When Leah Lowonbu finished high school, her goal was to study for a career in the medical field. Instead she found herself dealing with an unexpected pregnancy and raising her daughter alone in a rented one-room apartment.
Little did she know that years later she would be part of a national team serving the nation – not as a doctor, but as a journalist.
“Life was hard,” she says of her time as a young mother.
“I wanted to study but I had other responsibilities.”
With her parents’ support, Leah enrolled in the Vanuatu Institute of Technology (VIT) and completed a diploma in journalism.
After freelancing for the now defunct Vanuatu Independent newspaper, Leah got an internship at the Vanuatu Broadcasting Television Corporation (VBTC) and is now one of the rising star journalists at the national broadcaster.
“I am happy for how everything turned out,” says Leah, who is based in the capital of Port Vila.
What comes to mind when you think of the Pacific? The rhetoric usually centres on happiness and holidays, cocktails by the beach and the cordial welcome received from locals wherever one may travel. The shout of Bula in Fiji, a Welkam in Vanuatu, or a Malo e lelei in Tonga. While that story does indeed ring true for many, there is another story that needs to be told: the work of an incredible cohort across the region working to combat, and end, all forms of violence against women. The Pacific region has some of the highest rates of violence against women in the world, with up to 68 percent of women having reported experiencing physical or sexual violence by a partner in their lifetime. This figure is more than twice the global average. Pacific Women Lead’s 2021 National Survey on Women’s Lives and Family Relationships evidenced amongst those women who have ever had an intimate sexual relationship with a partner in Vanuatu: 60 percent had experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime 68 percent had experienced emotional violence 28 percent were subjected to several forms of control by their partner 69 percent experienced at least one form of coercive control, and most of these were continuing to live lives involving physical and sexual violence Women are constantly at risk of violence and threats, regardless of where they are. Women are not safe on the streets, in their homes, at work, in places of study, places of worship, or places of recreation. Any small change is a step in the right direction The global Spotlight Initiative to eliminate violence against women and girls is a United Nations joint initiative supported by the European Union and other partners. The Spotlight Initiative in the Pacific focuses its work on four key pillars: Policy and legislation Institutions Prevention Data A comprehensive approach is being implemented within the Pacific nations through the targeting of multiple settings for change such as the education sector, government, churches, the justice sector, and civil society organisations (CSOs), and by working across a variety of levels of the socio-ecological model. UNDP’s support to Vanuatu via the Spotlight Initiative sees it working with small, grassroots organisations – making an impact from the ground up. Through the establishment of a grantee program, UNDP Pacific has undertaken a second phase and partnered with six grassroots organisations on empowering women in rural communities, initiating a range of activities that, in many cases, support service provision, innovative solutions and engagement activities that aim to provide information and basic services to those who otherwise lack access. These grants go a long way and have made significant impact thus far, with the program also identifying those grassroots organisations who have the capacity to engage communities nationwide in the provision of justice, health, and economic support services to survivors of intimate partner violence. However, in Vanuatu, it is a far greater challenge to change this deeply ingrained behaviour; it is the kind of change that requires more than the delivery of an awareness session in a small community, or within the nakamal, should deep, long-lasting behavioural change occur. The way we now frame the topic has completely changed And as a result, the narrative is now changing. For sustainable, long-term progress on ending violence against women, men, women, and children; young, old and those in between, all must unite in the fight against gender-based violence (GBV). “The way we now frame the topic has completely changed, it’s no longer just a women’s problem. While the vast majority of perpetrators are men, if we want to make change, we need to realise that this can only be done via a whole-of-community approach,” said Dr. Astrid Kersten, Executive Director of Human Capacity Development International (HCDI). HCDI take a whole-of-community approach to their work, collaborating with village chiefs all the way through to younger members of the community. This approach sees a broad cross-section of voices and opinions accounted for, ensuring that through community buy-in the behaviour change work they undertake is sustainable in the long-term. As one of the recipient organisations (alongside their partner, Sista) to receive a grant via the Spotlight Initiative, HCDI and Sista focused on two key activities: The development of community resources to assist in community awareness development and collective action, related to reducing GBV; and To build on and promote the Stanap Strong website as a resource to support victims, families of victims, and the general population. HCDI and Sista are making inroads and inspiring change, no doubt, but Astrid still has moments of self-doubt as to just how much progress they are making on ending violence against women. “I do keep thinking, ‘is this really making a difference?’ It is still hard going, training and capacity building are still key right across Vanuatu, and we need continued support to help us beyond the Spotlight Initiative. “These grants may be small but with our work it doesn’t take a whole lot of money to ensure that we can have significant impact,” she said. When you lift up women you lift the entire community When the grassroots organisation Sista was established in 2016, its main purpose was to create a space for Ni-Vanuatu women to connect, share and uplift each other. Sista began its journey as an online magazine and over the past eight years has evolved into a women’s rights organisation driven by feminist values. Josephine Tarianga serves as Sista’s Resource Coordinator, a powerhouse of a young woman. Having worked as a journalist, at just 22 she is not only working with Sista, and Vanuatu’s We Rise Coalition, she is also studying a double degree of Law and Commerce with the University of the South Pacific. Blending her passions of media and communications with furthering women’s rights, Josephine says that just because you’re a feminist, it doesn’t equate to you not being committed to your community. “Things are still very male dominated here, but at the same time change is in the air. Women are the focal read more…
Mr. William Nasak, the chairman of the Vanuatu Association of Non-Government Organisations (VANGO), is calling on all Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) established in the provinces to register with VANGO before the mapping exercise visits begin. The mapping exercise will visit all six provinces with tentative dates across September and October, hosting workshops for NGO/CSOs to ensure there is better coordination between organisations and with government, increase NGO/CSOs visibility and align NGO/CSO programs and interventions to the National Sustainable Development Plan (NSDP). “The ultimate goal of the project, as the next step, is to develop a standardised reporting template for NGO/CSOs to ensure that their achievements and interventions in Vanuatu are recognised in the NSDP progress reporting,” Ms Abraham, Secretary General (SG) of VANGO, shared. “After the mapping VANGO will collaborate with the NGO desk office and the Department of Strategic Planning, Policy and Aid Coordination (DSSPAC) to bring this reporting template to life so NGO/CSOs can be acknowledged for their work.” As part of the mapping exercise, registered organisations will have the opportunity to complete Institutional Assessment Mapping (IAM). The IAM supports organisations to increase their profile as well as assess and map out their resources and organisational capacity, contributing to development effectiveness. This will be beneficial for wide range of stakeholders including the NGO/CSOs, international agencies and policy makers. Preparations for the provincial mapping visits are well underway with a pre-workshop to train enumerators (selected from current VANGO members) hosted on the 6th of September. To ensure the mapping is successful and reflects the wide range of NGO/CSOs across all provinces of Vanuatu, all community organisations should reach out to VANGO now to become members. VANGO acknowledges the DSSPAC Unit for the funding support to implement this exercise. It also extended its acknowledgement to the Government of Australia through the Oxfam Australia and Save the Children for the operational funding of VANGO. _________________________________________________________ SOURCE: VANUATU DAILY POST
Vanuatu’s music icon, Vanessa Quai, is gearing up for a special concert on the 5th of October. The primary objective of this event is to unveil her highly anticipated Extended Play (EP) Album, while also mobilising resources to support the Children’s Ward. Miss Quai revealed that her inspiration for this charitable endeavour stemmed from a conversation with a doctor from the Children’s Ward. The doctor had shared the pressing need for a new heart-scanning machine dedicated to paediatric patients, as the current one is outdated and unreliable. “Upon learning of this critical need, I felt compelled to leverage my platform to raise funds and contribute to the Children’s Ward,” explained Quai. She announced the release of six exceptional songs, marked by the lyrical inspiration she has poured into them. These tracks are the result of collaborations with talented producers and featured artists. “After a hiatus of five years since my last album, ‘Light it up,’ I am excited to release new songs this year in the form of an EP album,” she said. The concert, slated for the Warwick Le Lagon, promises to be a delightful evening reminiscent of a buffet night. Attendees can savor a sumptuous buffet dinner and enjoy complimentary drinks while being entertained. Quai will grace the stage with an hour-long performance, followed by other esteemed artists from Port Vila, including Sheila Wilz, Dalinda, Max Albert, Tujah, and the KR dancers. Ms Quai disclosed ticket details, with adult tickets priced at VT7,000 and children’s tickets at VT5,000. Attendees are encouraged to hold onto their tickets, as there will be raffle prizes to be won, and some lucky patrons may even depart with a complimentary EP album. Quai encourages everyone to support the concert, adding the money spent on tickets not only grants access to an unforgettable event but also serves as a meaningful donation towards enhancing the Children’s Ward. “Your attendance will make a real difference in the lives of our young patients,” she said. _________________________________________________________ SOURCE: VANUATU DAILY POST
