A few years ago during the Miss American Samoa pageant, a 19-year old contestant was asked what she would say to the many victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence in this country.
I think that’s a pretty soft-ball question. First, you tell those young girls how sorry you are for what they have had to experience. You give some words of encouragement (fa’amalosi! thank you for being strong enough to share your story!). Then you take the opportunity, like a true pageant Miss, to talk about the many ways you will use the Miss American Samoa platform to advocate for victims’ rights. I mean, am I right?
The contestant answered first in Samoan, so the Beard and I waited for the English version of her answer. It seemed odd how quickly and cheerfully she spoke; she wore a slightly condescending smile that didn’t seem to fit the seriousness of her question. The audience laughed hysterically. The Beard and I were very confused.
And then came her English answer. Obviously I didn’t transcribe this as it happened, but her answer, in effect, was this: what happens between a young girl and her family members is private and should not be discussed with outsiders.
This was a 19 year old girl. The daughter of a respected Reverend. And her advice to victims of sexual abuse and violence was to be quiet.
I remember laughing at the absurdity of it all in the sort of unaffected way I get to laugh as an ex-pat living in AmSam. I was angry, but it seemed so ridiculous that (I am sorry to say) I don’t think I really considered the seriousness of what was happening. The teenage daughter of a pastor was laughing about violence against other women, and making an entire audience laugh at the same time. Nobody looked surprised. Nobody looked uncomfortable.
The treatment of women and children is one of those issues here that hurts my head and heart the most. It can be so difficult to separate what is culture and what is a moral issue. And then too, I can’t help but to ask myself how much is actually wrong and how much do I perceive as being wrong because I am looking at Samoa through a very western lens? I am not here to change the fa’asamoa (the Samoan way of life). I am not here to criticize this country or this culture. But there are some things that I have to be okay with calling unacceptable. This is one of those things.
This morning when I got to work I went to the local newspaper’s website like I always do and found this:
The Department of Youth and Women’s Affairs (DYWA) is launching yet another program for local females. This time, the training is in the area of hairstyling — teaching local women how to tame their mane, keep it looking hot and fresh, and maintaining a hairdo that suits their personality and facial features.
He said the hairstyling training program is geared specifically towards women from low income families who cannot afford to go to the salon.
“The idea behind this is for women to have skills to make themselves look good,” Pa’u said, adding that this class is a perfect program for Domestic Violence Month. “Based on surveys taken, one of the reasons why there are cases of domestic violence is because some women decide to neglect themselves.”
Pa’u said some women, once they have kids and their families grow, “let themselves go” and end up not taking time out to make themselves look good.
“When that happens, the husband ends up getting the wandering eye and starts looking at other women,” Pa’u added.
He said the trend of programs being offered by DYWA should be obvious. They are all classes that teach women how to be better wives, mothers, caretakers, homemakers, and financial managers.
Now they can do all that and look good at the same time.
More information on DYWA programs can be obtained by calling 633-2835.
I shortened the article a bit, but you can click on this link to read it in its entirety.
Let’s review: the man quoted is Pa’u Roy Ausage, Acting Director of the Department of Youth and Women’s Affairs (DYWA). Pa’u believes, based on a survey (which I’d love to see), that the victims of domestic violence are responsible for domestic violence.
This is not an issue of my western lens getting in the way. This is a legitimately confused man in a position he clearly does not understand nor deserve, making very alarming statements that negate the entire purpose of the department he heads.
As I said, there are so many issues here that I have a hard time with–I think that’s just what happens when you immerse yourself in a different culture. But this is something that upsets me on a whole different level.
This man is an employee of the government, which is heavily funded by the U.S. government, which means that our tax dollars–yours and mine–pay his salary. And I’m so very not cool with that. What about you?
I left the phone number in there. If you’d like to call the DYWA and talk to them about Mr. Ausage’s comments, remember to dial 1-684 before the number. It’s a long distance call from America. You can also find the DYWA on Facebook, or email Ausage directly.
*A friend of mine posted on Facebook that an attempt was made to contact the local radio station to address Asuage’s comments, but the radio station refused to do so because the DYWA is on of its sponsors.*