Introduction

J: Halo olgeta, nem blong mi Jarah. Welkam long RoundTable Podcast. We created this space for Ni-Vanuatu women, like me, to speak freely on issues affecting us today. Let’s now beget life in the islands together. Join me as I speak to a new guest every episode and ask the questions you’ve always wanted to ask. Ale yumi storian. This project is made possible with the support of the WeRise Coalition and PACMAS.[Text Wrapping Break]

TRANSLATIONS: Hello everyone, my name is Jarah. Welcome to the RoundTable Podcast. We created this space for Ni-Vanuatu women, like me, to speak freely on issues affecting us today. Let’s now beget life in the islands together. Join me as I speak to a new guest every episode and ask the questions you’ve always wanted to ask. Let’s discuss. This project is made possible with the support of the WeRise Coalition and PACMAS.

Jarah (J): Welcome back to the RoundTable, I am here with our guest, Georgilla Worwor.

Georgilla (G): Hello Jarah how are you?

J: I’m good, how are you?

G: I am great, thank you for inviting me.

J: Yeah, you look really gorgeous today.

G: Thank you.

J: So, as you know in this episode, it’s about women in leadership roles. Now before we go on, right now in Vanuatu there isn’t much women holding leadership roles in the country as a whole. Although we’ve seen many changes in the past decade with 1 out of 5 director generals female, more women are coming into the executive management roles within the private sector. But, female leadership is still hard to find within the communities where it really matters. In saying that, we celebrate the election of woman parliamentarian Honorable Gloria Julia King after nearly a decade long all male parliament. Vanuatu has made history with one of the youngest females elected into politics at the age of 25 years old, Municipal Counselor Melanie Shem. But, do you believe, like many people in our country right now, that we have achieved gender equality?

G: You know what Jarah, I really want to say that we have, but I cannot. I really can’t say that we have achieved gender equality. I’d be lying to myself, I’d be lying about the situations within this country.

J: What are the reasons why you would say that we have not yet achieved gender equality?

G: The reasons are many, but from my work I can say that, one, 60% of women in Vanuatu experience domestic violence and intimate partner violence at 68%. And when we have these reports, these statistics, it shows that women in Vanuatu are not living fully dignified lives where they can contribute to this country.

J: That’s true.

G: And also, as well as this, the United Nations conducted a survey a couple of years ago and it showed that within the economic participation of everyone in this country, most women have assets that are controlled by men or their husbands. So, just the ownership, women lack ownership in this country, so we can’t say that we have fully achieved gender equality, own land, own whatever that is rightfully theirs and yeah, so I’m just not able to say that we have achieved gender equality.

J: That is true. Now a lot of times our upbringing shapes our beliefs, values and who we can then become. I’ve heard that you have quite an interesting one. Would you love to share?

G: Ok, well now that you’ve asked. So Jarah I grew up in Blacksand, if you don’t know where that is, that’s a village next to Wan Smolbag. So I grew up there, and I grew up in a single parent household because my mum at that time ran away from me and my dad and so I was raised with a present father figure. And having been raised by a father figure has taught me some really important values, has shaped me and I’m glad that I was raised by my dad because he showed me that I am his equal and just having his strength of character and observing that as a child, it’s made me feel like I could take on the world. And then I was fortunate enough to have come from a rural part of Port Vila and gone to the most privileged school at Port Vila International School. Most of the time that I was there, I spent I think nearly 10 years of my life there.

J: Wow, that’s a lot.

G: Approximately, and I was there partly on scholarship. So I’ve been given opportunities that many of the young girls in Vanuatu who have come from where I came from, wouldn’t have been given. So I’m fortunate for that and being at the Port Vila International School has taught me a lot, shaped my character. I was taught by teachers who influenced my perception of the world, who taught me that there is more than just what I knew and from my small locality. So a lot of my, I think I’d have to say that my leadership journey began at the Port Vila International School and it just continued and I’m glad that it did.

