10 Nov Are Samoan Men Ready for (More) Women in Parliament?
It’s rumoured that at an invigorating and exciting workshop aimed at increasing women’s participation in politics, the facilitator closed by saying, “It doesn’t matter how much we talk about it here, how many plans we make – we will go home and our husbands will tell us, ‘eh, you be quiet and go sit down’.” It was said jokingly and there was much laughter. But it was the kind of uncomfortable laughter that rang with bitter truth. As Samoa prepares for the 2016 elections there has been much valuable work done to help encourage women to run for parliament. To prepare them for all the challenges that go with mounting an election campaign. But the question remains – are Samoan men ready for (more) women in parliament? More specifically, are Samoan husbands ready for their wives to run for office?
A prominent MP was recently asked, “Would you let your wife run for parliament?” His reply was immediate. “Ha. Of course not,” he scoffed. As if to say, what a ridiculous idea! This same MP is an enthusiastic supporter of the legislation to get more women in government and his wife is a powerhouse woman in her own right with a successful career. Supporting women in parliament, in ‘theory’ – is something he can get behind. But not when it impacts on him personally. Not my wife! I wonder how many other men would have the same response to the very suggestion that their wives run for office?
This question is further underlined when we consider that of the three women MP’s in parliament – none are currently married to a Samoan. Is that significant? A requirement for a woman running a successful election campaign in Samoa? Or at least a way to better your chances of success? That you either be single, widowed, or married to a man who’s NOT Samoan? Obviously three women MP’s and their marital status is too small a pool to use for making any generalizations about Samoan husbands, and it will be interesting to see how that theory plays out in the elections next year.
Of course a married woman doesn’t need her husband’s permission to enter the political arena, or even his support. But anyone who’s run for parliament, or seen a family member run, knows how demanding and stressful it is, and how much pressure it places on families of the candidate. Many current male MP’s relied heavily on their wives to manage their campaigns when they were running for office and they continue to work as a partnership, with wives helping to run businesses and also maintain good relationships with their districts. When a woman runs for office, she no doubt will need that kind of support from her spouse (if she has one.) Are Samoan husbands ready to offer that? To be that driving force in the background, stepping up to fill in any shortfall in the home, helping to organize people and events, give advice and network on her behalf but still content to let their wives take the limelight and be a public figure? Can a Samoan husband handle the tough times? The criticism and attacks that his wife will invariably have to face as an MP?
What do I know about Samoan husbands? I only have one; actually, he’s the only husband I’ve ever had of any nationality. So I can only speak from my limited experience. His name is Darren Young. Some time ago, he was on a plane and sitting next to another Samoan man. They didn’t know each other but got into a conversation during the flight. Somehow, the topic turned to their respective partners and when the man heard my name, he did a #HoldUp face. “Wait, is your wife that author? The one on the TV? The radio, the newspaper? Who writes those articles on the internet?” When Darren said yes, the man shook his head with a pitying expression on his face. “I always wondered who is the man that could be married to a woman like that? What kind of Samoan man could be married to a woman like that? A woman who goes everywhere, who talks about so many…” (insert a #YuckFace here), “different topics. And now, I see it’s you. I don’t know how you do it. How do you cope with that?” To top it off, the man added, “Talofa’e ia oe.”
It was clear the man believed that a woman with a public profile of any kind, or a career that required her to ‘go many places’ and ‘say many things – would make a very bad wife. And any man married to such a woman, must be a saint. Or unhinged. Or perhaps even lacking somehow as a ‘real man’.
I am not running for office, but I’ve been mulling over this man’s question as I have seen the increased efforts to mobilize more Samoan women to consider parliament. “What kind of Samoan man could be married to a woman like that?!” A woman who needs to go many places and say many things in public?
This is my answer to that stranger on a plane.
In the weekend, we had a birthday party for our daughter and I was frustrated because the pirate ship cake I was (over-ambitiously) trying to make, was a huge mess. My husband got up at 4am to take over icing the cake and sticking all the broken pieces together. When the sun came up, he went to work at his busy construction site where he was putting up steel beams for a warehouse, with his eight employees. Then he came back in time for the party where he led several games for the children, including dancing the Limbo. I could not have survived hosting 25 children without his help.
This is not unusual husband-behaviour for him though. The only reason I have the time and space to write my little books, is because of my husband. When I launched my first book in NZ, he didn’t hear my speech because he was outside looking after our restless three year old. When I went to my first book convention in America to mingle with several thousand other authors and readers – it was because he paid for my trip as a birthday gift. When we decided I needed to write full-time for a year, he put his work on hold and took over the care of our children and the management of our home. He’s held my handbag while I signed books for readers in Sydney. He’s listened to me a hundred times over, practise my speeches for literature festivals and school visits, and reassured me that ‘you’ll be great.” He’s the main income earner for our family, building hotels, shopping centres and other towering steel structures so we can eat – but in between that – he drives me to author events, carries boxes and takes photos for the fans. When I am discouraged at dismal book sales, or hurt by a scathing review, when I’m tempted to quit writing, my husband encourages me and tells me not to give up. Much in the same way that I watergirl for his triathlon events and encourage him not to give up. In every way, Darren and I are equal partners. He has helped make me into the person I am today and his counsel and support is invaluable. He’s my best friend. I hope he can say the same of me. I am so grateful to his parents who helped teach him to be such a man and I especially pay tribute to his mother Karen who taught her son how to cook, clean, and care for children as well as provide for his family, and most important of all, she taught him how to honor his wife.
What kind of man could be married to a woman who ‘goes everywhere’ and ‘says many things’?
The answer is, the very best kind of Samoan man.
I know I’m not the only woman in Samoa with a husband like this. My hope is that those (married) women running for parliament, have husbands like this. Or similar. Because giving women the tools and opportunities they need to run for office is only part of the solution. We also need men to step up.
To those men of the nation who support the idea of more women in government, I challenge you to look within and ask yourself, do I support the reality of this too? Because the reality is, that as Samoa works towards a greater representation of women in our parliament – what we are doing is, encouraging people’s daughters, sisters, aunties, grandmothers and WIVES to run. Men of Samoa, are you strong enough, confident enough, sure enough in yourself and your abilities – to encourage the woman you love in all her endeavours and not feel threatened, and to support her in pursuing her dreams? Even if that dream is to run for parliament?