Celebrating women in leadership from the agriculture and fisheries sector
Apia, SAMOA — Pursuing a purpose nearly always leads to having the courage to make a deliberate choice in following the road less travelled, as Samoa’s principal fisheries officer, Su’a Sapeti Tiitii would tell you.
When Su’a first entered the Fisheries division in Samoa’s Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF) fresh from graduating with a diploma in Environment Resources Management from New Zealand in 2000, the first thing she noticed about her work environment was she was the only female in the office, yet she knew without a doubt – she belonged there.
“I’ve always been interested in environmental science starting from college where I studied biology and geography which got me interested in the eco system especially mangroves eco systems. I knew very early on, this was the area I wanted to pursue and there was a need for this expertise in Samoa so when I came home I was placed in fisheries and it suited me very well.”
“When I was first placed in fisheries, my first impression was it was a male dominant environment but I thank God I got the chance to be placed there. The general perception about this field is it’s about “fishing” and fishing is regarded as work performed by men but our work in here is very far from that belief. For any job or work, there always needs to be a woman because we are natural managers and problem solvers”
Su’a started out working in a community based management program to help them manage their fisheries and marine resources and in that time, her passion grew to serve her people facing difficulties in sustaining food security and livelihoods.
“Working with people is what motivates me to do this job.” She said “Managing resources requires managing the users and it’s important to help our people understand that their actions make an impact on the fisheries resources and marine environment which could affect the future generations. We’re talking about food security and livelihoods and with most of our people residing in the coast, it’s crucial for them to understand that these are our shared primary resources and it’s about their future as well.”
Harnessing her full potential in the early stages of her career, Su’a pursued an undergraduate degree at Southern Cross University, Australia in 2003 and completed a Bachelor in Applied Science. Last year she completed the John Allwright Executive Fellowship from ACIAR and achieved her Masters of Science in Marine Science and Aquaculture from the University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia. Her research topic was on Edible Seaweeds of Samoa which looks at the cultural value, nutritional benefits and consumer preferences of edible seaweeds in Samoa and will be published later this year.
Su’a is an unstoppable trailblazer who has established her mark as a leader and role model for girls and women over a 20 year career, drawing her strength and style of leadership from the example of the women in her family and community.
“My strength in management roles comes from my culture because the traditional role of women in Samoa is usually to smooth things out as well as manage and organise resources and our families” she explains.
“As women in Samoa, we have our own type of fishing activities such as picking shell fish and harvesting the seaweed while the males have their own fishing methods and activities to carry out. So when it comes down to decision making and developing policies and strategies and management plans – we women have our voice too.”
She added, “Fisheries is a male dominated area and I remember when I first got the scholarship to Australia, the panel asked me how will I overcome being in a male dominated career. I responded ‘if you do your work well to the best of your ability and apply what you have learnt with confidence – no one will question you.”
“Doing your work well” requires Su’a to her to get her hands’ wet and often joins her team for underwater expeditions to collect data; a move that draws a few confused looks from the male elders because it’s considered very physical and dangerous work but Su’a explains that it’s important for her to get first-hand experience.
“Whenever out team are heading into the sea, the older men always invite me to sit in the fale with them because it’s strange for them to see a bigger woman go to work in the sea.” She said “My weight has never stopped me from going out in the boat and into the ocean to collect data because my philosophy is; I need to go out to see everything for myself in order to write a report to ensure that it’s accurate to the best of my ability and when I brief the Minister or the ACEO - they know I’m speaking from first-hand experience.”