Monique Geniva is one of several women taking part in road works carried out by the Public Works Department (PWD) on Tanna.

Over the last 5 years, and with lots of hard work, she has made her way to Road Clearance Supervisor, managing teams of up to 15 workers.

“They said this was no job for a woman, but I was not worried. I know I am strong and I can do this work,” said Geniva.

She has been working on road clearance on and off since 2017. She likes her job because it helps her take care of her children, pay for school fees, buy food, afford taking her children to hospital when they are sick and cover the cost of school transport.

Paid employment brings a whole range of opportunities for communities to benefit from education or healthcare, directly improving people’s quality of life. However, some people have more difficulties to access the workforce. That is why the Ministry of Infrastructure and Public Utilities (MIPU) developed the Inclusivity Policy back in 2017, aiming to promote employment within disadvantaged groups, such as women, people with disabilities and youth.

“It is ‘custom’ for men work while women stay at home, so for many men it is difficult to work under the supervision of a woman. For me, everyone is the same, man or woman, we are all people,” said Geniva.

“My boss is very happy with me. I am a smart woman, I work hard, and the work gets done. The workers are happy, we talk and laugh, but at the end of the day, we do a good job making sure the grass is cut and the road is cleared.”

PWD, supported by the Vanuatu-Australia Partnership, has been touring around all the different provinces of Vanuatu to ensure everyone involved in road works is aware of the MIPU Inclusivity Policy and makes a strong effort to provide equal opportunities for everyone, regardless of age, gender, race, economic circumstances, disability or family responsibilities.

Currently, women make up approximately a 20% of the labour used in PWD contracts. Road contractors who employ women are happy with their work and hire them again for future projects. However, much more needs to be done to ensure higher inclusivity of vulnerable groups, especially people with disabilities. Social inclusion benefits everyone in the community.

Geniva explains how sometimes established cultural norms can be challenging, but with perseverance and patience, change arrives.

“People in the community are happy that I have this job, because if anyone needs a little money to cover for an emergency, they can always borrow from me. However, it has not always been easy,” she said.

“In the beginning people tried to stop me, but after they saw I got contracted again and again, they understood I was good at my job and now everybody is happy. I have seven children and I think I am giving them a good example for when they grow up.”

Women have the same potential as men, and they should be included in all areas of work. Affirmative action must be taken so that women can be empowered to communicate and participate on an equal footing with men.

The Governments of Vanuatu and Australia will continue to partner to promote gender equality and social inclusion at all levels of society.