‘Alofa’ – or love – underpins the Pacific solution to ending violence and empowering women

12 January 2023
Image Source    Pacific Community

Socio-cultural values of love, protection and care that prevail in most Pacific Island countries and territories inspired a Samoan teenage girl to dedicate her life to the empowerment of women and girls.

“My interest in gender equality started when I grew up as a little girl in Samoa,” explains Ofusina Toamua, Programme Officer with Pacific Women Lead (PWL) at Pacific Community (SPC), Human Rights and Social Development (HRSD) division.

“I enjoyed the dynamics of Samoa’s socio-cultural values where ‘alofa’, meaning love, underpins the relationship between men and women in our society,” says Ofusina, better known as Sina.

In her role at PWL, Sina provides technical advice, assistance, and capacity building in the areas of gender equality and social inclusion (GESI). She also supports planning, implementation, monitoring and reporting for gender programming at the country and regional levels, with a focus on the Pacific sub-region of Polynesia.

Sina uses her infectious humour and positive outlook on life to address the serious issues of women’s empowerment and ending violence against women and girls, confessing that: “I love laughing out loud to almost anything humorous and in particular the Pacific Islanders’ humour.”

She has almost two decades of experience working with civil society and the development sector, using her understanding of local culture and heritage to underpin her work to advance community growth, environmental and climate action, women’s economic empowerment, ending gender-based violence, and advancing the rights of all Pacific people.

“For over nine years I worked at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Multi-Country Office in Samoa, and previously was with civil society including the Samoa Umbrella for Non-Government Organisations (SUNGO), interacting with community and women’s groups, youth groups, Council of Chiefs, and others,” Sina said.

“I worked with partners to conserve their natural and cultural heritages through planet-conscious approaches and environment preservation, to develop women’s economic empowerment activities, and to support youth-led climate action efforts in Samoa and other Pacific countries,” she explained.

“ For many years, I was able to coordinate dialogues between civil society organisations and governments, the private sector, academic institutions and key stakeholders I worked with. For me it’s important to ensure there is always a ‘bottom-up’ approach so people in the community lead the creation of their own initiatives, with support from donors and implementing partners.”

“That’s how development work should unravel, from my perspective.”

Sina applied for the role at Pacific Women Lead to “add value to the team” and to ultimately work with the Pacific Islander-led PWL team and Pacific countries to encourage best practices that can benefit the region.

“From my experience, both professionally and voluntarily, I am passionate about working with grassroots groups, and so I have focussed my career pathway on persevering in each role to ensure we reach and work alongside, the communities we serve.”

“Joining SPC, through the PWL at SPC programme enables me to add value to the regional work of women’s empowerment, rights recognition and the celebration of equitable leadership across Pacific women and men.”

About Pacific Women Lead:
One of the largest global commitments to gender equality, Pacific Women Lead aims to promote women’s leadership, realise women’s rights, and increase the effectiveness of regional gender equality efforts.

The Pacific Women Lead (PWL) programme at the Pacific Community (SPC), termed PWL at SPC, has more than AUD 55 million dedicated to its work under the Australian Government’s AUD 170 million Pacific Women Lead portfolio. This partnership with the Australian Government commits SPC to deliver the PWL programme, as the cornerstone for the portfolio.