A consultation on the Multi-Service Delivery Protocol (MSDP) for responding to Gender-based Violence (GBV) against women and girls ended on Thursday this week. More than 20 partners were involved in the two-day consultation as the government of Vanuatu is taking strides to implement the first strategic area of the National Gender Equality Policy. The consultation was jointly hosted by United Nations (UN) Women and the Department of Women Affairs and aligns with the ongoing development of the National Policy on Gender Equality, which comprises five distinct strategic areas. The Acting Director General (DG) of the Ministry of Justice and Community Services (MOJCS), Pacco Siri, officially opened the two-day meeting on the 6th of September. Mr. Siri expressed his satisfaction in witnessing the dedication of partners and the national government to craft a comprehensive national document addressing the coordination of services for survivors, a vital necessity for victims and survivors of violence. The Acting DG shared a vision where all family members can reside in secure and safe environments, spanning homes, communities, islands, and the entirety of Vanuatu as a secure nation. The national consultation on MSDP builds upon earlier provincial consultations conducted in 2019 and 2020. However, the completion of this crucial work was delayed due to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and a series of hurricanes in recent years. According to the MOJCS, Vanuatu’s current focus lies on strategic area 1, which aims to “eliminate discrimination and violence against women and girls”. The MOJCS also stated that within the Pacific region, Vanuatu grapples with one of the highest rates of GBV, with statistics revealing that 60 percent of women aged 15 to 49 have experienced physical and/or sexual violence during their lifetimes. “Additionally, 68 percent have encountered emotional violence, and 69 percent have been subject to coercive control by intimate partners. “The National Sustainable Development Plan 2030 identifies the importance of working together to address gender-based violence under the Society Pillar,” the Ministry reported. Reports from the Ministry show that during natural disasters the rate of GBV in Vanuatu is very high. _________________________________________________________ SOURCE: VANUATU DAILY POST
The Vanuatu Disability Desk and the Vanuatu Skills Partnership (VSP) embarked on a collaborative journey last month in a significant step towards bolstering support for persons with disabilities in Vanuatu. The visit spanned the provinces of TAFEA, SANMA, and PENAMA, marking a decisive moment for the nation’s commitment to inclusivity and rights, as well as to introduce newly recruited provincial disability officers. The VSP plays a crucial role as the primary funder of these recently established positions within the Ministry of Justice and Community Services (MoJCS) structure, operating under the Human Rights Unit. Furthermore, VSP extends financial and technical support to the Unit for the seamless implementation of activities aligned with the Government Sector Support and Strengthening Plan. The Disability Desk of the MoJCS expressed deep appreciation to the VSP for their invaluable cooperation and financial backing. This partnership signifies a concerted effort to drive positive change and enhance the lives of persons with disabilities. Among the key developments during this joint effort, the VSP discussed a comprehensive work plan with the newly recruited officers. This collaborative approach provides an opportunity to align priorities, emphasize the significance of the partnership, and collectively work towards achieving impactful outcomes throughout the implementation period. The strong partnership between the Disability Desk and VSP is further exemplified by their shared work plan. This strategic collaboration extends beyond the introduction phase, as both entities are committed to continuing their engagement and knowledge sharing in the future. Anticipating future endeavours, there are plans to extend similar introductions and deepen partnerships in other provinces. This approach fosters a rich exchange of knowledge and strategies, enabling these organisations to address disability-related challenges in Vanuatu effectively. These efforts align with the National Sustainable Development Plan (NSDP), known as the “People’s Plan.” All engagements and activities remain steadfastly in line with the three primary pillars of the NSDP, ensuring that progress is consistent with the nation’s overarching development goals. _________________________________________________________ SOURCE: VANUATU DAILY POST