J: Wow, that is really inspiring. Now today’s episode really aims to draw the lense into young women in leadership, and with you being one of the young women paving their way into leadership, I’d like to ask can the next girl, like yourself, become the next Gloria Julia King and Melanie Shem?

G: That’s a very deep question. Now I can’t answer for every young girl in Vanuatu, but I can say that with the environment that we have where kastom plays a really strong role and religion has its influence, it would be harder for young women to enter positions of leadership. As for Honorable Gloria Julia King and Counselor Melanie Shem, I can’t speak on their behalf, but I would hope that they’ve had inspirations in their life where they’ve gone, “hey yeah I can step into leadership”. I can’t say that that is the case for another girl, say in Tanna or Aneityum or Wuro Village in Ambrym, I can’t say that they have these opportunities and I’d have to say that their environment would need to be allowing for them to participate. So I think to answer your question, can we then have the next MP Gloria Julia King and the next municipal counselor female? We would have to create enabling environments within all area counsels, all areas in Vanuatu. That’s a lot of work.

J: Yes that is true.

G: And it would have to happen now.

J: Yeah.

G: We cannot wait. Because if not now, when?

J: That is true. Now, I’d like to say that Vanuatu appointed 6 women as directors in 6 respective government departments and one of these women is occupying the position of Commissioner of Labour, Mrs Murielle Meltenoven is marking a milestone in the history of Vanuatu. Along with many women like Dorothy Erickson Director of Finance and Treasury, Rothina Ilo Noka the Director General of the Ministry of Justice and Community Service, Esline Garaebiti Director of VMGD, Anne-Rose Tjiobang Director of Treasury and Training, and Donna Kalfatak Director of Environment Protection and Conservation. These women, among 36 directors, well 15 of them are former directors who have been reappointed to their position and 21 are new while some of the women previously occupied these positions on an acting basis, it would seem to be that female leadership can only be legitimate in the eyes of many if it were on an acting basis or whereby this leadership shadows that of the man. And I wonder if it is hard to gain legitimacy or respect if you were younger women. What are some experiences that you have faced on a personal level in your leadership journey?

G: That’s a great question. I think for one, my style of leadership has changed from when I first came into leadership roles, and that’s from Port Vila International School. But I think another thing here is that my environment has influenced the type of leadership style I had. So back when I was at PVIS, of course the environment was different, female leadership was encouraged. And I like to believe that I had very strong leadership, and then moving out of PVIS and coming into the Port Vila community where the environment is different, has at first kind of pushed me in a way to change my style of leadership to suit or adapt to what was accepted. And now, as I grew into the person I’m becoming, I am able to be myself, I can bring my personality into my leadership role, and I am more ‘take it or leave it’ really. As long as I get the job done, as long as I do something when I’m in the position to do so, and that’s what counts.

J: That’s the spirit Georgilla. It is what most women need. Now being a young woman or an activist with strong opinions, I know you have that.

G: Yes, very much.

J: Were the environments you were around able to accept you as a leader? Can you speak on this, and if not what are some challenges you have faced?

G: Ok, well that’s a heavy topic. As a young woman, I’m often expected to be nicer, more of the nurturing type and to have a more of a cooperative streak. And these were all important in leadership, but while, I’d say for my male counterpart or a male person that I know that holds a similar leadership role than me, like myself, would be praised for taking a charged attitude. Whereas if I had that same attitude, I’d be considered too bossy or too abrasive for having the same behavior as the man, and yet we accept men as leaders. It’s confusing, why is it that it’s this way?

J: I’ve got personal issues that actually relate to this, and women can actually relate because right now in this society when a man happens to shout or hemi take charge, like you said, and he becomes, he’s establishing dominance, you can see that “oh yes that’s a leader”. But once a woman starts to shout, o hemi oderem wan man blong mekem hemia, she is considered hysterical, that is true.

