The girls behind Samoan’s first female PM

The girls behind Samoan's first female PM

There are fewer women in politics in the Pacific Islands than anywhere else in the world, according to UN Women.

But this year Samoa chose a woman as head of government, the second Pacific island nation to do so, thanks in part to a network of friends who supported her every step of the way. This is the daisy circle,” says Samoa’s first female prime minister, holding up a salt-rimmed mug. It is a place for honest confessions.

It is Sunday afternoon and a group of about 10 people has just left the village church to meet for a buffet lunch on the terrace of Fiame Naomi family home in the village of Lotofaga. Behind them, the clear South Pacific Ocean sparkles just beyond a stretch of white sand. Do you remember how this particular journey started for us.

On September 11, 2020, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa resigned as Deputy Prime Minister of the Human Rights Protection Party (HRPP), which governs Samoa, objecting to controversial plans to remove the right of appeal against the sentences of a traditional Samoan court dealing with land ownership and primarily titles.

When she left office, the highest-ranking woman in the Samoa government told the media that she feared the country was “drifting away from the rule of law.” The next day she went to a friend’s house for their “Foodie Club” evening, an occasion when a group of friends visit a restaurant or cook a meal.

When she walked in, we started playing Helen Reddy’s song, I Am Woman-Hear Me Roar,” Alise recalls. “And we said, ‘It’s time for you to take over now. It was just over a year ago,” responds the prime minister, “the day after I resigned. Give me a break, I just quit!” was Fiame’s reply. In nine months she would win enough seats to eventually.

The village of Lotofaga was home to the father of Naomi Mata’afa, one of Samoa’s top chiefs and its first prime minister, who led the country toward independence in 1962. Her mother was a member of parliament and later High Commissioner of Samoa in New Zealand. be declared the only female head of government in the Pacific islands.

Raised in the capital, Apia, Fiame used to visit Lotofaga with her family. Thatched-roof houses lined the shoreline and people cast their fishing nets in the light of the moon, which in Fiame’s memory was as bright as daylight. Now most of that community has moved to higher ground, away from rising sea levels she adds.

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