Land Rights and Empowerment of Urban Women, Fa’afafine and Fakaleitī in Samoa and Tonga

Sumeo, Saunoamaali'i Karanina
Waring, Marilyn Joy
Fairbairn-Dunlop, Peggy
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

The thesis addresses significant gaps in the existing knowledge on land rights in the Pacific, which are the voices of urban women, fa’afafine, and fakaleitī1. The lands concerned are customary land in Samoa, and Crown owned land in Tonga. The knowledge in the thesis relates to human rights, dignity, gender equality, urban planning, empowerment, and land tenure.

The study used a methodological approach that is a combination of Critical Feminist Theory and a relational Pacific approach called Va. The Va-Critical Feminist combination holds concepts of diversity, multiple truths, dignity, and the pursuit of visibility for outsiders at its core. A feminist style enquiry was used during the face to face interviews and focus groups that were the main methods of enquiry for the study. Participants were recruited by referral from Auckland New Zealand, urban villages surrounding Apia, Samoa, and Nuku’alofa, Tonga.

The thematic analysis of the research data found that in urban Samoa and Tonga, living expenses regularly exceeded income. Consequently, secure rights to land were far more urgent than is recognised by local planners and governments. Secure land access was fundamental to individual empowerment and dignity in Pacific urban contexts, in the absence of finance, employment opportunities, cultural status, and class power. The landless victims of family violence and gender-based violence were more at risk of hardship and poverty than other groups. The urgency for secure land access was more pressing for Tongan women compared to fakaleitī, Samoan women, and fa’afafine. Fa’afafine and fakaleitī were also more likely to have secure access to land, not based on need, but because tradition favoured men for leadership roles and the control of land.

Land , Women , Fa'afafine , Fakaleitī , Va , Empowerment
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