On April 14th, the first ever Human Rights Inclusion for People of Diverse Sexual Orientation and Gender Expression (SOGIE) Advocacy event was held at the Melanesian Conference Room in Port Vila with over 50 high level policy makers and organisational representatives attending.
The United Nations Office of the High Commission for Human Rights (UNOHCHR) officially sponsored the event as part of its Born Free and Equal Campaign for diverse SOGIE inclusion. A special video message to those in attendance at the event was delivered from the Regional Representative to the Pacific, Ms. Heide Alefsen. In her message, Ms. Alefsen stressed the importance of Vanuatu’s international commitments, and the need for Vanuatu to implement effective measures for inclusion, as part of its preparation for the next Universal Periodic Review, scheduled for 2024.
Participants in the event included representatives from the High Commissions of Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain and France. The Vanuatu Government participated through representatives from the Ministries of Education and Training, Health, Internal Affairs, and Justice, the National Statistics Office, and the Department of Police, along with the Leader of the Opposition, the Honourable Mr. Ralph Regenvanu. Also in attendance were representatives from UNDP, Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Vanuatu Women’s Centre, CARE, Oxfam, IsraAid, KOBLE, APTC, Alliance Francaise, and ANZ Bank.
In addition to the UNOHCHR, the event was also sponsored by VPride, Human Capacity Development International (HCDI), Sista, the We Rise Coalition, Oxfam, and Wan Smol Bag (WSB).
The event program included a legal review of the status of SOGIE people in Vanuatu, highlighting the lack of protection, in spite of Vanuatu’s international commitments. This was followed by a presentation on the UNDP LGBT Inclusion Index, a valuable tool for assessing and measuring inclusion. Two research reports were presented: the Oxfam 2020 Gender and LGBTQI Policy and Programming in Vanuatu report, and the VPride 2021 Research on SOGIE Diversity in Vanuatu, which is the first study on diverse SOGIE people in Vanuatu. This report covered 275 respondents and highlighted the challenges and costs of economic, social, and political exclusion to the country.
VPride, the only SOGIE organisation in Vanuatu, presented its 2020-2024 Strategic Plan and also launched its SOGIE booklet, a comprehensive educational resource on SOGIE diversity and best practices in community, health care, education, and safety and justice. The booklet is available free of cost for any professionals working for inclusion in those areas.
The event was concluded with focused policy discussions in each of the key areas, with concrete recommendations offered for next steps.
Human rights-based inclusion for all people is part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Vanuatu committed itself to the Universal Declaration, along with several other international agreements, such as the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the UN Joint Statement on Ending Acts of Violence and Related Human Rights Violations based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, the Commonwealth Charter, and the Pacific Platform for Action for Gender Equality and Women’s Human Rights 2018-2030. In addition, the People’s Plan 2030 aims to develop “a peaceful, just and inclusive society that is supported by responsive and capable institutions, delivering quality services to all citizens”, including quality education, quality health care and social inclusion for all.
Event participants expressed their unequivocal appreciation for the information shared in the event and noted the importance of moving forward on inclusion for all people. VPride’s Executive Director, Ms. Gigi Baxter quoted UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, saying “To those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, let me say: You are not alone. Your struggle for an end to violence and discrimination is a shared struggle. Any attack on you is an attack on the universal values the United Nations and I have sworn to defend and uphold. Today, I stand with you and I call upon all countries and people to stand with you, too”, and shared her hope that all those attending the event “will stand with us, supporting human rights inclusion for all”.