TRANSLATIONS: I’ve got personal issues that actually relate to this, and women can actually relate because right now in this society when a man happens to shout or she takes charge, like you said, and he becomes, he’s establishing dominance, you can see that “oh yes that’s a leader”. But once a woman starts to shout, or orders someone to do something, she is considered hysterical, that is true.

G: I can’t sit here and say that’s not true because I’ve experienced it and I’ve seen it amongst friends. And I’ve seen it when we, amongst the young women that I know who have the, who are the nurturing, really soft, kind-hearted women and they get put into leadership roles mostly because they have a man there that’s to say, supporting her into that leadership role.

J: Yes, that is true.

G: They have an instigator that goes “oh bae mi mi ilektem yu ale yu bae yu go stanap”, it’s not the “I choose to stand, I choose to go for this position because I want to be a leader”.
TRANSLATIONS: They have an instigator that goes “Oh I will elect you so you can contest”, it’s not the “I choose to stand, I choose to go for this position because I want to be a leader”.

J: Yes, that is true.

G: It is more so that they get pushed into it because they are, what we’d say, the accepted woman for the position.

J: Interesting points you’re making. Now there was a similar article or statement on an article referencing Jennifer Kalpokas of Balance of Power, another phenomenal woman, on certain types of leadership. Now, where it talks about the types of leadership roles commonly held by women in Vanuatu, women in Vanuatu are normally leaders in churches and homes. Jennifer Kalpokas Doan stated on 8th April 2021 that, and I quote, “Today we decide on what is socially acceptable according to our Melanesian cultural and Christian values because it gives us a sense of belonging”. We each have a role to play and either individually or in communities, but due to these changes and options, we now have another woman leader in parliament, and we have had leaders in the parliament but we’re not able to maintain and yeah, we were not able to maintain them until now. Honourable Julia King, the only female member of the parliament after 12 years, Myriam Seth Toalak for being the only female, and I repeat, female Director for 3 years of the Ministry of Agriculture.

G: Yeah, I think right now too there are more female directors and I don’t know when this article was published, but I’m pretty sure that the numbers have increased. And like Jennifer Radley said that due to these changes and opinions, and due to the efforts of activist groups, women’s groups, we are now able to see changes where changes need to be made. We now have a woman in parliament after nearly 10 years of an all male parliament, so that’s progress. But then again like Jennifer says we need to maintain it.

J: That is true.

G: We need to see the next Gloria Julia King. We need to see more women into parliament, entering parliament. So, but when we look at these efforts done, we have to admit that women have had to work harder for the milestones that they’ve created.

J: Yes, for sure.

G: And the practice of not regarding women as competent in the same way we view men in leadership, still exists.

J: Yes, I’m not going to go against that. That is true.

G: And in vast amounts, across the breadth and width of this country, in kastom, in religion, from island to island. So these internalized ideas are placed on young girls, and as an effect of that, we have gone to create women of this country who believe that it is their role to stay back home, to nurture, to speak less, who then end up seeing leadership as something that they cannot step into. And if we’re arguing that “oh well women are just not participating”, but we’re creating their lack of participation. And that’s why like I’ve told you before, we need to start creating enabling environments.

J: It depends, like as you said previously, the way you were raised builds who you are now, and I feel like this is what we need in society, encouraging parents

G: We need father figures,

J: Yes.

G: To get behind us. We need father’s who have daughters who show potential of leadership to go “yeah, you go ahead, you go and you speak, you try out for that position”. We need a collective effort, not just from partners and NGOs, yumi nid blong luk save long komuniti, long haos hold blong yumi se hemi wan samting we sista blong yu save mekem, aunty blong yu i save mekem. Sapos yumi luk se wan man, regardless of whether or not oli gel o boy, oli save mekem, oli save influencem wan grup of people, and they should lead.

TRANSLATIONS: To get behind us. We need father’s who have daughters who show potential of leadership to go “yeah, you go ahead, you go and you speak, you try out for that position”. We need a collective effort, not just from partners and NGOs, we need to recognize this in our communities and households that this is something our sisters can do, something our aunties can do. If we look at someone, regardless of whether or not they are a girl or a boy, they too can do it, they can influence a group of people, and they should lead.

