Samoa: Fiame Mataafa

A defining moment in my life: we two – the oldest member of Parliament, from a very traditional village and me, the youngest member and a female, walking into Parliament together holding hands."

— Fiame Mataafa

For over 30 years, Fiame Mataafa has worked on, and been a role model for, promoting and advocating socio-economic and political equality for women and girls in Samoa, through her NGO involvements and her role as politician and Minister of Education. The mentoring of young women leaders is a specific focus, as is a community education program focusing on literacy and business skills training for people with special needs, a first of its kind for Samoa. She effectively bridges and mediates modern and customary faaSamoa (Samoan way of life) ways for herself and for Samoan women and girls.

"To me the faaSamoa (Samoan way of life) embodies principles of inclusion, contribution or service (tautua), fairness and justice. Everyone has a right to family resources and a duty to contribute to the family good. I learned these values in our daily life. People roll their eyes when Samoans talk about the complementarity of male and female in the faaSamoa: they can only see women as being marginalized. But my parents gave respect and support to each other in all their endeavours. Together they kept an eye out for everyone: people from all walks of life would come and share their concerns with my parents, old or young, from town or village. Their satisfaction and meaning in life came from doing this well. As a result, our family is poor in the monetary sense, but that is not what matters. I did not realize how much this sense of responsibility, duty and continuity, integral to my father's chiefly title, was part of me until my father died suddenly. Then I appreciated the fullest meaning of my father's place, and my place as his daughter within the extended family and within the developing nation of Samoa. My father held three major matai (chiefly) titles but they did not pass automatically to me. My family decided we would fight for what were my right and my place. I learned first hand the importance of focus and commitment to a cause. My family was totally committed, helping build the power base of people support and knowledge. We should never underestimate the amount of knowledge and history and precedence in an oral culture. Our appeals were held before a court of males. The questioning was grueling but I won the second time. That action brought home to me the power of formalized, agreed to, and written down ideals to support the rights of the people to a fair and just deal. These are the strategies I use in my ministerial role and in my other activities."

Samoa Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) National Council of Women Inailau Women's Leadership Network (IWLN)