The issue of the unequal participation of women in parliament and public decision making is a global problem and of particular concern in the Pacific region. Various international conventions and national frameworks have been established to address this problem, alongside initiatives by non-government organisations. However, in Samoa, the question of women’s political participation is a complex one. According to deeply held Samoan cultural principles (faasamoa), both men and women have equal rights to family resources, including rights to land and the right to become a family chief (matai).As different scholars have noted, there is also a wide cultural belief that women are equal to men and that there is no inequality between the genders. Nonetheless, of the fifty parliamentary seats in the Samoan Parliament, only five are held by women of which one was created simply in order to meet the 10% quota.
This thesis examines the contradiction between this ideology of equality in Samoa and the reality of women’s low participation rates in politics. To date, there has been no thorough investigation of this contradiction in the Samoan context. By interviewing cabinet ministers, parliamentarians, village chiefs (matais), leaders in the non government and private sectors and women in the community and church, this thesis provides a unique insight into current perceptions about the status of women in Samoa.
It looks at the negative impact of colonialism and Christianity. Policy analysis and feminist and ethnographic approaches, such as participant observation, have also been employed to identify factors either constraining or encouraging women’s participation in parliament and the public domain in Samoa. The thesis argues that, in order to understand and improve the contradictory status of women in Samoa today, more attention needs to be paid to the faasamoa and the traditional beliefs that could be used to enhance women’s participation, particularly the value of women as the sister (feagaiga) and sacred child (tamasa). This requires a genuinely collaborative, long-term process that acknowledges local and micro political settings, not just the establishment of universal goals and targets.