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.
The Office of the Public Prosecutor (OPP) officially opened the newly refurbished and upgraded Victim Support Office on the 26th of July. The event also combined the launch of other resources intended to support victims and respond to crime. The Victim Support Service at the OPP began its operations in 2020. This service was established to assist and support the victims of crime in the prosecution process as the public prosecutor has an obligation towards the victims of crime. Vanuatu has high rates of violence against women by intimate partners as reported in the Vanuatu National Survey on Women’s Lives and Family Relationships, undertaken in 2009 by the Vanuatu Women’s Centre (VWC), in partnership with the Vanuatu National Statistics Office (VNSO). Accordingly, it is among the countries in which the European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN) deliver the Spotlight Initiative program. This initiative aims to support transformative change on the ground to end violence against women and girls and harmful practices, in many countries globally. With the support of the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative, the OPP refurbished the Victim Support Office and built a children’s playground to create safe spaces for women and child victims inside and within the precinct of the office. “Through the Spotlight Initiative, the EU is investing in the future of Vanuatu and its people by tackling violence against women and girls”, said Pedro Velazquez, Acting Head of Cooperation at the Delegation of the European Union for the Pacific. “Through Initiative, we are uprooting the causes of gender-based violence through a multi-sectoral approach, simultaneously responding to the immediate, concrete needs of victims. With the opening of the Victim Support Centre, we continue to support the OPP, enabling victims to act upon their rights and pursue justice, leaving no one behind. We will carry on with the definition of the Victims Charter in the near future.” The renovation has created a dedicated confidential office space to be used by victims of Sexual Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) for consultation and engagement with experts and service providers who include forensic medical clinicians, psychologists, police officers, and social welfare officers. Additionally, the new Office combines a safe space where women can rest and nurse their babies, and a new children’s playground area. “With this new Victim Support Centre, we are enabling women and children to exercise their right to access justice and fair treatment,” said Public Prosecutor Josaia Naigulevu. “Victims have rights and are entitled to access the mechanisms of justice. The OPP is designing services centred around the victim’s needs to grant them proper access to resources. We are working across sectors and taking all possible measures to minimize inconvenience and create safe spaces where victims can be assisted and treated with compassion and respect for their dignity.” The inauguration of the Victim Support Centre coincided with the launching of the Victim Support Manual, the Mutual Legal Assistance Manual, the Anti-Corruption Authority Investigator’s Manual, and the Anti-Corruption Authority Database, a series of resources to support victims and respond to crime. “With the upgrade of the Victim Support Centre, and the launch of the four key documents to support victims and respond to crime, we are strengthening an ecosystem of services and infrastructures working together to enable victims to access justice in safety and dignity,” said Prime Minister Bob Loughman. SOURCE: VANUATU DAILY POST
A dialogue held recently at The Grand Hotel, on Ending Violence Against Women and Girls (EVAWG) highlighted inputs from different stakeholders on the urgent need to end all forms of violence against women and girls in Vanuatu. Different questions were put forward to five panelists representing the government, civil society, and communities, on what and how their institutions are addressing the issue. Vanuatu Women’s Centre Coordinator, Tatavola Matas, emphasised the government’s role in addressing this matter. “The Government needs to ensure there is adequate resourcing of essential services including justice, health, police, and counseling at the national and provincial level, especially in the rural areas,” Matas said. She called for stricter penalties to be enforced by the government for perpetrators of violence against women and girls, and also noted that the Penal Code and Family Protection Act needs to be reviewed. The Commissioner of Labour, Murielle Meltenoven admitted the sad reality that sexual harrassment in the workplace is experienced by women and girls at all levels of society. According to her, a recent survey conducted by the Sista has revealed that sexual harassment is widespread, it causes social and health issues, and prevents women and girls from earning an income. The Labour Department has made effort to ensure this situation is addressed specifically for women who are participating in the seasonal work programs. They have developed activities including the ‘Famili I Redi’ and ‘Family Farming’. “We need to provide safe working environments to ensure we meet our human rights commitments and support the social and economic development in Vanuatu,” she said. On the question of how chiefs can prevent and respond to violence in Vanuatu, Chief Alicta Vuti stressed that with no police presence in many communities, it is the chiefs that play an important role in resolving social matters. Ms Georgilla Worwor who represented the youths reminded everyone that the youths make up the biggest percentage of the country’s population. “We need to ensure the voice of youth is included in planning, designing, implementing, and evaluating ending violence against women and girls programs,” she said. The government has just reviewed and launched the National Gender equality Policy for 2022 to 2030 and Ending Violence Against Women and Girls is a priority as it is linked to the National Sustainable Development Plan. SOURCE: VANUATU DAILY POST
