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Stephanie Ephraim is no stranger to resistance. Her very existence as an activist, feminist, photographer, model and founder of Vanuatu Feminist Library has seen people attempt to put her down and shame her into submission. Stephanie refuses to be colonized by anyone – this young woman is free in her independence and dreams for everyone to live in a society where they are accepted and loved as they are. #RespectMyExistence #OrExpectMyResistance #ProudNiVan
Gender Justice Officer at an Non- Government Organization
Tell us about your family?
My family are from Vanua Lava, Banks. We grew up in a small village outside Luganville, and moved when I was about 10 to Vila. I have two sisters and three brothers. Two are older, and three are younger than me. I’m growing closer and closer to the younger ones as they grow up. My mum had to work really, really hard to get us through school and to keep us in Vila. Things haven’t always been easy, and just like most families in Port Vila, money has been hard. My mum’s strength and hard work has been inspiring. As a strong woman who has faced many challenges, she is the root of my feminism.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
First and foremost I am an activist and an advocate for human rights and equality, especially gender equality. The lines are blurry between work and hobbies, because that runs through everything. Learning more about how we can live better together is a hobby but also what I hope will be my life’s work.
I love photography, especially when I can get a bit artistic and expressive with it. I also love reading, but I didn’t always. Reading is something I’ve learned to love later. It started to make sense to me because you can really learn so much and expand your mind. I used to think reading was something to do with school, and school didn’t always seem very ‘real’.
That’s why I’ve started the Vanuatu Feminist Library because I’ve come across so many books that were really helpful about women’s issues. These books helped me to believe that we can push for change here in Vanuatu. There are books that teach you what feminism is, how the systems of the world we live in can often hold women back, sometimes without them noticing. There are things about being a feminist mother, about having a successful career as a woman, about challenging the system and pushing for change, about what has worked in other countries.
At first, reading was a bit hard for me, so the library is also about encouraging people to read and supporting them through it by discussing the texts, organizing small events. The idea is to build a network of feminists so we can collaborate with ideas, projects, support and discussions.
I also love music, dancing, and great food! But who doesn’t, right?
I study Community Development at APTC and Gender equality and the health, rights, and wellbeing of girls and women at Women Deliver.
What do you aspire to do in the future?
I hope to be a part of a community of feminists, which can hopefully grow around the library, who can really push for positive changes to women’s and men’s lives in Vanuatu. A community which expands awareness of what’s possible for people of different genders, and how we can all benefit from having less rigid unwritten rules around what men and women must be and do.
Amongst all of these ambitions though, I also hope to be able to look after my family one day… my mother, father, my brothers and sisters, and that’s not even thinking of my own children one day. This is a reality for us here in Port Vila: most of us are pretty worried about making ends meet for the future, and sometimes that makes it hard to aim really high. It also means that not all of us can go to university, because we need to get to work and support our families. That’s another reason why I want to encourage people to come down to VFL. Because we can all keep learning and growing through reading, even if it’s just ten or twenty minutes a day.
How would you describe your style?
My style is relaxed and casual, but I feel like we all say that. The truth is, you can attract a lot of negative attention if you dress up too much in Port Vila, whether its harassment or gossip. So I think many of us would like to dress up more, but play it down.
I love to dress up for photo shoots, I am wearing a dress made by Mia Bridal in this shoot.I alsolove to design extravagant outfits for my models. But I feel more comfortable wearing something a bit more relaxed around town. Bright colours look great with our melanin, and tight clothes look good on our feminine bodies!
I’ve always liked wearing jeans, and preferred sleeveless tops. I can’t handle colder weather, but I do like that it allows you to dress a bit more creatively sometimes.
Where do you buy your clothes from?
Mostly from Stret Price and other second hand shops here, because you can get good quality clothes that are affordable. The second-hand shop culture around Port Vila is great, because all sorts of different things come through, and you can find a range of styles. A few times I’ve been lucky to travel, and got some great clothes from second hand shops overseas as well.
Who influences your style?
I’m always inspired by confident women, who dress in their own personal style and wear it well. I’m more likely to be inspired by the woman than her clothes, but I do like it when women aren’t afraid to dress the way that they’re comfortable, and women who have a signature style.
What beauty products do you use?
I wear a watch that I absolutely love. I feel like it’s a detail that adds something to a look. I Perfume is expensive, but one day I’d love to wear Lancome’s ‘La Vie Est Belle’. Once I was given a small bottle of YSL ‘Parisienne’ and wore it on special occasions.
Any fashion advice?
Mostly, be yourself because you look best when you feel good. But don’t be afraid to stand out and shine sometimes, even if it’s a little bit uncomfortable. We Ni-Vanuatu don’t like to stand out too much, but sometime we all deserve to be the most interesting person in the room. I say, every now and then, dress outside your comfort zone. Dress to make yourself say ‘damn, girl, you look cool.’
Assistant Stylist: Irene Abbock
Photographer: Nicky Kuautonga
Hair, beauty and nails: Body and Soul Vanuatu
This article was originally published in the July edition of the Vanuatu Daily Post Life and Style magazine