Written by: Karrollyn Fitisone
We might all be familiar now with the idea that mental health issues are common, and
they do not discriminate, as in anyone from any walk of life may at some point in their life,
experience poor mental health. We also know that these issues can disproportionately affect,
specific communities and in regard to our project: Rural communities, gender minorities, culturally specific groups that exist in American Samoa such as fa’afafine. The statewide
statistics suggest that some gender minorities experience hardships and mental health issues.
More frequently and more severe than gender normative groups. We know that this can be linked to a number of factors but that at the root of these issues is prejudice and injustice. As we continue to speak up about the importance of prioritizing mental health, we hope that the
conversation will always include our indigenous populations, and the minorities within the
minorities. We hope that society can progress to a point where individuals are met with the care they need and at the least given the opportunity to do so, in that way we can continue to strive to achieve true mental health equity for our people.
Written by: Jennifer F Tofaeono, MBA, Executive Director
I have been fortunate to sit with many people, family, friends, co-workers, etc. In these circles we “kiki it” (or have a good time) as we just share stories and laugh –to heal. We find many of our stories are the same, as our cultural practices become evident. We share stories of how our parents would reprimand, or “fasi” us to teach us a lesson. We share stories of the importance of our elders to help teach us what is right, and how to engage with each other. All important conversations that can lead to a sense of camaraderie—when we have same stories, we sense acceptance. Yet, what happens when we feel that the stories we share are different, therefore there is no connection made between storyteller and listener?
I have always believed for us to progress and heal from our stories it is important to canvas all conversations being held to help growth. Currently Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) discussions are being held to help create more inclusive communities. DEI has always mattered, but more recently the current focus makes it essential. You will see many workplaces enforce DEI, as it is more organizational polices, but should be developed into our homes. Teams and organizations are being built to accept and hold a varied composition of people and groups. Equity is fair treatment, to provide access, opportunities and advance for ALL people to create connections.
In our Fa’afafine community we love them as caretakers, providers, and see their ability to be both female and male in one being. In many of my talk stories with Fa’afafine community the constant theme is focused on acceptance. I have heard the following statements in my talk story with the Fa’afafine community, “I can be the main caregiver of my family,” but am not considered a “teine” (girl)." "I attended school, and have my bachelor’s degree, my masters. I have had to fight to be recognized." "I have been touched by the men in my family, and they then tease, taunt, and beat me, am I not the victim?" When we listen to stories we develop stronger connections as human beings, to begin healing. After sitting with my fa’afafine community, I am amazed by their resilience, and their strength. I have witnessed their success but know there is still a constant need for acceptance. It is because of this work that I do, I recognize acceptance can become the first step to healing. Understanding, and learning about each other, through acceptance can create positive spaces.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion requires in-depth conversations. Organizations are implementing DEI as a focus for their company’s. It is important to understand that inclusion is more a feeling, and the product of diversity. When people are accepted, felt seen, heard, it can help to foster safe spaces for all. It is not easy creating DEI spaces, as we in our community belittle those who are seen different. We can change this as many victims of violence are beaten for being seen as “different”. It is important to learn more about inclusion, and the ability to build acceptance. When we accept, learn more about each other there would be less violence built on our differences.
Newly Crowned Miss SOFIAS Christian Wright- Salavea Shares How She was Banned From Using a Woman's BathroomRead Now
On Saturday, April 22, 2023, I was invited to participate as a Judge for the SOFIAS (Society of Fa’afafine in American Samoa) Pageant. This is an event that has a long-standing history in American Samoa, as this was the 39th Annual event. The opening numbers, and the outfits worn were glamorous, as the theme centered on the “Dollhouse”. Miss Christian Wright Sa’alea had described her experience of being denied access to use the women’s bathroom in a local store, which represents many stories shared by the Fa’afafine community.
There is a long standing ‘debate as to what public bathrooms trans people should access. In a recent study done in Britain, it was found 29% of people agreed for specified trans women who had not undergone gender-affirming surgeries, they should use women’s bathrooms. For women who have gone through gender-affirming surgeries, 53% of people were in favor. Unfortunately, these belief systems place trans women to fall victim to violent crimes. Studies show, that women are accosted in restrooms, but trans women fall victim to violent crimes while using public bathrooms.
Accessing safe spaces is a conversation that should be held within every community. Accessing safe public bathrooms are conversations that need to be held within our community, due to safety, and human rights issues. In discussions I have held with our local fa’afafine community many reports they will not use the bathrooms in their workplace and will wait till then return home. Many shared they will “hold it in” until they can find a “safe” bathroom. When made to use the wrong bathrooms, transgenders, or the Fa’afafine community suffer the most risk of sexual violence. It is imperative our community learn more about our other gender, the Fa’afafine community. Let’s look at our communities and tailor policies to meet our needs.
