Women and girls globally experience high rates of domestic violence from men and boys – in their homes, their communities, their workplaces – it can happen anywhere.

To commemorate the ‘International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women’, a silent march to commence the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign in Vanuatu was held on Wednesday 25th November at Port Vila town to shed light on the ongoing violence and abuse that women and girls are facing each day.

Included in the program was the official launch of the Vanuatu Women’s Centre (VWC) 161 Toll-Free Help Line, which is free of charge and offers free counselling, referral and support services to women and children survivors of domestic violence.

Director General of the Ministry of Justice and Community Services, Dorosday Kenneth Watson said there is a need to promote respect between women and men and most importantly, to stand up and speak out against domestic violence in society.

“An extraordinary accomplishment was made with the launching of the Vanuatu Women’s Centre 161 Toll-Free Help Line which is now open to anyone willing to speak out and seek help,” she said.

“This line is safe and protected and if you are a victim or survivor of abuse you can call in at any time, share your concerns and receive the help you need. The establishment of this free call help line is in line with the Government’s plan of decentralization and achieving the National Sustainable Development Plan which is to expand all available and essential services to rural areas in Vanuatu.”

Leader of the Opposition, Ralph Regenvanu added, “We are 40 and with maturity we must have respect for everyone and one another. I will refer to the words of the late Father Walter Lini that respect is honorable, and this is the talk of maturity. We must respect everyone.

“We must respect ourselves. Every friend, mother, sister, daughter, aunty, son, father, uncle deserves the same respect and we should not commit violence against them, hurt them or kill them.”

VWC Acting Coordinator, Tatavola Matas said the reasons for Vanuatu to keep advocating to end violence against women and girls are:

1. The Vanuatu Women’s Centre and its branches and networks see more than 5,000 clients each year (women, girls and boys).

2. The Court Report for 2019 recorded 890 domestic violence cases filed at the Magistrate’s Court.

3. The 2020 offenders census by the Vanuatu Correctional Services shows that 40% of inmates were convicted for offences against morality compared to 23% in 2018. From 2015-2019, offences against morality (sexual offences) remain high compared to other offences.

4. There is still negative portrayal of women and girls in social media, including women and girls being victims of cyber bullying.

5. In the 2020 March Election, no women were voted into Parliament.

“The 16-days of Activism advocates against discrimination in our homes, in communities, in workplaces and in all islands of Vanuatu,” Ms Matas said.

She added, “No one is above the law, seek help if needed and respect yourself always. The 161 Toll Free Help Line provides counselling services, information and is also used as a referral pathway. In certain islands, people cannot access the police but VWC has a network that we can use to reach the police in remote areas.”

The New Zealand High Commissioner, Jonathan Schwass, said there are many ways to tackle violence and it requires everyone’s help.

“We need to comprehend and acknowledge that violence against women and girls is really happening, that way we can find solutions and one of the solutions is the launch of the 161 Toll-Free Help Line.”

Australian High Commissioner Sarah De Zoeten said, “It is important that VWC has a free call number like other essential services such as the police, paramedics and hospital. This is a shared challenge that we face together. We must stand up strong together and support women and girls to say “No” to any forms of violence.”

Other events in the program included poetry and songs performed by students from Port Vila International School on their views about ending violence against women and girls in Vanuatu and the launch of the Sista and CARE “Rispek hemi honorabol” campaign, in partnership with the Department of Women’s Affairs and other gender equality partners, explaining what they do to eliminate violence against women and girls, including a video from the President of Vanuatu.

The launch of the 16 Days of Activism Campaign and 161 Toll Free Help Line is supported by the Pacific Partnership to End Violence Against Women and Girls (Pacific Partnership), funded primarily by the European Union, and the Governments of Australia and New Zealand, and UN Women.

The Pacific Partnership brings together governments, civil society organisations, communities and other partners to promote gender equality, prevent violence against women and girls and increase access to quality response services for survivors.

For more information on the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence, contact the Department of Women’s Affairs or visit the Vanuatu Ministry of Justice and Community Services and ‘Stanap Strong Akensem Vaelens Vanuatu’ Facebook pages.