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By Leitu Fereti in Suva

The Brown Girl Woke initiative hopes to continue empowering Samoan youth in fighting against the culture of silence over violence.

Founder Maluseu Doris Tulifau says it is essential to support young people in finding their voice and speaking out on these issues.

Tulifau, 29, launched the non-profit feminist organisation in the US in 2014, and used the platform to share her own experience as a survivor of violence. She worked in community development and human rights in California before moving to Samoa.

“I’m a survivor of sexual abuse and when I started to tell my story in America, I was already an activist promoting Pacific Islanders in higher education,” Tulifau said.

Brown Girl Woke founder Maluseu Tulifau
Brown Girl Woke founder Maluseu Tulifau (left) delivers supplies to families in Samoa. Image: Wansolwara

In 2018, she began the second chapter of Brown Girl Woke initiative in Samoa where she uncovered the culture of silence and factors that fueled this.

“There are many reasons a lot of us don’t reach that pedigree because of social issues, economic background and our environment around taboo issues and not speaking  out.

“I wanted to empower young women and men on these taboo issues in the community, especially on domestic violence and sexual abuse,” Tulifau said.

Suffering in silence
The organisation’s humble beginnings motivated her to create an environment of refuge for girls who were suffering in silence.

“I started Brown Girl Woke as a club university for girls to be a part of a support group, with the understanding that they would find solutions, understand patriarchy and why women don’t speak up,” she explained.

Today, Brown Girl Woke is working with primary and secondary schools to educate and create awareness on a range of social issue.

“We now run after school programmes that teach literary, safety kids, climate change, stem and more. We teach about human rights and as a feminist organisation, we also teach about systems that protect gender inequality,” said Tulifau.

“We now have two Brown Girl Woke clubs — at the National University of Samoa and The University of the South Pacific.”

The performing arts has also become a safe space for Brown Girl Woke to raise awareness and provide a voice for young people.

‘Shame or blame’
“We would conduct workshops using songs, dance, spoken word poetry and skits. This is the way to tell their story and feel safe and supported, and unmasking themselves without feeling shame or blame,” she said.

Aside from supporting those affected by violence, Tulifau and her group of activists at BGW have also been helping with a range of issues such as sexual health, youth development, mental health, as well as awareness on the representation of women in Parliament.

The teams have also helped children in intensive care, funding scholarships for undergraduate students and providing monthly groceries for families in need in the  country.

Tulifau acknowledged the many donations and contributions to their cause over the years.

Leitu Fereti of Samoa is a final-year journalism student at USP’s Laucala campus. She is also a reporter for Wansolwara, USP Journalism’s flagship student journalist training newspaper and online publication. Asia Pacific Report and Wansolwara collaborate.

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