The Vanuatu Fisheries Department (VFD) hosted its first ever Women in Fisheries Forum (WiFF) on the 26th and 27th March 2024, in Port Vila.

Over 40 people were gathered, including representatives from Government departments, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), as well as community representatives from Efate.

Supported by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations’ (FAO) Adaptive Fisheries Management project, and the Australian government under VFD’s Pathways project.

The Forum aimed to enable women who are active in fisheries value chains (as fishers, marketing marine products, aquaculture, resource management) to share their success stories of how they overcame challenges, poverty or built their business (pearl, fish and mud crab farming) to better support themselves and their families.

It also provided an opportunity for the women to connect with local partners and Government service providers and to create a platform for exchange and learning.

It was an opportunity for the voices of women fishers, fish workers and other stakeholders involved in fisheries development to be heard (such as women farmers and Vanua Tai) as they shared their own stories and raised their concerns and needs as advocates of change.

Access to information and formal education was identified as powerful way to support women in fisheries among other things.

Ms Leisavi Joel, Chairlady of the Havanna Tasi Vanua network and Vanua Tai monitor said, “Where there is information there is development”.

This was also emphasised by the Mrs. Seman Saraken from the Department of Women’s Affairs.

Mrs. Mary Navaika, from the Vanuatu Women in Maritime Association highlighted that this is not only needed for women in communities, but also within organisations here in Port Vila, to ensure fairness and equity is maintained with fisheries officers, and other Government staff.

The creation of a Vanuatu Women in Fisheries network was overall applauded, and greatly celebrated. Ms Josephine Rambay, VFD’s Principal Aquaculture Officer said, “Participating in this forum has enabled (the women) to realise that they are playing an important role and participating in the development, conservation and management of fisheries resources in their own communities”.

The Director of the VFD, Mr. William Naviti, stated in his opening remarks at the Forum that, “this is the first WiFF and not the last”.

Participants shared the hope that such Forum could be hosted regularly, creating a platform to share experiences, concerns and think of innovative ways to remain resilient in the face of the many challenges faced by communities in all provinces of Vanuatu.

Future forums should aim to extend their invitations to representatives from communities in all provinces of Vanuatu, to ensure women’s voices from all islands are heard and taken into account.