CSW 66 SIDE EVENT: We Rise Coalition
Women of the Pacific – Policies to practical realities
21 March, 2022
TRANSCRIPT OF YASMINE BJORNUM, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, SISTA:
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, Vanuatu has closed it’s borders and only been accepting repatriation flights. We have successfully managed to keep ourselves safe for 2 years until March 4th of this year, when we had our first community outbreak. Patient zero had no travel history and was identified to be a member of parliament who allegedly breached a quarantine facility to visit friends. This case is currently under investigation and has brought to light an issue that Vanuatu has tolerated since the beginning of our independence in 1980 – that there is one rule for the ‘big man’ and one rule for everyone else.
Vanuatu’s governance is based on a Westminster system with Melanesian values and Christian principles. Our parliament members are only men and we have had only had a handful of women ever represented the highest decision making body of our country, the last one over a decade ago. Many of the 52 MPs have chiefly ranks with kinship and language tying across political groups, ensuring community participation and social protection. While this can be positive, it can also enable an environment where constituencies are afraid to speak out and we do not question their actions out of respect.
We have witnessed corruption, stealing and endured convicted criminals as our MPS – but this incident has been the catalyst for us as a people to understand that we must make a stand against this behavior and have zero tolerance, as this particular incident put our lives at risk,. Thankfully we have had no fatalities and only 2 people are hospitalized to date, with 1117 cases confirmed since the beginning of 2022.
I bring this up to start our conversation to highlight one of the biggest barriers to address the climate crisis. There must be a political will to address the climate crisis and at this point, I am not sure if we have that in Vanuatu.
Last year our Prime Minister announced that we would be setting up a Ministry of Oceans, Fisheries and Maritime Affairs. He stated that the purpose of setting up this new Ministry is to increase revenue to the government through fishing. There has been no other public documents or reasons to justify setting up this ministry, which has come at the expense of dismantling the Ministry of Justice and Community Services.
I’d like to give the benefit of the doubt that perhaps a Ministry of Oceans is very much needed for other reasons besides increasing the government’s revenue through fishing. Right now our biggest revenue is through passport sales, so I understand the need to diversify our streams. Maybe we need a ministry given the current fate of the world’s largest eco system – our ocean – which sees major fishing corporations exploiting our waters, while oil and gas companies mine our seafloors for more unburnable carbon. Perhaps Vanuatu is taking a stance to ensure we are part of the global decision-making given that an extensive and evolving body of international law governs our oceans. We could potentially be advocates to protect marine ecosystems and promote sustainable marine industries.
But I am not sure.
The mere fact that we are dismantling the Ministry of Justice, which is responsible for overseeing our human rights and a number of key agencies, including the Department of Women’s Affairs, child’s desk, disability desk, correctional services and courts, to set up a Ministry of Oceans, Fisheries and Maritime Affairs is concerning, particularly given the fact that it was initially done without due process.
At the time, the Director General of the Ministry of Justice, Dorosday Kenneth, one of Vanuatu’s longest serving senior female public servants, questioned the government for not following due process and was terminated. There was no consultations and no strategy provided. She recently won her court case and the Council of Ministers (COM) revoked its decision to establish a Ministry of Oceans and instructed the Prime Minister’s Office to re-submit the paper following provisions of the Government Act.
The example has already been set – do not question the government or you will be silenced. Dorosday Kenneth is no longer a public servant and she was a key person to speak out on women’s issues and ensure our voices were heard. She held more senior positions in government than any other women in our country’s history and this is a big loss.
If we want to address the climate crisis, we need to challenge the entire political system which is rooted in the patriarchy. We cannot dilute the voices of women. We cannot exclude women in decision making. We cannot silence women when they speak out.
We are in this climate crisis because we have been exploiting the earth to produce and consume in an unsustainable way. This is not just about carbon emissions – it is about how we take resources, lands and the rights of others in the process. This process is systemic and politicised and those who contribute the least to the crisis are the most affected. We are up against giants – big corporations and patriarchal governments – but we are living in a time where women are committed to stand together and shape decisions and influence policy to protect Earth, the way she has protected us. The time is now to create a world that has space for everyone. And it starts with including women in important decision making spaces to drive innovative solutions and justice for all, and protecting our environment for the benefit of all living beings in the future to come.