In October the American Samoa Alliance against Domestic & Sexual Violence (aka the Alliance), and its partners focused on National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a time for communities to come together and reflect upon the experiences of the victims and combat the culture which enables the perpetrators. Although the voices and perspectives of victims of domestic violence are of the utmost importance, we must not forget that dismantling this form of patriarchal violence is not just in the hands of women, but also of men.
In American Samoa, men and boys learn from an early age not to interfere between couples’ disputes and that they are the ones in charge of the household, the heads of the family, and therefore their views should not be questioned. Although there are many aspects of our culture which celebrate non-violence and positive masculinity, the gender hierarchy allows perpetrators of violence to act freely and disproportionally hurts women and girls. Most men will not become domestic abusers, however, if men keep looking away and enabling other men to commit acts of violence against their wives and loved ones, we will never be able to eliminate domestic violence.
That is why we are calling on all men and boys of American Samoa to stand up for gender equality and have a zero-tolerance attitude towards all violence against women and girls.
We need to work together on perpetrator accountability and understand why some men think violence is an adequate response to everyday problems. We need to make sure our boys grow up in an environment in which violence is not normalized, we must make sure they are taught to respect women and girls and that they understand how aggressive and controlling behavior towards your loved ones is a toxic form of masculinity.
The protection of the victims should always come first, but if we take prevention seriously, it is clear we must work with boys and men as well. We need a collective effort to analyze the root causes of domestic violence and design strategies to change the cultural norms and behaviors that allow it to happen. We need to highlight positive male role models, men who stand up for the women in their communities and go the extra mile to make sure there are no perpetrators in their families or villages.
The Alliance has held focus groups with men in the community and will be sharing these findings December 1, 2019. We hope this will inspire men and boys across our community to join our fight.