Jenny Ligo is impeccably dressed. She wears a floral print blue dress with matching blue earrings and a striking blue necklace. Armed with a mobile phone and laptop computer, these are her only tools to fight for the women’s movement in Vanuatu.
Mrs. Ligo is the chairwoman of Woman Against Crime and Corruption (WACC). The organization doesn’t have an office, nor does it receive any funding. At the age of 50 plus years old, Mrs. Ligo has learnt how to use technology to mobilize the organization since its establishment in 2008. She either works from home or in various places around town. By using these new technologies, she has been able to stay connected with board members, victims of crime and the general public. Mrs. Ligo also uses the opportunity to raise awareness as well as announce events and news on WACC’s Facebook page.
Jenny Ligo is from Ambae and was studying accounting before she began advocating for women’s rights. Her late aunt Grace Molisa, the first woman in Vanuatu to gain a university degree and a distinguished poet and campaigner for women’s equality in politics, encouraged Mrs. Ligo to work alongside her. With Grace Molisa as her mentor, she began to learn about the women’s movement. By 1996, after Mrs. Ligo studied gender in a workshop, she took her advocacy to another level. She worked with the Vanuatu National Council of Women for several years, and alongside the UN and Ministry of Justice and the Department of Women’s Affairs.
Mrs. Ligo has been chairwoman of WACC for 8 years. WACC was established after an incident that saw an ex convict assault an expatriate woman in her home. She begged for her life and said that her dog played a pivotal role her release. After meeting with her, Mrs. Ligo saw the need for an organization to deal with victims of crime. ‘The group was organized mostly for women as it’s mostly women who are the victims of crime and generally it’s men who are the perpetrators,’ she says. Today she still continues to advocate the government to have a welfare department to specifically handle such cases, as the judicial system is not enough to provide support. The Vanuatu Women’s Center (VWC), Vanuatu’s leading women’s organization, also advocates the government to strengthen it’s laws as well as implement new ones regarding social affairs. In the last week of April, the VWC petitioned the government to implement a juvenile court as minors are being sentenced in the same jurisdiction as adults. The VWC also said that there has been an increase in minors committing crimes, which is another area of concern. There is also no Family Court despite the Family Protection Act being introduced in 2008. Vanuatu is also still in the process of creating a Child Protection Act, which is a policy that is non-existent.
Mrs. Ligo says that WACC has two main objectives. ‘The focus of WACC is to ensure that the victims of crime are heard. Many of the women are voiceless and can’t speak for themselves out of fear. This could be because of our culture. Women are told not to speak out. We are here to speak on behalf of them and want to advocate for their rights. It’s not right that violence is happening.’
WACC’s other objective is to ensure that the government enforces the law. ‘If a sentence is handed out, it’s important that the full term is carried out. It’s not enough to have the policy and legislation. The procedures also have to be implemented. If they don’t strengthen their laws, then the same behavior will continue. If a father rapes his daughter and gets only 7 years in jail, then he must serve those 7 years,’ she says, referring to the recent case of a man raping his daughter in Gaua.
WACC board members are all voluntary. Due to the voluntary positions, there has no been no official recording of how many women seek the help of WACC but it’s estimated to be in the hundreds. During the interview, Ms. Ligo receives a call. Someone had contacted WACC on Facebook on behalf of her friend. Ms. Ligo gave her phone number through private messaging so that the woman’s friend could contact her. During the night, the woman’s husband held her at knifepoint until she was able to escape in the early morning and rang Mrs. Ligo. Ms. Ligo calmly tells the woman to go directly to the Vanuatu Women’s Center (VWC) where they can put her in a safe house After hanging up, she says, ‘If it weren’t for Facebook, we wouldn’t have known about her situation, let alone have been able to help her.’
Ms. Ligo says that more organizations need to start recognizing how social media and the Internet can be an effective way to produce two-way communication, raise awareness and generate discussion about serious issues. ‘When we did the march against violence in March, it was a stand to say we want the law to be prioritized,’ Mrs. Ligo says. Although she believes that big events such as the march are a great way to make a point about serious issues, she also stresses how important it is to keep the discussion going. On a Facebook post, WACC called on all women organizations to use Facebook as a way to promote their services as many of the target audience are young women who use Facebook. If we cannot promote our work enough, Vanuatu will continue to have raising figures in violence and crime, the post read. She says that rather than wait for crime to happen, it’s important to start preventing it, which is why it’s important for organizations to engage with the public.
In the wake of Media Freedom Day last week on May 4th, Tony Wilson, editor of Independent Newspaper and tutor at the Journalism School at VIT, also said how important it was that government departments use the media to disseminate information in order to create transparency and to reduce criticisms from the public. He suggested that funds be allocated to each department to have a communications officer to manage their own media. In an opinion editorial last week, the Media Director of the Daily Post, Dan McGarry, said that it would be ideal if ‘all parties participate equally in the creation of a story. Ideally, this leads to a dialogue that informs the public and motivates them to responsible action.’ Prime Minister Charlot Salwai further urged all departments to make use of the media and he is supporting the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill to be passed in Parliament this year. It’s currently being drafted in the State Office before it will be debated in Parliament. The Bill will allow the media and public to access government information. This will allow the media to report accurately, inform the people about government decisions as well as promote transparency and fight corruption. Prime Minister Salwai said, ‘In this way, we must all join hands and work together to promote democracy, sustainable development and good governance.’
Without an office and with limited resources, Mrs. Ligo understands the importance of using Facebook to effectively mobilize WACC. She admits it hasn’t been easy – her work is voluntary and is made even the more difficult with the backlash she faces for speaking out against crime and corruption. Mrs. Ligo hopes that WACC’s advocacy will be recognized and that the government will answer WACC’s questions regarding why certain policies haven’t been implemented, or where funds are being allocated, or why positions aren’t being appointed, particularly in areas such as the Family Protection Act. If the Freedom of Information Bill is passed, it will provide WACC the answers it needs. Until then, Mrs. Ligo continues to crusade for women’s rights and against crime and corruption with just her laptop and mobile phone.
The next meeting of Women Against Crime and Corruption will be held in October. If anyone is interested in assisting WACC or seeking more information, please visit their Facebook page.