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Gender-based violence in Samoa and Pacific project looks to churches

Professor David Tombs ... “churches are going to have to be a part of the solution." [Image: Sri Krishnamurthi/NZIPR]

Auckland, NEW ZEALAND — Globally, roughly one in three women experience violence, but in Samoa it is “probably” two out of three women, according to Professor David Tombs, principal investigator of the research project to strengthen the role of the church as an actor in the prevention of gender-based violence and in support of survivors.

The project is funded by the NZ Institute for Pacific Research, a unique collaboration between the University of Auckland, Otago University and Auckland University of Technology.

While the research is more than halfway through, Professor Tombs says there is much the churches can do now to alleviate the issue.

“It’s been really clear and prominent in the literature that the church is a huge part of this issue. There is quite a lot of literature around about violence against women in the Pacific.

“As a rough ball park, you are probably looking at prevalence figures for violence against women globally as one in three, so very high. But in the Pacific – in Samoa it is probably double that” says Professor Tombs.

“If it is to change then the churches are going to have to be a part of the solution and they can’t just be part of the problem. So, there is a recognition that the church is part of the problem, but our focus is on how can the church be part of solution, not just part of the problem.”

He and his team – project leader Dr Mercy Ah Siu-Maliko (Piula Theological College and University of Otago); co-investigators Dr Melanie Beres (University of Otago) and Dr Caroline Blyth (University of Auckland); research assistant Dr Ramona Boodoosingh; and project adviser Dr Tess Patterson are looking into the project titled: “Fola le ta’ui a le Atua: Rolling Out the Mat of Scripture: Church Responses to Gender-Based Violence Against Women in Samoa: Supporting Church Capacity for Transformative Social Leadership”.

“You are building bridges, you are bolstering those within the church like Mercy, who is the first Samoan woman with a PhD, the first to be appointed to a teaching position in a Samoan theological college, so the approach is to strengthen her work within the church, her work within theological education, her work as a Samoan to raise these issues inside the church.”

They are investigating what can be done among the major denominations of the church, namely the Congregational, Methodist, Catholic, Anglican and Seventh Day Adventist churches.

Read more at Asia-Pacific Report

Having someone like Dr Ah Siu-Maliko gives the project much credibility in Samoan society, says Professor Tombs, the Howard Paterson Chair of Theology and Public Issues at the  University of Otago.