J: Yeah that is true.

G: They should be allowed to.

J: I feel like what you said is actually true, we’ve been reflecting on that for years. Multiple women, they have stood long ol ileksen blong municipal kaonsela, but none of them got in. And some of them might, but majority of them, kaen ia it’s been a while gogo Melanie Shem, she became a municipal counselor at the age of 25, which is mind-blowing. Now, we’ve talked about some of your experiences that you faced as a young woman navigating spaces of leadership, and you were able to list out the stakes for the girl listening to this podcast who aspires to be a leader herself. What are the stakes of a young woman pursuing leadership?

TRANSLATIONS: I feel like what you said is actually true, we’ve been reflecting on that for years. Multiple women have stood in the elections for municipal counselor, but none of them got in. And some of them might, but majority of them, of course it’s been a while until Melanie Shem, she became a municipal counselor at the age of 25, which is mind-blowing. Now, we’ve talked about some of your experiences that you faced as a young woman navigating spaces of leadership, and you were able to list out the stakes for the girl listening to this podcast who aspires to be a leader herself. What are the stakes of a young woman pursuing leadership?

G: So the stakes for young women pursuing leadership would be that you’d have to combat the age dynamic. So if you are younger than most of the people that you are leading, it’s going to be very difficult if I don’t know that beforehand.

J: That is true.

G: So as well as that, if you’re young, female and you’re leading that group of persons, there’s an added resistance.

J: True.

G: And these are what we call power dynamics. There are different power dynamics from groups to groups, but if you’re leading a group of men and you’re a young woman, it is going to be difficult. And I’ve experienced that myself, at my workplace

J: Yes.

G: And around. As well as this, younger women in leadership will also have to, sort of, come into contact with older generation styles of leadership that women from older generations exhibit

J: Yes.

G: that are different than the styles of leadership amongst the young women of today especially.

J: That is true.

G: And then there’s the other issue of other women bickering, other women not happy about your position.

J: Yes!

G: Jealousy amongst women. I mean, we’re here we’re talking about barriers upon young women in leadership, but we’ve got to notice and we’ve got to acknowledge that women are other women’s biggest barriers. We need to really unite.

J: Yes!

G: I think on top of it, on top of the list that I’ve mentioned,

J: Yeah?

G: As a whole, younger women have more to prove.

J: True.

G: Because you’re young. The conception is, you don’t know much, yu jes stap kam nomo.
TRANSLATIONS: Because you’re young. The conception is, you don’t know much, you’re new you just came.

J: That is true.

G: So we have more to prove. But I’d encourage any young woman listening to this podcast right now to not back out, to continue to show up and to continue to show your worth, in any way you can you just get up and you just get going.

J: That is true. So, do you have any advice for young women who will or may have encountered these problems already?

G: My advice to anyone who wants to follow this path that I’m following and who sorely wants to see that things change, would be to stay in your truth, to not change for anyone and to have courage to do something that another person would not be able to do. Because I think that type of leadership speaks volumes and that type of leadership creates change. And if you’re here and you want to create change, then this is your time, and this is your place, but you must stand up for something or you’ll fall for everything, like that saying goes.

J: Wow, such inspiration! That is true. Now that we have these upcoming women in leadership, both young and elderly, what are the types of leadership we want to see, because you can be a leader and not do anything or you can be a leader but you’re doing this job for somebody else or you have someone higher than you that yu yu mekem wok but you’re not getting credit for it.

TRANSLATIONS: Wow, such inspirations! That is true. Now that we have these upcoming women in leadership, both young and elderly, what are the types of leadership we want to see, because you can be a leader and not do anything or you can be a leader but you’re doing this job for somebody else or you have someone higher than that you’re doing the work but you’re not getting credit for it.

