It is wrong to think that a woman’s place is to quietly sit by her husband and not have a voice

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My name is Richard Crichton and I am making a stand against violence.
Growing up in Samoa it felt like the prevalence of violence was the norm of island experiences. I am not just talking about sibling rivalry, or the accidental hit to the head with a Samoan cricket bat to my sister’s head when she ran from behind me unseen. My first eight years of school was at a Government owned school. I remember the teachers’ who ruled my class with a one meter ruler. The strikes you get for making a mistake, even pronouncing the teachers’ name wrong because it was your first day at school. I have had amazing teachers that I have learned so much from, but not all have conventional ways of teaching. I was taught early to learn things out of fear, I was great at getting the right answer not because I wanted to be knowledgeable, but because I was afraid.
Even students can be unkind to one another, between students of different schools. I have seen school girls humiliated not just by classmates but also by parents who thinks shaving her head short with lashings would discipline her. I know some of these actions led to teen suicide. I was never a violent person and I couldn’t understand why some students depict violent behavior. Perhaps it is violence that beget violence.
I have heard this saying among women “Ia ua la lou guku oso I lou koalua” (You shouldn’t speak up against your husband). It is wrong to think that a woman’s place is to quietly sit by her husband and not have a voice. If anyone says this is part of a culture I need to embrace, then I would relinquished my claims to my proud cultural inheritance. A woman is not an object to be owned, controlled or a punching bag for your problems. A woman is an equal.
Is it normal to be violent? No! Is it acceptable to be violent? Not at all! I am Richard Crichton and I am making a stand against violence.

You have never seen her like this before

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Cherelle Fruean, a young advocate and entrepreneur. Photo by Tims Photography. Makeup by Jacqui Poulos. Concept Sefulu Ono Aso.

Her name is Cherelle Latafale Fruean, she is a young entrepreneur and an executive of the Young Womens Christian Association in Samoa. Today she appears as a victim of violence to demonstrate her solidarity with her brothers and sisters who go through this silently.

This young woman walked through Apia with a bruised eye, and people stared. For the first time in her life, she was exposed to the stares that come with the visible signs of violence. Cherelle agreed to be part of ‘walk in your shoes’ campaign by Sefulu Ono Aso, that brings people from all walks of life to put themselves in the shoes of those who have experienced violence and to share their perspectives.

She is a young Samoan woman, who has never been at the receiving end of violence and was raised in Samoa by two loving parents, which is why she has been active in supporting awareness and policy level interventions to address gender based violence.

This is her view.

“I was raised in a home where gender roles did not exist. My father wasn’t the sole bread winner because he was a man and my mother wasn’t the sole caretaker because she was a woman. If anything, the opposite was true. My parents took shared leadership roles in my family, they both had full time jobs and they both took turns taking care of my sister and I as children. When it came to cooking and cleaning we all took part, it became a time of family bonding. I am very blessed and ever grateful to have been raised in such a gender equal environment, however and unfortunately, this is a very rare exception.”

According to Cherelle it is a universal issue.

“Extreme gender inequalities still exist all over the world, and it is one of the root causes of violence against women. On the contrary to many beliefs, violence is not a cultural issue; it is not a part of anyone’s culture to be violent. It is part of our culture to be respectful, to be giving and to be loving. “Violence is learned behaviour; it can be unlearned and not learned in the first place.” One in three women will experience physical or sexual violence at some point in her life. Do we want this statistic to remain true for the generation of our future daughters? I sure don’t!”

She is hopeful for the future.

“We need to raise a future generation of empowered girls and young women leaders who are aware of their rights and are not afraid to fight for them. We need to raise a future generation of boys and young men who believe in respect, who believe that men and women are entitled to equal rights and opportunities.  We need to create a new normal, a Samoa where kindness, compassion and love hold power over violence and discrimination. A Samoa where ALL women, young women and girls are safe from violence, free to make choices, and are empowered!”

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Sefulu Ono Aso ‘Walk In Your Shoes Campaign’ Photography by Tims Photography.

Violence is not just what you see

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“Violence in Samoa is pervasive yet we do not discuss the many ways violence is expressed. Often, we think if a bone is broken then it is bad, but words, slaps, hits (even with a fan in Church) are all ways of expressing physical domination and thus power and authority,” says Suisala Mele Mauala.

“We need to understand that our words can be just as harmful as violent acts and often lead to harsher behaviour as we become overexposed to threatening talk. We need to not assume that if you “deserved” it that then the violent act is excusable. Violence, disrespect, cruelty are NEVER excusable and more so when it comes from a loved one. We need to stop thinking that “beating a child” will create a well behaved child. Loving a child will create a loving human being.”

Suisala has seen loved ones beaten, abused, verbally assaulted and mistreated. “I have also seen loved ones be the perpetrators of these acts of violence. There is nothing more heartbreaking than seeing someone you love and respect beat someone else you love and respect. The heart is broken twice over.”

According to her, the issue can be resolved with a bit of heart.

“Samoa is a country filled with so much love, generosity and faith. We have the power to look at ourselves, question what we do and make changes for the better. Samoans will do whatever it takes to make life better for their children and their families; there is too much alofa in my country for us not to make a difference and to end violence. But it will take time, and I know my grandchildren will benefit from the changes we make today.”

Suisala is the first to be featured in the Sefulu Ono Aso campaign showing members of our community as victims of gender based violence. The hope is that everyone is put in the shoes of the victim and the survivor, and by displaying these images, encourages people to talk openly about this issue. All subjects of Sefulu Ono Aso Campaign gave consent to use their images and words to advance awareness raising on this issue.

She was threatened with a gun, so she left him

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After the death of her husband, this mother of seven found comfort in a friend, who later became her partner. He moved in.

“I had made a pact with him before he moved in, that once he laid a hand on me, I would leave him, no matter what, and that is exactly what I did.”

Several months into the relationship, he held a gun to her face while she was holding her two year old daughter, and he threatened to shoot. With her daughter on her left arm, she managed to pull the loaded gun away from him with her right hand.

“That was a million dollar decision that night, to carry my daughter on my left, because it saved our lives, as it meant my strong hand was left free to pull the gun from him.”

After pulling the gun from him, she told him to leave her house that very same night.

“The whole village, even my Uncles and those I respected sat me down and told me to stay with him, but I refused. My thinking is this, I can find another man, but I can’t find another me. If I allowed him to keep harming me, it would impact on who I was and would harm the lives of my children, that was not a choice, it was never a choice.”

“There was never a point where I was going to let someone else ruin my work, harm my children or erode my character,” she said.

“The decision was easy, because I respected myself enough not let anyone else harm me. I did not suffer, because I did not let him harm me.”

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*This story is told because so many people have gone through some degree of violence in Samoa, even those who are in positions of authority and influence have been through one form of violence or another.

This mother of seven, who is now a grandmother of 27 went on to accomplish much in her life, she never remarried. She was lucky that she had the strength of conviction to leave what could have been a fatal relationship. Others, are not so lucky. According to a Samoa Family Health Safety survey 46% of women interviewed had experienced some form of partner abuse – of which 38% was physical abuse, 19% emotional abuse, 20% sexual abuse.

This  story was told by the grandmother of Storm. The mother of Storm, was the 2 year old who was in her arms at the time of the incident. It is one of my first memories as a child, and as an effort to ensure that other children do not have to go through this, this campaign was set up.

Today, is the first day of Sefulu Ono Aso Storm Campaign. Please support the campaign by sharing.