“You should see her since she gave herself permission to rise.”
To celebrate International Women’s Day, we are proud to feature Stephanie Senei Mahuk. A lawyer, surfer, environmentalist and activist, whether Stephanie is in the courts or out in the surf, Stephanie is an inspiration to many young people just by simply being herself. By embracing her God-given talents and stepping into her power, Stephanie shows others how to unlock their potential too.
Thank you Stephanie for your contributions to Vanuatu – as a nation and to our youth!
#MelanesianQueen #AelanGoddess #WomanOfService #InternationalWomensDay #ThisIsWhatALeaderLooksLike
Stephanie Senei Mahuk
Where are you from?
Tanna Island /Manus Island (PNG)
Tell us about your family?
I have 2 siblings. My older sister is in PNG and my younger brother resides in Vila. Both sides of my family are close knit & very large. They are patriotic and very proud of their culture and heritage. I have no shortage of outstanding individuals in my family whom I admire greatly & whose values I strive to adopt and apply. My family on both sides hold very strong belief that service to others is the ultimate measure of a person’s success. My brother volunteers with Pro-Rescue to save lives, my sister supports our family elders and is the glue between us all, I support causes I believe in whether hands on or by donations.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I read a lot, surf and free dive. I also work with the youth in coastal surfing villages through the Vanuatu Surfing Association and Solwota Sista to promote surfing, environmental programs, literacy and other areas of youth & female engagement for empowerment and personal growth.
What did you study?
I have a Bachelor of Commerce in Economics & A Bachelor of Law.
Do you work?
I work as the senior associate at Geoffrey Gee & Partners
What did you aspire to be doing as a career?
I went from wanting to work on Sea Shepard/Green Peace to wanting to write government policy (hence the double degree) but now, I am where I want to be – an interesting and challenging job I enjoy and in my down time, I am chasing waves, enjoying the ocean and working to empower inspiring young girls who make me laugh and challenge me.
What is a quote (in fashion/life) that you live by?
Can’t say I have a singular quote or mantra that I repeat. I was particularly struck recently by words from Anthea Arukole on the Island Voices (Episode 2) podcast recounting her mentor Hilda Lini responding to a question directed to the tone of: “by whose definition?”.
It got me thinking a lot about the degrees of expectation that people hold out based on their underlying prejudices and beliefs. It dictates their views and acceptance or otherwise of a person’s behavior, opinion and in this context – fashion.
Your interpretation of ‘style’ will always be different to someone else’s. Conforming for the sake of making someone else comfortable is a betrayal upon yourself – your identity, your self-expression, your dreams and aspirations. It’s boring as hell too and bland.
How would you describe your style?
Working in the legal profession doesn’t allow much in the way of variation of colors, prints and patterns when court work is involved. I wear black or dark blue and achieve variance in styles of dresses I wear. I also like high-waisted skirts and long-sleeved work tops as long as they are comfortable and breathable fabric. Off work, shorts and a tee are my go to. I am not a fan of closed shoes unless the occasion requires it. I love my savats.
Jewelry – I am a huge fan of Vanuatu Bijouterie. Estelle is a creative genius and design queen. My preferred jewelry designs from her incorporate Vanuatu motif like sand drawings, pigs tusks, tam tam etc.
What do you like about fashion?
It can be a powerful platform of expression of one’s self. I like the current move towards sustainable and ethical fashion turning the tide on the fashion industry’s environmental and socio-economic impact. Read up on this – its very interesting.
What beauty products do you use (including perfume)?
I favor organic & local brands. I moisturize a lot because of my time in the ocean. The Summit has great body lotions and creams. I am a huge fan also of their ‘salve it’ balm and sandalwood/ylang ylang roll on perfume.
The body scrubs from Tehya Skye are the best on the island!
Oils – I use ‘sublime oil’ from Eau des Iles.
My hair is a nightmare! I used to joke that I only use coconut oil & leave the rest to divine intervention…until I discovered Aelan Curls! That was my hair’s divine intervention.
Any beauty & fashion tips?
Moisturize daily, exfoliate weekly. Also, Tamanu oil is your skin’s best friend!
Fashion is not synonymous with style – forget the magazine trends. Dress for you! I love seeing the ladies (& rainbow community) with casual tees, jeans/shorts/skirts, island dress, a woven island bag, pandanus fan & feathers in their hair mixing up modern styles with their cultural embellishments – a statement of their identity underscored by every ounce of beauty and grace that defines a Ni-Vanuatu sista.
Also, support the local designers who dare to dream and re-interpret the modern Ni-Vanuatu style through their hustle on the scene – I see you G&M!
What are three words you would use to describe yourself?
Ambitious, adventurous & witty.
What does being a woman mean to you?
Perseverance and diligence. In the context of our society, you have to work harder and jump higher to garner the same respect as a male counterpart.
What does being a Ni-Vanuatu mean to you?
83 reasons to be proud of the beauty diversity and resilience of a united and free people.
This article was originally published in the March edition of the Vanuatu Daily Post Life and Style magazine.
Photography by Valerie Fernandez