Samoa Elects First Female Prime Minister in Major Win for Women’s Rights in the Pacific
Fiame Naomi Mataafa will overtake Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, the leader for the past 22 years.
Fiame Naomi Mataafa is set to become the first female prime minister in Samoa’s history.
After last month's election result, the South Pacific nation had been in a political standstill after the head of state, Tuimalealiifano Vaaletoa Sualauvi II, attempted to overturn the election results.
On May 17, Samoa’s top court overruled Tuimalealiifano’s attempt and refused a post-election decision to add a parliamentary seat to the long-standing Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP), according to Reuters.
Ultimately, Fiame’s Fa'atuatua i le Atua Samoa ua Tasi or Faith in The One True God (FAST) party secured victory 26-25.
HRPP leader Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi had been prime minister for 22 years.
The party had been in power for four decades.
Fiame said she was feeling “very thankful” for the opportunity to run the country.
"I think today's victories are victories of the law and the rule of law that we've been advocating for,” she told the ABC.
Sh also said she hopes to be an inspiration for all Samoan women, and to show them that anything is possible.
"I've always been a really strong advocate for women's participation in politics," she said in the lead-up to the election in April. "Like any other field where women have trailblazed it does demonstrate to women that the achievements can be made."
Samoa's expected new prime minister has pledged to shelve a $US100 million Beijing-backed port development, calling the project excessive for the small Pacific island that is already heavily indebted to China.https://t.co/PIJOd2hVHr— RNZ Pacific (@RNZPacific) May 20, 2021
Fiame’s victory is being hailed as a win for gender equality in the region.
She has become only the second woman throughout the Pacific to lead a government following the election of Hilda Heine as president of the Marshall Islands in 2016.
Meanwhile, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the election of Fiame, who was previously Polynesia's first female deputy prime minister, marks a turning point for the country.
"Having been a member of the Pacific Island Forum and those leaders' dialogue, it feels very significant," Ardern said during a press conference, according to the NZ Herald. "We, of course, respect the outcomes of any democratically-led election. But it is certainly a meaningful thing when you see a historic decision made when an office is held by a woman."
A 2018 report on the state of human rights in Samoa revealed women are “systemically obstructed in their participation” in decision making roles, across parliament and throughout the church.
Around 60% of women experience intimate partner violence, and 20% experience rape, while nine out of 10 respondents said violence occurs regularly within the home.
The actual statistics are thought to be much higher.
"Stereotypical gender roles are taught from birth, reinforcing the patriarchal society, teaching girls to be subservient, encouraging sexual entitlement of boys and creating an environment of impunity for perpetrators,” the report reads. “Samoa is a patriarchal society where women are seen as subservient to men. This gender inequality is the primary cause of family violence in Samoa as violence is the key tool in maintaining male superiority.”
In 2013, Samoa introduced a law that mandated at least 10% of the nation’s parliament be reserved for women.