Samoa's Rugby players UNiTE to end violence against women

Manu Samoa and Tonga players prepare to walk onto the field wearing orange arm bands to show their support for ending violence against women. UN Women/Ken Tai Tin
School children wait to escort Manu Samoa and Tonga rugby players to the field. Photo: UN Women/Ken Tai Tin

To say that Samoa is passionate about rugby is an understatement. When Manu Samoa (the national rugby team of Samoa) plays, Apia Stadium and the entire city of Apia turn into a sea of blue, the official colour of the team. On 25 June, at the test match between Samoa and Tonga— played as part of the qualifying process for the 2019 World Cup—a new colour shared the stage with the blue as players, officials and supporters alike wore orange, showing their support for the UN Secretary-General’s UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign.

Orange is the official colour of the UNiTE campaign, with 25th of every month as “Orange Day”—a day of action to end violence against women and girls worldwide.

 “There is no place in our sport or our communities for violence against women,” said Manu Samoa head coach, Alama Ieremia. “We have a responsibility as Samoans to be role models and rugby gives us a platform to influence and help as many people as we can.”

In partnership with UN Women, Samoa Rugby Union and the World Rugby Union dedicated the Pacific Nations Cup match between Samoa and Tonga, to raising awareness on violence against women and girls. The match attracted a global television audience of 6 million..

Manu Samoa players warm up for their match against Tonga on 25 June, wearing orange bands to show their support for ending violence against women. Photo: UN Women/Ken Tai Tin

Violence against women and girls in Pacific countries is among the highest in the world. In Samoa, almost 55 per cent of women experience some form of gender-based violence in their lifetime. Discriminatory cultural norms and traditions are often entrenched, with 70 per cent of women believing that physical abuse is justified under certain circumstances.[1]

The Samoa Rugby Union started working with UN Women during the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence campaign in 2015 when they hosted the inaugural Ending Violence against Women Rugby 7s Tournament. The tournament is now set to become an annual event. Several players from Manu Samoa, including rugby star Motu Matu’u, are active advocates for ending violence against women across the Pacific region.

Matu’u was also part of the Pacific Prevention of Domestic Violence Programme by New Zealand Police, undertaking advocacy trips to Samoa and Vanuatu, where he joined other Pacific rugby players and the New Zealand Police in visiting schools and villages to raise awareness. “We play a very physical sport and sometimes rugby can get quite violent, but that’s where it needs to end,” says Matu’u “When we go back home we need to treat our families with love and respect.”

Manu Samoa players and school children during the singing of the national anthem on 25 June, wearing orange bands to show their support for ending violence against women. Photo: UN Women/Ken Tai Tin
Players from both teams showed their support for ending violence against women by wearing orange arm bands on the field during the match. Photo: UN Women/Ken Tai Tin

UN Women’s Country Programme Coordinator in Samoa, Suisala Mele Maualaivao commends the conversations on violence against women that have been sparked among Samoans, and believes it’s a critical first step to making a difference. “There are more Samoans living outside the country than in it and many of them, especially young people, look up to the Manu Samoa players as role models,” says Ms. Maualaivao. “The fact that the players and the Union are not only spreading the message of zero tolerance for violence against women, but also modelling respectful behaviour in their own lives provides a powerful opportunity to promote change at every level of Samoa’s society.”

The 25 June match was part of UN Women’s global efforts to engage sports organizations in preventing and ending violence against women, by training players and staff on gender issues, identifying champions and taking action when players commit violence. In addition to hosting the annual Ending Violence against Women Rugby 7s Tournament, the Samoa Rugby Union will also dedicate November’s international test match between Manu Samoa and Georgian rugby team to raise awareness on the issue.

Samoa’s Prime Minister Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi (third from left, green and blue shirt) attended the match against Tonga on 25 June in support of both Manu Samoa and ending violence against women. He and other spectators wear hats reading “Say No to Violence” on the front and “Yes to Manu” on the back. Photo: UN Women/Ken Tai Tin