G: Yeah. So I think, I mean I don’t have the solution to everything but my advice really is that I pick the leadership style that suits me best and it suits what I have to give and that can, sort of, sound an alarm. And that style of leadership is transformational leadership. If anyone’s listening and going “what the hell is that?”, it’s a type of leadership that causes change in individuals or in social systems. So the fundamental idea being that it wants to create good values, right values, the right sort of values among people or a group of people. And then as an extension of that style of leadership to encourage them to action out positive change, so really what transformational leadership styles can bring is that it can create followers into leaders themselves. And I think that that’s my style of leadership, it’s a style that I’ve grown to discover in activism, because you’re really wanting people to get behind the same issue that you sorely want to see change.

J: And to be able to achieve this, in having women leaders who come into their positions and to change things and to do better things, what do you think we, as a society, need to do or consider?

G: I think we, as a society, should think that the high expectations that we place on women must be the same expectations that we place on men whom we consider leaders.

J: True.

G: For example, you think that the expectation you’re placing on your male boss or the chief in you community is too high, and if you think that way then don’t go around expecting so much from women to deliver considering all that women already do for your household, for your church, for the growth of this community, the nation as a whole. As well as this, I think we need to be able to judge people based on their character, and it’s something I’ve said many times before, in any time I get to express where I stand to judge people based on their character and principles.

J: That is true.

G: But not on their background, whether or not she does this on the weekend or she’s a single mum with kids, smokes or drinks kava, goes out too much, because that’s got nothing to do with the type of person she is, that’s got nothing to do with what she’ll do if she were given a position to impact the lives of others. And it’s got nothing to do with her intelligence, her kindness and whether or not she can lead, it really doesn’t. Olsem fulap long ol man Vanuatu oli likem certain type of woman.

TRANSLATIONS: But not on their background, whether or not she does this on the weekend or she’s a single mum with kids, smokes or drinks kava, goes out too much, because that’s got nothing to do with the type of person she is, that’s got nothing to do with what she’ll do if she were given a position to impact the lives of others. And it’s got nothing to do with her intelligence, her kindness and whether or not she can lead, it really doesn’t. A lot of men in Vanuatu like certain types of women.

J: True.

G: Hemia hemi aplae even moa sapos woman ia i stap long wan lidasip posisen. So if that type of woman is in a leadership position and she smokes or she drinks kava or alcohol, then the perception would change.

TRANSLATIONS: This applies even more if a woman holds a leadership position. So if that type of woman is in a leadership position and she smokes or she drinks kava or alcohol, then the perception would change.

J: Change as people see women as nurturers and sapos yu yu wan lida we yu yu happen go karem wan lidasip role, wan woman we hemi wan lida, evri wan bae oli luk ap long yu and all the small mistakes that you make, that you pointed out…

TRANSLATIONS: Change as people see women as nurturers and if you are a leader who happens to be in a leadership role, a woman that is a leader, everyone will look up to you and all the small mistakes that you make, that you pointed out…

G: But then again, we know men leaders who do smoke, who do drink kava.

J: Yes!

G: And in the masses, do we say anything about them?

J: No.

G: No, because what matters is just what they do for this country, for the good of the people that they serve.

J: Yeah.

G: And that should be the same for women. Also I think one more thing that I’d like to see in society as a whole is, I’m going to say this because there is so much respect for our elderly generation of women and they’ve got so much more power and influence than us younger ones in our own capacity. So I would like to see that they hold a hand out for us, the younger generation of women. I’d like to see that the older generation of women lend a hand out to us in speaking on issues that affect the younger generation of women, whether that’s healthcare or gender based violence, sexual assault, domestic violence, rape, incest, teen pregnancy, the list goes on, but younger women really need that support and we need a different sense of, I think, just support from our older generation of women. Because maybe the way we go about in, say enabling change is different, because we all want the same thing and that’s change, but the way we go about it is different. Some of us may really push against the grain and others have a more smoother approach.

J: Yes, that is true.

G: In the end, really we both want the same thing and we both want things to change.

