By Joshua Lafoa’i
Stereotypes in gender roles and rigid expectations of social behaviour have been blamed for the rise of bullying, name shaming and physical abuse in Samoan schools.
Experts say the gender violence problem among youth lies in social expectations about how males and females should behave or dress.
A girl wearing clothing that shows her back, legs or cleavage; a boy who prefers to study rather than play rugby; or a young transgender, could become targets of bullying for not following an expected code. Class distinctions between rural and urban, well-off and poor students are also an added factor.
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation's (UNESCO) programme specialist for social and human science, Nguyen Thanh Van, says social and cultural stereotypes are harmful when they set out rules and standards for people who are different and unwilling to conform.
UNESCO Apia has created a seminar to educate people about school related gender based violence.
“This type of violence forms certain prejudices about how men and women are supposed to behave, and when they don’t fall into that expectation, then they are in a vulnerable position,” says Thanh Van.
Video posted on Youtube by Samoa Observer. Video/ Christopher Mafoe.
STUDENT BRAWLS ON THE RISE
The problem is compounded by social media which lifts the lid on private individual, family or village matters and spreads it across the country. It triggers gossip, name shaming and online bullying which spills over into real life.
In some extreme cases, it escalated into the student brawls seen in Samoa last year. Multiple arrests were made after five different brawls erupted at various schools in Apia's township. According to Samoa’s Ministry of Police, most of the 80 students arrested were college students aged between 15 to 18 years old.
The incidents reflect a growing number of youth living in unstable homes in families afflicted by domestic violence.
Police say 85 per cent of the student brawlers were from families who were known to the police because of domestic violence.
Thanh Van says Samoa’s cultural values could help alleviate the problem.
“Culturally there is a strong tendency towards respect and so that’s one of the things that’s very strong in the Samoan culture that could be leveraged to address issues of school related gender-based violence,” says Thanh Van. “There is also a strong community support network which is critical for supporting victims of school related gender based violence.”
Ironically some of these social expectations are derived from cultural values in the Samoan community. Former journalist and researcher Aterina Samasoni-Pele agrees with Thanh Van on the issue.
“The children who are perpetrators of violence in schools, they adopt this behaviour from their families,” says Samasoni-Pele. “That is why we look inside the families to find core solutions to the problem.”
Various efforts have been directed to raising awareness on ending school related gender-based violence in Samoa. The country’s public and private sectors are working with NGOs to push a bill which educates locals on the how abuse and social expectations is affecting Samoa’s future generation.