Ministry of Women, Community and Development Assistant Chief Executive Officer (Research, Policy, Planning and Communication division) Fitiao Susan Faoagali (far left) with guest speakers Professor David Tombs (middle) and Dr Mercy Siu-Maliko (second from right), and seminar participants in Apia last March. (Photo Credit: Samoa Planet)
A recent New Zealand Institute for Pacific Research (NZIPR) project involving Otago staff and alumni on ways Samoan churches can address violence against women has been welcomed by faith-based communities from the region.
Centre for Theology and Public Issues (CTPI) Director Professor David Tombs was part of the collaborative project, which yielded work featured as a good practice case study in a recently published Research for Development Impact (RDI) Network journal.
Professor Tombs says the group included Dr Mercy Ah Siu-Maliko, whose PhD research involved a case study on violence against women in Samoa and later postdoctorate project with the CTPI was on Christian faith and domestic violence in Samoa and Samoan communities in Aotearoa New Zealand.
CTPI well-placed to enter discussion . . .
The findings also highlighted how the CTPI was particularly well-placed to contribute to debate on important social issues, Professor Tombs says.
“The initial report was welcomed by the Samoan Methodist Synod in New Zealand as a great blessing for the Church. So we welcomed the opportunity to do a more substantive project, with Dr Ah Siu-Maliko as the lead researcher, based at Piula Theological College, Samoa,” he says.
The research was outcome-focused and the group was keen to identify barriers to reducing domestic abuse rates, and offer insights that would help churches deliver practical resources.
The importance of a more proactive church-based response to violence against women has been highlighted in a series of reports and policy initiatives, and these would have increased impact in Samoa if led by faith-based organisations.
“There is no doubt that the churches have a huge contribution to make – especially as 99 percent of Samoa's population identify as Christian – but it is also clear that some significant barriers are preventing them from embracing these opportunities. We wanted to contribute to solutions that would come from within the churches rather than from outside the churches.”
No "magic wand" for complex problem . . .
Professor Tombs says because there is no “magic wand that offers an easy solution to the complex problem”, developing thorough understandings of how different initiatives can make a positive contribution is vital in combating violence against women.
“Rights-based approaches to violence against women are absolutely necessary, but they are often viewed with suspicion by some churches in the Pacific. Developing a faith-based approach that can work in partnership with rights-based approaches – but which can also stand in its own right in compliance with best-practice initiatives – can make an enormous difference to how the churches take ownership of the issue. It was very encouraging to see this happen when we piloted the resources.”
The group drew on rigorous academic work currently being done in gender studies and gender-based violence (with guidance from Otago's Dr Melanie Beres) and in biblical studies (with help from Dr Caroline Blyth, University of Auckland) to inform the practical challenges of creating transformative bible studies (led by Dr Ah Siu-Maliko).
The project benefitted greatly from interest and support from colleagues at the Centre of Samoan Studies at the National University of Samoa (NUS) and Professor Tombs also acknowledged insights from Dr Ramona Boodoosingh (NUS), who has done extensive work on violence against women in Samoa.
“All this input helped group members understand the depth of the challenges. It has been great to be involved with this project and we hope to keep working in different ways on bible studies related to issues that are important in the Pacific,” he says.
Looking to the future . . .
The project culminates with presentations by Dr Mercy Ah Siu-Maliko and Dr Melanie Beres at the NZIPR Islands and Oceans Conference for Pacific Research, Auckland, 29 and 30 November, 2018 (http://nzipr2018.nz).
MORE ABOUT THE PROJECT: The NZIPR programme promotes innovative multi-disciplinary research on important topics in the Pacific, and allows Otago to work with leading researchers at the University of Auckland and National University of Samoa. Click here to view the report from Dr Ah Siu-Maliko's CTPI 2016 project.
An initial journal article will be coming out next month in the Women's Studies Journal Aotearoa:
Ramona Boodoosingh, Melanie Beres and David Tombs, 'Research Briefing: Violence Against Women in Samoa', Women's Studies Journal Aotearoa Vol. 32 No. 1/2 (December 2018), pp. 32-55.