Every April, the Nation brings attention to (SAAM) - Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This movement is spearheaded by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) and consists of multiple efforts to educate and engage the public in issues surrounding sexual assault. This year marks the 22nd anniversary of SAAM which means officially it has not be around for very long however, the fight for rights for people of color, women’s rights, and other social activism efforts have all made conversations around sexual assault and domestic violence more possible and have definitely played an integral role in promoting justice and change where needed. The theme of Sexual Assault Awareness Month 2023 is “Drawing Connections: Prevention Demands Equity.” Photo Credits: NSVRC This theme ties in really well with the history surrounding sexual assault in that sexual violence is often fought hand in hand with ending systems of oppression. There we have our drawn connections. Systems of oppression such as racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, ageism, ableism, and others can contribute to higher rates of sexual harassment, assault, and abuse. Prevention is often seen as the greatest way to reduce the risk of harm, and really a safer way to approach potential or prospective problems. Therefore the message that is being expressed is really that we cannot end sexual assault or violence without also addressing the unequal treatment of populations within our communities, to be truly immune, exempt, free, or safe from sexual violence, we have to be fair, just, honest, and value one another
Written by: Karallyn Fitisone
In American Samoa, several women have celebrated and posted to social media about International Women’s Day and Month. Throughout the Rural Grant Project we bring awareness to gender-based violence particularly that which is against our fa’afafine community. We have gathered insight about their experiences of violence and experiences of accessing services with the ultimate hope to create awareness and advocacy for our fa’afafine that might in turn decrease discrepancies or barriers to care for fa’afafine. We recognize and understand that there are still areas for improvement to cater to the needs of women and fa’afafine on island but are hopeful that through projects such as these, we can continue to have important conversations that can lead to positive change and more equity and inclusion for ALL Women (including our fa’afafine sisters). Follow along to the Alliance Social Media Pages or on the Alliance website to keep updated on Rural Project progress. As we continue to celebrate women this month, may we also honor our fa’afafine sisters!
Sources : https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/01/04/fight-womens-rights-fight-against-authoritarianism
Written by: Karallyn Fitisone
The Rural Grant Project seeks to investigate and understand the fa’afafine experiences of
violence. This can further be broken down into examining their help-seeking behaviors, types of
violence they’re experiencing, feelings towards service providers, etc. Data was collected on the
fa’afafine experience over the span of several months in 2022 and 2021. This was made possible
through collaboration and partnership between the Alliance and the Society of Fa’afafines in
American Samoa (SOFIAS). In late 2022 the second phase of the project began, in which service
providers would be recruited to participate in the study. These service providers were recruited
from various sectors including various private, non-profit, or government entities.
Please note that this writing is based on personal understanding and experiences, which
means the writing will contain estimates, opinions, and assumptions that are my own, and to my
understanding. Over the course of 3 months, over 50+ service providers have been contacted,
over 50% of those service providers became aware of the project, over 20 have participated in
the survey and 16 have participated in the interview portion of the project. I was able to engage
and connect with many of our service providers about the project which in itself I view as a
success, because this project was made aware to a larger audience through discussions and
emails. I definitely am very appreciative of all the time that our service providers have invested
in the project. I see the hard work they do in their respective fields and the passion that they have
to better our community. I definitely do see that the service providers are willing to undertake
any training we put out in regard to our fa’afafine population and serving any of them who are
victims of violence. I can see that growth is taking place within our community, as we begin to
accept, adapt, accommodate, tolerate, and include newer ideas and perspectives into our lives. I
have been privileged to be a part of the process that seeks to enhance and increase the quality of
service provision to fa’afafine victims of violence. I look forward to the remainder of the project
and to what develops from our findings.
I have experienced some challenges primarily in recruitment. I understand there are
factors that may have influenced participation in our surveys and interviews. Communication
was a challenge in that some of the contact information was outdated for some service providers
and or organizations. Other issues include a lack of response. This can be due to a variety of
reasons, but in general because of the delayed or lack of responses, this has led to cancellations
or to not followed through interviews with service providers. I also understand that our service
providers are busy and may not have the time to participate in the project. I also recognize that
the administration of the survey was during the time of year that consists of major holidays and
or break for some of our service providers. These factors definitely have made it harder to
achieve our intended goal number of participants, but nonetheless we have achieved a larger
goal, which was to spread awareness of the project. Even with these challenges, we are confident
in the information we have gathered and the positive responses and feedback from our
community and service providers about the work of our rural team.
I am so grateful to have been given this opportunity to work on this project with such a great
team! I am so glad with all the networking I have been able to accomplish and to learn about the
work that our service providers are doing for victims of violence. It is refreshing to know that
they are willing to participate in training if it becomes available to them. I also think this project
has allowed me to reflect on the ways that I can be more of an advocate, or an ally for fa’afafine.