President of the Malvatumauri Council of Chiefs Chief Willie Gray Plasua says women need to reprioritise what’s really important and that’s their children. “It is important to think about breastfeeding first then other things, because that is a human being that they need to take care of,” Malvatumauri president says. World breastfeeding week ends this Sunday and according to interviews conducted in and around the capital, the modern-day working mum might not have enough time to do it ‘the right way’. Stress, coupled with a full-time job and other financial commitments are the factors that are challenging the societal expectations that all mothers are obliged to breastfeed. Human rights activist Anne Pakoa says, “Life is hard now, mothers express that they have worries and carry a lot of stress which affects their milk production.” Despite these challenges, the President of Malvatumauri is encouraging the modern-day Vanuatu mother to prioritise their child first. SOURCE: VANUATU DAILY POST
The way politics is played in Melanesian countries has very little national inclusivity about it – in terms of participation by and representation of both men and women at the national level. The role of women is, almost exclusively, to vote, not to actively play the game itself. To use soccer as an analogy: women can be coaches, spectators and fans. But if a woman wants to go into the field and play, this is no game for her. The foundation of this game is the political party system. In Vanuatu, some might be interested in pursuing a platform based on principles, policies and development, but in reality the game played on the ground is about locking in numbers of votes first, usually through incentives, in order to be considered by the party. It is an expensive exercise better played by ‘businessmen’ types – because in communities, your legitimacy is based on your ability to show up and provide material ‘stuff’. So often, it is businessmen who can afford to play in this way. If one doesn’t have the financial resources, deals need to be struck in order to secure funding for their campaign. And because men occupy that business negotiation space, they are the ones who make and dictate the rules. This continuous, demanding and time-consuming game defines the political party system. Over the past 50 years, from colonial rule to a post-colonial Pacific, men – and even women who have ventured into the field – have been designing, playing and perfecting the art of male-dominated politics in Vanuatu. They have made this seem like the only way in. Coupled with the ‘big man’ status men enjoy, this hinders women from participating. I am the Director of the multi-country Balance of Power program. Underpinning this initiative is the understanding that it is our Pacific societies’ structures and accepted social norms and practices that influence how people perceive and give legitimacy to the roles of men and women in the political sphere. Balance of Power recognises that to change these norms takes time, and contextually sensitive, savvy, locally led, non-confrontational approaches. We use a multi-pronged way of working, aiming to influence power-holders and not the ‘usual (gender equality) suspects’, to bring about a change in perceptions and increase buy-in to women’s leadership legitimacy. Vanuatu is celebrating only its 42nd year of independence this year. In the first two decades after independence, Vanuatu was focused on building itself as a nation. It was determined to be self-reliant and able to function without its colonial masters. Given its size and limited natural resources, it drew from the example of small Asian states, and brought in policies emphasising the need to upskill its human resource capacity to address the many areas of expertise required to develop and grow the nation. When I was in high school in the 1990s, the focus was to pursue a career as a doctor or a lawyer or a pilot. The focus was not on grooming politicians or a future generation of qualified legislators. This shifted in the late 2000s, when we saw more people pursuing higher degrees in public policy and administration. But that critical gap in the first couple of decades after independence meant that the people who pursued a career in politics were those who had been at the forefront of the independence movement. They were mostly drawn from the rural areas, and almost all men. This is the generation that solidified the kind of politics that formed the foundation of the men’s game, for men, by men. This is the platform that the businessmen in today’s Vanuatu are able to enjoy. In July, Port Vila went to the polls to elect its city council. It