The stories shared today are a reminder that gender equality is part of everything being done for a prosperous and resilient society.

The above statement was made by the Australian High Commission (AHC) on International Women’s Day (IWD) 2024, as Australia and Vanuatu celebrated the diversity and determination of women.

The AHC partnered with the Mataskelekele, Lynch and Sope families to host the annual IWD Awards event on Friday 8 March.

This year the initiative introduced the new Mildred Sope Award for Creative Storytelling in partnership with the Sope Family, to honour the late Mildred Sope, who played an important role in developing Vanuatu’s creative space.

Australian High Commissioner Heidi Bootle said while there were only three awards on the day, all the nominations showcased the courage, strength, and compassion of ni-Vanuatu women.

“This year’s nominees exemplify leadership values and are role models for all around them. They are our unsung heroes, diligently working to affect change for the better,” said High Commissioner Bootle.

“Vanuatu and Australia work together to promote gender equality across all sectors; whether empowering women engineers in infrastructure or creating more opportunities for women in business. Gender equality is essential for resilient and healthy communities.”

Three strong women leaders received awards for their outstanding leadership in Vanuatu.

Ms Lyn Rose Tule received the 2024 Hanson Mataskelekele Award for Women in Leadership. She was instrumental in setting up the Vanuatu Women’s Centre (VWC) in TORBA Province in 2010 and helped to establish the MALAMPA Counselling Centre.

As one of the longest serving staff of the VWC, she is recognised as a role model and leader for her passion for community work and commitment to ending violence against women and children.

“I encourage all women in different levels of society to stand strong against issues they face in their lives; to stand for their rights and to continue to stand up for other women who cannot stand up for themselves,” said Ms Tule.

Mrs. Helen Naupa was awarded the 2024 Andy Lynch Award for Excellence in the Community Sector.

She has over 30 years of advocacy for women’s rights in both national and provincial governments and the NGO sector. She helped to develop the Vanuatu Government’s women’s affairs unit and was the main drafter for Vanuatu’s inaugural Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) shadow Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) report in 2008.

She is recognised for her leadership in enhancing social inclusion and utilising kastom and culture in the transformational developments on Erromango.

“I want to wish all women in Vanuatu a Happy International Women’s Day. Wherever we are, we are strong women, whether you stay at home, work in an office, work in the garden, or are in business. I encourage us all to continue to base our communication on respect, humility and honour no matter who we work with,” said Mrs. Naupa.

The inaugural winner of the 2024 Mildred Sope Award for Creative Story telling was awarded to Ms Anna Naupa. An avid reader of Erromangoan and English heritage, Anna is the creator and convenor of the group who created the first illustrated children’s book of nonfiction ‘Taf Tumas! Different Journeys, One People’, and co-founder of Haus Storian which was launched during the 7th Melanesian Arts and Cultural Festival in 2023.

She never stops writing, whether for herself or for general, academic or Erromangan audiences and is recognised for her contribution to oral storytelling and literature.

Ms Naupa said: “Writing is about collaboration and connection with readers, fellow writers and with the past, present and the future.”

The awards event yesterday was attended by First Lady of the Republic of Vanuatu, Mrs. Rima Vurobaravu, Member of Parliament (MP) Gloria Julia King, Director General of Justice, Mr. Arthur Faerua, dignitaries and friends.

Since 2012, these awards have marked Vanuatu and Australia’s shared commitment to promote and empower women and girls working across all sectors of Vanuatu society whether in health, education, community development, humanitarian response, disability inclusion and the arts.