  Did the State party intend to take temporary special measures to incentivize qualified medical staff to work in rural areas?  Did traditional healers receive any sensitization training about family violence?

Had the State party ensured gender equality in the rural areas in order to mitigate the consequences of climate change?  Would it be a good idea to encourage young girls to take up courses in climatology and fisheries?  What was the situation of women with disabilities?  

Replies by the Delegation

The fact that there were two women on the Samoa Rugby Union had emboldened women to participate in rugby.  As for the discontinuation of Yazaki EDS, the International Labour Organization had assisted in the reassignment of those who had lost their jobs, and the authorities had organized training programmes.  In addition to pension benefits, women employed in the informal economy and home-based work could also receive accident insurance compensation.

As for violence faced by rural women, the delegation said that the Government was focused on strengthening the role of families, extended families and community and church leaders to address that problem.  The Government planned to open community law centres by July 2019.  

Traditional birth attendants had been registered and trained, whereas traditional healers had not been registered due to the complexity of traditional healing practices.  There was a notable shortage of skilled medical personnel in rural health facilities.  

The Gender and Disaster Management Plan was in place to mainstream a gender perspective into disaster risk management, whereas the Ministry of Natural Resources also had a policy on women with disabilities and climate change.  The delegation noted the Committee’s comment that the State party encourage young girls to study climatology and fisheries.  A certificate programme on climate change had already been developed at the University of Samoa.  

The inclusive education policy accommodated the provision of education in mainstream and special schools in order to empower girls with disabilities and improve their skills for employment.  

Questions by the Committee Experts
 
Most of the family laws dated back to colonial times and did not reflect current realities in the country, the Experts observed.  Most of the family law judges were lay church leaders.  Did their Christian values colour their judgments in family matters, and did their rulings favour mediation over divorce?

As for matrimonial property legislation, many women could not afford legal representation.  Would the Government ensure that the community law centres were properly resourced so that women could access relevant legal support?  Discrimination against women in inheritance continued, and women frequently relinquished their matai titles to their brothers.  Did the fact that there were fewer women holding matai titles have any influence on women’s ownership of land?  

Would the State party ensure that there was no derogation from the legal provision that the minimum age of marriage was 18 for boys and girls?  What was the number of teenage marriages upon parental permission?  What was the position of women in unofficial unions and was dowry in making those unions official significant or symbolic?  

Replies by the Delegation

The Law Review Commission had initiated a review of all the family laws of Samoa with an aim to come up with gender-neutral legislation.  It should be carried out over two to three years and completed in 2021 or 2022.  Judges in family matters were bound by their duties under the law rather than Christian values.  

The proposed review of the family laws would take into account the number of teenage marriages.  There were no barriers to women inheriting family entitlements, including matai titles.  Unofficial unions and dowry were no longer practiced in the country.

Concluding Remarks

FAIMALOTOA KIKA STOWERS, Minister of Women, Community and Social Development of Samoa, said that the delegation was content that it could conduct the dialogue via videoconference.  The discussions were very thought provoking and the delegation appreciated the Committee’s suggestions and comments.  In Samoa culture was recognized as a positive mechanism for respecting human rights.  However, continuous awareness and recognition was needed in order to strengthen the link between culture and respect for human rights.  The authorities would continue working to ensure that women and girls benefited from economic and social developments in all areas.  In that endeavour, Samoa would continue counting on the support of a broad set of stakeholders, national and international alike.  Ms. Stowers added that in future the State party would greatly appreciate receiving the list of issues and questions in advance.

DALIA LEINARTE, Committee Chairperson, commended the State party for its efforts and encouraged it to address the outstanding issues highlighted by the Committee Experts.  The Committee would send the State party several select recommendations for immediate follow-up.

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