Sista and Human Capacity Development International (HCDI) jointly launched their new documentary titled “Women Hold Up Half the Sky” at Alliance Francaise on the 2nd of June 2023.

The documentary sheds light on the political journeys of three remarkable women: Anthea Arukole, Marie Louise Carcasses, and Melanie Shem.

The event featured an opening and closing speech by Member of Parliament (MP) Gloria King, who emphasised the significance of women’s representation in decision-making positions. Attendees included MP Ralph Regenvanu, Deputy Lord Mayor Jenny Tasale Regenvanu, Mr. Guillaume Josso of the French Embassy, and representatives from prominent International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGOs) and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in Vanuatu.

The slogan “Women Hold Up Half the Sky” originated from former Chinese Communist Party (CPC) Chairman Mao Zedong, highlighting the importance of women in society. However, the documentary highlights the reality that women often struggle to reach positions of power and influence, both in Vanuatu and worldwide.

MP King emphasised the need for gender balance in decision-making, stating, “Women’s representation in elite decision-making positions brings balance. As a canoe needs an outrigger to stay afloat, men need women, and women need men to make decisions together for the betterment of our future generations.”

The equitable representation of women in the democratic system was a key theme discussed during the first-ever Vanuatu National Feminist Forum held in November 2022 in Port Vila. The forum, part of the 3rd Pacific Feminist Forum, brought together over 70 women from diverse backgrounds to share experiences, learn from one another, and strategize for collective change. Similar forums were held in Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, New Caledonia, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, and Palau.

The outcome statement of the Vanuatu National Feminist Forum stressed the need for fair and equitable representation of women in Parliament, Councils, and other political spaces. It highlighted the existing skills of women for leadership roles and called for increased support, cooperation, and acceptance. The statement outlined several desired outcomes, including enabling legislative and funding mechanisms for women’s representation, collaboration and accountability of political parties, emphasis on civic education, and increased collaboration and support for women political candidates.

Dr Astrid Kersten, Executive Director of HCDI, expressed the inspiration behind the documentary, citing the valuable experiences and insights shared by Vanuatu women in politics, particularly Mrs. Arukole and MP King. The election of Mrs. King, the first woman in over a decade to be elected in Vanuatu’s 52-member legislature, marked a significant milestone in breaking the exclusively male rule in parliament.

Ms Yasmine Bjornum, Executive Director of Sista, explained the focus on three women working at the Municipal Council – Mrs. Arukole, Mrs. Carcasses, and Ms Shem. The aim was to share their journeys and experiences to inspire and support the building of a stronger and more representative democracy that includes the voices of all.

The documentary “Women Hold Up Half the Sky” was organised by Sista and HCDI, with funding support from the We Rise Coalition. Sista staff conducted interviews, and the film was produced by Starlight Photography, complemented by a visually themed painting by artist Amelia Lovo. Future screening dates at Alliance Francaise and the online release of the video on the StanApStrong website and Sista library are forthcoming.