I can also reflect on the ways I can nurture diversity and promote inclusivity. I believe this
project is an excellent start for examining and investigating our marginalized communities in
American Samoa, as it pertains to violence.
Coming Soon: Our team is so excited to be creating a space on the Alliance website for the Rural
Project! On this separate page, we plan to have our PSAs posted, links to our podcast episodes,
articles/newsletter additions, gallery, and more! We hope that this page helps to serve as a place
where community members, alliance followers, and those interested, can learn more about the
Rural grant project, the work that we do, and the things we are passionate about!
Reminder: Please follow along to any of the alliance social media pages and or check in to the
alliance website and newsletter for updates and rural project progress! Check out our podcast on
spotify “Falalalaga Podcast” updated twice monthly. Feel free to contact the Alliance with any
questions, suggestions, or concerns you might have in regard to this project.
Photo: retrieved from Society of Fa'afafine in American Samoa (SOFIAS) facebookpage: https://www.facebook.com/168150006613160/photos/pb.100070244640816.-2207520000./4629225017172281/?type=3
Written by: Karallyn Fitisone
As previously expressed in the initial Rural Newsletter Article, the American Samoa
Alliance Against Domestic and Sexual Violence (Alliance) has always prioritized the need to
understand the experience of violence amongst our people in an effort to combat, mitigate,
decrease, or prevent instances of violence. Some key factors to reiterate in this article is that this
project is made possible through a Rural Grant that was granted by the Office of Violence
Against Women (OVW) through the United States Department of Justice. In this project, we are
focused on the fa’afafine population of American Samoa. Some major goals of the project
include investigating or gathering information on fa’afafine experiences of violence and their
help seeking behaviors. We are trying to understand where it is that fa’afafine are going to for
help for instances of violence. Simultaneously, we also seek to understand our service providers
experiences of service provision to fa’afafine. Asking questions about their experiences, training,
thoughts on fa’afafine experiencing violence, their thoughts on the community addressing the
needs of fa’afafine and ways to address the needs of fa’afafine especially from their respective
Be sure to check out the previous newsletter for more context, issues being addressed, and
intended outcomes of the project:
For data gathering, the project has 2 main portions: the first was primarily with fa’afafine
via surveys, focus group discussions, and interviews. This first portion of the project has been
completed and we are actively working on the second portion of the project which assesses our
service providers via surveys, interviews, and discussions. We have successfully collected
information from various sectors of the community: social/ healthcare /legal /political /education
services regarding their service provision to fa’afafine. We are very grateful for the support from
our community in being a part of the project and providing their time and insights.
Some exciting new additions to our project:
Falalalaga Podcast: The Samoan term “Falalalaga'' translates into mat weaving, or in our case
the podcast is our mat while our stories, experiences, and opinions are the strands being woven to
produce that mat. This activity, often accompanied by storytelling, is used to symbolize
fellowship, respect, and reciprocity and is quite common throughout Pasefika.
Be sure to check out our podcast on Anchor, Spotify. Your hosts are Executive Director: Ms.
Jennifer Tofaeono, Ms. Uni Tanielu, and Ms. Karallyn Fitisone. The aim of the podcast is to
provide a safe space or platform to discuss important topics related to the Rural project and
beyond. Our goal is to produce 2 episodes a month with varied content and topics. We hope that
this podcast stimulates positivity, encouragement, compassion, and inclusivity amongst listeners.
As well as offers listeners the opportunity to reflect on their thoughts and experiences of topics
that are discussed, and maybe challenge or question some maladaptive or harmful beliefs.
Other Media Coverage: Be sure to look out for the PSAs for updates and or information
regarding the Rural project. The initial PSA is aimed to give a brief glimpse as to what the
project is all about and serves as an additional source of resources since resources are listed
throughout the PSA if the audience wishes to read more about the information included. The
second PSA is to update the public on the progress of the project. This PSA will discuss all the
aforementioned additions as well as discuss the second portion of the project. These will be
posted on the Alliance website as well as on the Alliance social media platforms.
What To Look Forward To: In the next few months of the New Year, the Alliance hopes to
continue developing more awareness of violence experienced by our fa’afafine population as
well as find ways to promote collaboration of service providers and service users such as
fa’afafine. Training Curriculum/Outreach plans are currently being developed, and more details
on these can be provided as more information becomes available. However, it should be noted
that these plans will prioritize the creation of safe spaces, empathy, and understanding
experiences of both fa’afafine and service providers working with them.
For more information on the Rural Grant Project feel free to contact the Alliance. Contact
information can be found here - http://www.asalliance.co/contact.html. Follow along on any of
the Alliance social media pages or check in to the alliance website for updates on project
progress! Thank you for reading! Happy Holidays!
