Penelope Schoeffel, Measina Meredith and Ruta Fiti‐Sinclair, Centre for Sāmoan Studies, National University of Sāmoa.
This is a case study of how culturally produced structural obstacles impede women’s participation in local government, parliament and political processes in Sāmoa. ‘Culture’ has identified in most if not all studies of the low proportion (6.1) of women in the parliaments of the Pacific Island region; this article explains which aspects of culture holds women back in Sāmoa. Although Sāmoan women have achieved near‐parity with men in education and professional, managerial and technical employment, since 1962 there have never been more than five women holding seats in the 49 member parliament, despite several donor‐funded pre‐election programs to encourage women to stand. We explain this paradox in terms of Sāmoa’s “matai system” and village government, women’s status as wives in village social organisations, and the patriarchal structure of Sāmoa’s major Christian denominations.
Keywords: Women, Sāmoa, elections, parliament, local government