J: Now with all that being said, what do you think is what we need to see amongst women in leadership roles as they are setting the tone to take us into the next era of women’s movement?

G: I think, I for one want to see less passive leadership amongst women. I want to see that the situation where a woman leader who is not directly involved in decision making but is still contributing or leading an organization, that kind of stuff, because we want women to take a front seat, we need to say to women to stop taking a back seat and we need to encourage women to take front seats with leading roles. And we need men, honestly because we can’t progress if it’s just us having this conversation with women. We need men, good men, to help push and empower women in leadership roles, not just in Vanuatu but in the Pacific as a whole. I think what I want to see personally is transformative leadership, and this is what it looks like. It’s “I’m here in this leadership role because I want to walk away having made a difference, having made a certain impact. I don’t just want to come here, sit in this position and then leave. I want to come here, do something that changes things for the better”. And I hope that this is what we want to see in Vanuatu, I hope that we want good change, I hope that men and women can help each other to lead and to inspire. That’s what I really want to see for this country, I want to see that we take ourselves into the next decade, we start making history and we start making moves, us women with the help of men. That’s what I want.

J: Georgilla, that was very inspiring. I would also like to thank you for coming.

G: Thank you for having me.

J: Our conversation today was very insightful and I hope the people listening to this episode leave knowing how important it is to have women in leadership positions and how their leadership style can impact the way things work. It’s also important for us to understand that there are barriers women face in these positions, especially young women like Georgilla, for instance, having to jump through hoops just to get their voice heard and having to get the support from men in order to even reach these leadership roles. These are just a few of many other barriers we spoke about in this episode. Georgilla, thank you so much for sharing your experience, your thoughts on this topic, your advice to other aspiring women who see themselves taking leadership roles whether it’s in their community, their workspace or to help govern this country. I would also like to take a moment to just acknowledge the fact that after 14 years, yumi woman Vanuatu yumi gat wan reprisentatif we hemi stap long palamen naoia. Her appointment as an Honorable member of the parliament and third Deputy Speaker, is a true testament to the need for more women in leadership roles and for more young women to see that if they truly dedicate their mind and energy, they too can become leaders in important spaces to generate positive change. I’d like to end this episode with a quote from Chief Motarilavoa Hilda Lini which states that “We fought for Vanuatu to become a democracy, and if we want to make democracy a reality, then we need to include everyone in decision making, both men and women. Let’s build Vanuatu together”. Once again, thank you Georgilla and thank you to everyone who’s listening.

TRANSLATIONS: Our conversation today was very insightful and I hope the people listening to this episode leave knowing how important it is to have women in leadership positions and how their leadership style can impact the way things work. It’s also important for us to understand that there are barriers women face in these positions, especially young women like Georgilla, for instance, having to jump through hoops just to get their voice heard and having to get the support from men in order to even reach these leadership roles. These are just a few of many other barriers we spoke about in this episode. Georgilla, thank you so much for sharing your experience, your thoughts on this topic, your advice to other aspiring women who see themselves taking leadership roles whether it’s in their community, their workspace or to help govern this country. I would also like to take a moment to just acknowledge the fact that after 14 years, the women in Vanuatu now have a representative that is in the parliament. Her appointment as an honorable member of the parliament and third Deputy Speaker, is a true testament to the need for more women in leadership roles and for more young women to see that if they truly dedicate their mind and energy, they too can become leaders in important spaces to generate positive change. I’d like to end this episode with a quote from Chief Motarilavoa Hilda Lini which states that “We fought for Vanuatu to become a democracy, and if we want to make democracy a reality, then we need to include everyone in decision making, both men and women. Let’s build Vanuatu together”. Once again, thank you Georgilla and thank you to everyone who’s listening.

J: If you guys who are listening, you want to hear more, check out our page on Sista Vanuatu either on Instagram, Facebook, or hear more on unspoken topics stay tuned on our website at www.sista.com.vu. This is Jarah, make sure to tune in to the next episode on the RoundTable.