Written by: Karallyn Fitisone
Fa’afafine are Samoa’s third gender and a largely misunderstood community (Barrett J., 2019). Western constructs and social norms have made it difficult for indigenous identities to exist without comparison. Although Fa’afafine do not identify with these western ideas of gender and sexual orientation, the shared western terminology has allowed for outsiders to understand what it means to be a Fa’afafine. They consider themselves non-binary, and non-cisgender. They are often used interchangeably with transgender terminology, but they are not necessarily the same. Fa’afafine were assigned male at birth but over time adopted feminine qualities. They hold a combination of masculine and feminine qualities but ultimately remain gender fluid (Beyond Gender: Indigenous Perspectives, Fa’afafine and Fa’afatama, n.d.). It has been estimated that 1-5% of Samoans identify as fa’afafine (Tan, 2016) with much of the population still residing in the Samoan islands.
Context/History: The term fa’afafine translates into “manner of woman” - many other regions of Oceania and Polynesia have related words in their own languages for instance in the Tongan language/culture - an individual who was assigned male at birth but went on to adopt feminine qualities and identify with a third gender would be known as a fakaleiti or fakafefine (James, K.E., 1994) The history of fa’afafine shows evidence of chiefs, leadership, and innovation.
Current day: Fa’afafine are widely accepted in Samoan culture and an important part of contemporary society. Although some religious institutions and traditional leaders still have trouble fully accepting fa’afafine ways of life. Fa’afafine are known for their many roles in society some of which are to care for the elders, charitable efforts, and their determination to preserve culture and family values (Beyond Gender: Indigenous Perspectives, Fa’afafine and Fa’afatama, n.d.). The main organizations for fa’afafine in the Samoan islands are - Society of Fa’afafines In American Samoa (SOFIAS) or the - Samoan Fa’afafine Association in Independent Samoa.
Violence: Data for violence to gender non-conforming (or transgendered, non-binary, non-cisgender) individuals is scarce. Much of the existing literature also only highlights heterosexual couples as well as Eurocentric populations. Albeit the scarce research, the data shows that transgender individuals suffer greater occurences of IPV, experiences of threats or intimidation, harassment, and police violence (NCADV, 2018). As much of the diction surrounding fa’afafine and trans individuals is similar it might also be true that the prevalence of violence warrants the need to further investigate our own population of nonbinary/non-cisgender individuals.
Violence & Fa’afafine: Carney, 2015:
After reviewing the literature, it is easy to see that not much has been explored about the prevalence of violence in the fa’afafine population. In Carney’s article he observed that violence of fa’afafine is tied to male privilege in that because Samoa has become a male-dominated culture- as a result of globalization, and the indoctrination of Christianity, women are then subjected to oppression and marginalization. Carney discusses how violence has served as a way to disrupt their access to and utilization of health services and maybe even certain health outcomes. Carney also highlights how there are currently no data on how fa’afafine experience interpersonal, sexual, or domestic violence but that their experiences are related to the same cultural values of male privilege that impact women. In the Alliance’s efforts to promote inclusivity and awareness of DV/SA, they have provided a safe place for fa’afafine to come to the table and be a part of the discussions. Another way is through the new Rural Grant Project.
Rural Grant Project:
The goal of this project is to inform the general public of American Samoa on several concepts. The project seeks to raise awareness on the fa’afafine experiences of violence and to whom they are able to get help from. The project aims to collect data to inform the development of service provider training for issues specific to the fa’afafine population. Over a series of surveys, interviews, reports, media outreaches, educational efforts, it is the hope of the project to outline priorities and strategies for building infrastructure for advocacy training and sustainable partnerships for service users and providers. Training and outreach efforts will emphasize the creation of safe spaces and empathy. More services and collaboration for our fa’afafine and the community means more equality and hopefully less instances of violence amongst our people.
For More Information on the Fa’afafine Community:
information can be found here - http://www.asalliance.co/contact.html
Carney, R. (2015). The Health Needs of the Fa’afafine in American Samoa and Transgender
Research Methodology. The Columbia University Journal of Global Health, 5(1), 38–43. https://doi.org/10.7916/thejgh.v5i1.5299
Barrett, J. (2019). Samoa's 'third gender' delicately balances sex and religion. Reuters. Retrieved
Beyond gender: Indigenous perspectives, Fa'afafine and Fa'afatama. Natural History Museum.
(n.d.). Retrieved from https://nhm.org/stories/beyond-gender-indigenous-perspectives-faafafine-and-faafatama
James, Kerry E. (1994). "Effeminate Males and Changes in the Construction of Gender in
Tonga". Pacific Studies. 17 (2): 39–69.
Tan, Yvette (2016). "Samoa's 'third gender' beauty pageant". BBC News.
Image from: https://twitter.com/vlad_sokhin/status/656439861235179520?lang=de; internet.