“Women are a key part of humanitarian work in Vanuatu and it is our role to make sure they can participate in decision making in the Church and community”

As part of the Department of Women’s Affairs and Gender and Protection Cluster’s Women Humanitarians series, this week we interview Ruth Dovo, Gender Coordinator at the Vanuatu Christian Council.


1. What do you enjoy about the work you do?

I love my work with the Vanuatu Christian Council (VCC) because it is a Christian networking and coordinating body of Churches and Ministries in Vanuatu. Christian faith is an important part of people’s lives and I think we have been able to raise gender equality perspectives within the Church.

Women are a key part of humanitarian work in Vanuatu and it is our role to make sure they can participate in decision making in the Church and community. In the past, women in the Church were not provided with information or training to increase their knowledge on disasters.

We have now been able to share information and train women on the essential role they play in preparedness, response, recovery and resilience. We are also seeing examples of our members including the participation of women in their Community Based Disaster Risk Reduction Committees.

Women and girls are more at risk to violence during and after disasters. Some of the work I do relates to changing behaviour and I link key messages into both humanitarian and development programs.

I have trained church leaders, chiefs, youth and women leaders on Gender Based Violence, Human Rights, Faith and Gender which has helped them to keep their communities safe when a disaster strikes.

2. What are some of the activities you have worked on in humanitarian action?

During the response to Tropical Cyclone Pam, I visited different church evacuation centres in Port Vila and talked to women about their situation. They expressed safety concerns for women, children and people with disabilities. Some key issues were lack of space, privacy and accessibility and we came to realise that more evacuation centres are needed and they need to have inclusive design.

After TC Pam, the VCC Church Working Group coordinated a training which I facilitated for pastors on gender in disasters. The training included the promotion of women’s participation in humanitarian response and afterwards we saw some great examples of women helping to rebuild churches.

In one church, the members of the Disaster Committee were all women and they were able to address issues such as having proper shutters on the windows and ensuring bathroom facilities in the church evacuation centre were safe and accessible.

During the Ambae State of Emergency and recovery phases, I have been working with the VCC Community Based Protection and Disaster Risk Reduction Team to mainstream gender and inclusion into our projects under the Australian NGO Cooperation Program.

I developed a Gender Checklist for the team to use on Maewo to ensure that when community disaster and climate change committees were being set up, women were included. I also worked with the team to make sure that women and men representatives from host and displaced communities and at risk groups including single women and youth were included in disaster planning.

The team ran community based protection and peacebuilding training for church, women and youth leaders and we raised awareness on violence prevention. We also used referral information provided by the Gender and Protection Cluster to ensure that survivors of gender based violence could access assistance from the Vanuatu Women’s Centre, hospitals and police during the emergency.

We received great feedback from the communities as they recognized VCC’s concern for all people in times of disaster.

3. How do you ensure that gender and protection is addressed in the humanitarian work of VCC?

One of the key parts of my role was developing the Vanuatu Christian Council Gender Policy in 2013. The VCC Gender Policy was revised in 2017 in partnership with the Department of Women’s Affairs and UN Women and includes a strategic objective on mainstreaming gender and protection into climate change and disaster risk reduction. There is also an action plan for VCC member churches and this has been instrumental in including women in disaster preparedness and response.

As part of this Policy, we are working with Disaster Ready partners, under the Australian Government Humanitarian Partnership Program, to undertake evacuation centre mapping, develop manuals on psycho social support and evacuation centre management; and implement a research project on the Theology of Disaster Resilience in a Changing Climate.

We have worked closely with the Ministries of Health and Justice and Community Services to develop our Psycho Social Support Manual which includes areas on respecting people’s rights and privacy, maintaining confidentiality of information and using referral pathways for people to access violence response and mental health services.

As the Gender Focal Person in VCC, I also deliver in-house training on gender equality, child protection and the VCC complaints mechanism where members of the community can raise their concerns.

We also use a Gender and Disaster Risk Reduction Checklist which helps the churches and field workers to understand the different risks that people face and what they should be assessing in the field.

With the TC Pam response, VCC assisted the Government through providing volunteers who had attended our gender trainings to be part of the Rapid Assessment Team that travelled to other islands in Vanuatu.

4. What are some lessons learned from previous disasters?

One of the key things we have learnt from previous disasters is inclusion and the importance of taking note of everyone’s needs. This includes service delivery and advocacy on people’s rights and we must appreciate that everyone is part of the community and part of the Church.

Tropical Cyclone Pam took people by surprise and this taught VCC a lot of lessons. For example, with church evacuation centres we did not know that we needed to have standard operating procedures or to ensure that facilities were accessible for people with disabilities.

This taught VCC to map evacuation centres and upgrade our churches. We are in the process of mapping all the church evacuation centres (within VCC and other churches) on Efate, Santo, Malekula and Pentecost for inclusive design, using the NDMO Evacuation Centre Management Checklist.

The church is a key institution in Vanuatu and we play an important role in disaster preparedness and response. With increased staff and resources, we can achieve more but we need funding to ensure that our training and services can reach the community in all of the provinces.

5. What are you working on to strengthen humanitarian preparedness, response and recovery in the future?

The research has shown how churches play an integral part and that it is our role to help advocate, mobilize and train communities. I am currently participating in a train the trainer on Theology of Disaster Resilience in a Changing Climate and we will also be developing an action plan for each church. This training links to key passages in the Bible related to the importance of inclusion and being prepared for disasters and will be run by church leaders to help the community to prepare and respond in times of emergencies.

VCC will continue to promote women’s leadership and participation in humanitarian action in our future activities. We are also looking to have more leadership summits for church, chief, women and youth leaders on positive leadership, inclusion and peacebuilding.

People need to understand that harmonious communities are made up of individual and communal needs and when we address these within human rights, we will have a more peaceful society, both in emergency and non-disaster periods.

The Gender and Protection Cluster is led by the Department of Women’s Affairs in partnership with CARE and Save the Children. It has over twenty partners including government, NGOs and development partners.