In 1991, Adi Tafuna’i established an organization called Women in Business Development Inc (WIBDI) to build sustainable economic opportunities for Samoan women and families, in a way that is good for people, prosperity and the planet.
WIBDI focuses on the economic development of rural families, but we realized that poverty has also resulted in an increase of gender-based violence throughout the Pacific.
Without local economic opportunities, women in some countries would leave their homes to sell their produce in markets on neighboring islands-often spending up to three weeks away from home. In their absence, male family members were abusing the young girls in their family. This saddening effect was one more reason to focus on finding local solutions and create local income-generating activities. Through our interventions we have helped connect the rural villages across the Pacific to the cash economy, enabling women to provide for their families without leaving home.
In order to make real sustainable change, we must work with families in a holistic way. When the cash economy finally reached the rural villages of Samoa, it meant introducing new activities into the already busy lives of village people. Traditional roles changed. We became involved in gender issues when women’s roles changed from homemakers to bread winners.
When we set up a weaving project which revived the traditional Samoan fine mat, a young woman named Apiseka joined the program. In the beginning, she did not weave very well, but she was a hard worker and eventually and became the sole bread winner for her family and extended family.
Soon after, Apiseka’s husband Falefa became very abusive because she would spend her time weaving and neglected the work that a woman was expected to do around the house. WIBDI staff visited the family regularly and would return with reports of Apiseka having been abused. So WIBDI staff began spending more time with Falefa and after some time, and with the support of his father, he began to see how important Apiseka’s work was in relation to the family’s status within the village. Gradually Falefa changed and began taking responsibility for the chores which were traditionally delegated to Apiseka. Apiseka now works as the Government master weaver for the Fine Mat Project.
There has been a marked change in the attitudes of men towards the women, but only after counseling and intervention of our staff. Men are slowly recognizing the impact of their wives roles in generating the family’s only cash income. They are becoming more tolerant about taking over the roles that were traditionally women’s work and are doing it without the violence experienced prior to our intervention.
By working directly with families, both genders are sensitized and understand together what the role changes mean in a cultural sense. Both men and women are now included in the financial literacy training we offer when they are earning a regular income. They learn, become empowered and grow together as a family.
It is so important to work with families rather than with one gender in order to develop a more holistic approach to projects within vulnerable communities. In many countries, there is a poverty of opportunity – and it’s only when families are introduced to these opportunities that raise their living standards that the violence stops.
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