Vanuatu has made substantial strides in promoting gender equality and empowering women across diverse sectors of society over the past years.

From economic empowerment to health initiatives and political representation, concerted efforts have been undertaken to uplift women and address gender-based disparities.

The Ministry of Justice and Community Services (MoJCS), through the Department of Women’s Affairs (DWA), recently organised a consultation meeting to review the progress of some of the work that has been done in the past, especially to uplift women’s status and promote gender equality.

As observed by the speakers during the women’s consultation, one notable development is the enhanced accessibility of Vanuatu National Provident Fund (VNPF) benefits to informal workers, a demographic largely comprising women. This measure ensures financial security and social protection for a traditionally marginalised segment of the workforce.

Moreover, the increase of women’s savings and market association groups, such as Silae Vanua Market Vendors Association, Northern Islands Market Vendors’ Association (NIMVA), and South Pacific Business Development (SPBD), indicates a growing commitment to building economic independence among women. These associations serve as catalysts for entrepreneurial ventures and economic self-sufficiency, providing a platform for skill development and financial literacy.

The diversification of women’s employment opportunities into non-traditional industries, including building construction, aviation, and beekeeping, reflects a combined effort to break gender stereotypes and promote inclusivity in the workforce.

To combat violence against women, Vanuatu has taken proactive measures to address the pervasive issue of gender-based violence. The establishment of the Victim Support Centre and the Vanuatu Women’s Centre (VWC) 161 toll-free helpline shows a collaborative effort to provide comprehensive support services to survivors.

Furthermore, the implementation of government standard operating procedures and the development of support networks, such as the Domestic Violence Guidelines and the Victim’s Charter, aim to streamline responses to gender-based violence and ensure survivors’ access to justice and protection.

There is also increased representation of women in political institutions. Demonstrated by the presence of women councillors in the Luganville Municipal Council (LMC) and the election of women into general seats, this signifies a paradigm shift towards gender-inclusive governance.

Additionally, works to strengthen area councils and appoint women area administrators reflect a commitment to decentralisation and gender mainstreaming in administrative structures. Initiatives like women’s leadership and mentoring programmes further nurture a pipeline of female leaders across various sectors, fostering a culture of gender parity and inclusivity.

In healthcare, Vanuatu has prioritised women’s reproductive and maternal health through the development of policies like the Reproductive, Maternal, Neonatal, Child, Adolescent Health (RMNCAH) Policy & Strategic Plan. This framework aims to expand access to sexual and reproductive health services, ensuring women’s holistic well-being.

Furthermore, initiatives such as free mammograms and pap smears, along with the establishment of a dedicated Social Work Department within Vila Central Hospital focusing on gender-based violence and child protection, reflect Vanuatu’s commitment to addressing women’s health needs widely.

Efforts to support the girl child extend to initiatives promoting menstrual hygiene in schools through the Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) programme, thus reducing dropout rates and enhancing academic outcomes for girls. Programmes like “Girls in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)” further encourage girls to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, fostering gender parity in traditionally male-dominated fields.

Moreover, the rollout of HPV vaccination for girls aged 9 to 13 aims to mitigate the risk of cervical cancer, reflecting a proactive approach towards safeguarding girls’ health and well-being.

Vanuatu’s multifaceted approach to women’s empowerment reflects a commitment to furthering inclusive development and realising the full potential of its female population. By addressing systemic barriers and promoting gender equality across various domains, Vanuatu paves the way for a more equitable and prosperous future for all its citizens.