is the last election cycle for the municipality in which there will be reserved seats for women. Of the 17 seats, five of the successful candidates are women, one from each of the five wards, elected into the one reserved seat in each. This election, we have seen the youngest woman to ever get in – a 23-year-old who won her reserved seat with only 71 votes out of the total 1,286 votes cast for three seats in that ward, and who would have been surpassed by four men who scored higher numbers had it not been for that reserved seat. Temporary Special Measures (TSMs) in Vanuatu continue to serve one purpose, and that is to allow women into the political space. This is not, however, translating into an increasing number of women being voted in on open seats. Most of the reserved seats get below 150 votes, and the total number of votes for winning women candidates – all on reserved seats – was only 5.2% of the total votes cast in the recent elections. I was previously convinced that the only way out of the current situation was the allocation of TSMs. Witnessing how this has played out in the recent municipal elections has tempered this conviction somewhat, but only in the sense that we need to rethink what form TSMs take and simultaneously tackle other aspects of the ‘game’. This includes approaches that address the deeply entrenched norms around women’s leadership legitimacy, the ‘backscratching boys’ club’ that favours male candidates, and the very conceptualisation of leadership itself by the voters. Surely, there has to be another way this game can be played that will still win votes without having to wheel and deal and transact large amounts of money. How do we make political leadership palatable for a younger generation that doesn’t need the handouts? For the young urban professionals who rely on social media to make connections, form opinions and stay in touch with what matters in their communities? How do we change the messaging so that women, who are not inclined to sit late into the night making deals with men about what they can give and take, will contest? How do we change community and voter mentalities from expecting material benefits read more…
Awareness for breastfeeding has increased greatly in the last few years, as more mothers attest to different experiences with breastfeeding their children in this day and age along with juggling more responsibilities outside of their homes and families. Breastfeeding is beneficial for both mother and child, this is a message that Maternal Child Health (MCH) works with other health authorities to deliver. Breastfeeding is free, it is always available, always at the right temperature and breastfeeding strengthens the bond between mothers and their children, protects children from illnesses and helps the child’s brain development explained Ann Ruth Pakoa, a Midwife at the MCH clinic. “The MCH finds that it is common for mothers to stop breastfeeding after a few weeks, and the woman will switch to alternative feeding for their babies. We try to help the mothers by discouraging this,” said Pakoa. “We encourage mothers to breastfeed babies from zero months to 6 months, until the baby can take foods.” Pakoa said while MCH encourages mothers to breastfeed, many women have jobs and responsibilities outside of the home so breastfeeding full time is not possible for all women. “In cases which the mother cannot go to the child throughout the day to feed or the child to the mother, we encourage mothers to breastfeed their babies as soon as they go home and breastfeed them through the night,” she said. Within the past three months, the MCH has provided healthcare services to 2,919 baby visits and the MCH finds that many mothers identify that they have difficulty producing milk in large enough amounts to feed their babies as one of the main difficulties of breastfeeding. “Life is hard now, mothers express that they have worries and carry a lot of stress which affects their milk production,” said Pakoa. Noella Kenneth is a mom of two. She shared that her breastfeeding experience was different for both her children. “With my first child, I breastfed during the whole prescribed time. I worked but i had the baby brought to me at work so that I could meet a schedule to feed at 7am, 9am, 12pm and 3pm,” she said. “With my second baby, I stayed at home and breastfeed as well as bottle-fed her. “Breastfeeding takes a lot of commitment from a mother. It means constantly eating or drinking consciously, ensuring you are putting only healthy wholesome things into your body to make breast milk. For some women it is easy but for others it’s more difficult because circumstances are different.” Rina Tarileo is a mum of four and she expressed that she had other roles outside of her family. While she is caring for her baby, she has three other children, home and work obligations. “My three other babies stopped wanting to breastfeed after a few weeks and we supplemented with other formulas. This baby however will only drink breast milk, so I try my best to provide her with as much milk as she needs and still meet all my responsibilities,” she said. Mrs. Pakoa concluded, “We always encourage all mothers that they can do it all, they can see it through as they have seen it through this far along to care for their babies who depend on them and encourage them to make breastfeeding work however they can.” SOURCE: VANUATU DAILY POST