The first woman MP for Alataua West, Ali’imalemanu Alofa Tu’u’au, cousin and former Cabinet Minister Safuneitu’uga Pa’aga Neri and HRPP Deputy Leader Fiame Naomi Mata’afa during the celebration of the UN sponsored International Women’s Day 8 March 2016
BY Lagi Keresoma
APIA, SAMOA: MONDAY 14 MARCH 2016: Believing in herself and having the confidence that she will win her electoral constituency of Alataua West parliamentary seat, was the key objective that secured Ali’imalemanu Alofa Tu’u’au’s hold on the constituency seat, defeating 5 other candidates in the general elections.
But the road to where she is today was not easy, especially when dealing with a village council that was reluctant to accept the concept of women holding higher positions that were traditionally held by men.
Ali’imalemanu knew the hurdles ahead in convincing the village council – the Pulega a Alii ma Faipule, and she started from her family, then the village and to the wider district.
“You’ve got to have self-confidence and believing that you can do it,” said Ali’imalemanu.
She did all the necessary things and continued to render service to the village and district.
She also put in place a strategy that focused on securing that seat and her efforts paid off when she defeated 2 other women and 3 male candidates to become the first woman to hold the constituency’s parliamentary seat.
Three year plan pays off
Three years ago, Ali’imalemanu decided to stand for her district’s parliamentary seat with the purpose of serving the district.
But it was not easy because no woman had represented the district in parliament before.
She put a strategy in place and focused on it, and although there were many challenges which threatened her focus, but she pulled through and managed to direct her focus on the voters and her family.
“I believe only your family will stand to support you at times like this, and your service to the village and district will help boost your chances,” said Ali’imalemanu.
She first approached her family and laid out to them her wish to run in the election, and the family took her wish to the village council meeting.
“When my wish was first announced, I noticed that it was not easily accepted, but I continued to be present during the village meetings and let my voice be heard.”
Slowly she noticed the change in the men’s perspective on women, and it made her campaign with other women candidates easier.
She was also closely guided by her family and village elders who advised her on how to go about with her election campaign.
On equal rights of men and women
Born and raised in the village before moving for higher education in Apia, Ali’imalemanu is a traditionalist when it comes to equal rights and the promotion of gender equality.
“I do not believe in the promotion of equal rights because men and women share the same rights in every walk of life here in Samoa,” said Ali’imalemanu.
She refers to the Government and the private sector top positions now dominated by women.
She believes women’s lack of interest and the fact that “women do not want to compete with men” has given cause for international bodies to spearhead awareness programmes on gender equity, which she sees as being useful.
Ali’imalemanu firmly believes women have to step up and must make use of the available opportunities.
“I had no struggle competing with men because I go in believing that I can do it, and I am always confident of myself,” he emphasized.
Her advice to women is to “build your self-confidence, and never put yourself down.”
Ali’imalemanu believes Samoa has a lot of equal opportunities for men and women, compared to other countries, but the problem is the women themselves not taking up these opportunities.
Her challenge to women is “you can do anything if you believe in yourself.”
She believes that women should stand together and support other women and she sees the appointment of Fiamē Naomi Mata’afa, not only as Deputy Leader of the Human Rights Protection Party as a positive sign that women can excel to acquire higher positions and status, if they believe in themselves.
Plans for the district
There are many projects Ali’imalemanu hopes to develop for the district but she will seek the districts priorities first.
“I need to ask the district what they are prioritizing and then work from there,” she told Talamua.
She hopes to upgrade the districts school buildings, environment and the coastal area, and will also look at other developments that will help the district youth, but her first task, is to meet with the district.
Ali’imalemanu started working at Price Waterhouse Accounting & Auditing firm in Apia as an Accountant/Auditor for 2 years before she joined the Public Trust Corporation where she worked as a Chief Accountant for 13 years.
She later took up the post of Senior Accountant & Finance Manager at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji for 13 years, before joining the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) in Apia in 2002. She only resigned from PREP a couple of days before the elections.
Ali’imalemanu acknowledged Alataua West’s support and confidence in voting her as their Member of Parliament for the next 5 years, and also her cousin, former Cabinet Minister, Safuneitu’uga Pa’aga Neri who was her mentor as she prepared for the 2016 election.