Apr 05, 2020 Last Updated 11:49 AM, Apr 4, 2020

It’s election campaign time in Vanuatu where women candidates will try their luck once more to outpoll their male counterparts and end the ‘zero women in parliament’ drought with hopes for a place in Parliament.

The Vanuatu Electoral Commission on Tuesday announced the names of eligible candidates to run for the 2020 election. Of the 234 total candidates, 223 are men and 11 are female candidates.

The number of female candidates could increase in the coming days once the ineligible candidates fix their outstanding debts with various government departments. They have 72 hours to do that under the election laws of Vanuatu.

In 2016, ten women contested the national election. None made it into the national Parliament.

Of the 11 female candidates declared by the Electoral Commission yesterday, seven are rallying under different political parties while four are contesting as Independents.

Anne Pakoa, who will be running as an Independent for one of the four Port Vila constituency seats believes women prefer to run as Independents for various reasons.

“Personally, I think political Parties do not accept them, secondly parties’ policies are not agreeable to the candidate and in particular women, they must pass some crazy male-based criteria to be accepted into a male-dominated party.

“It takes a lot to be a leader in a small island developing state like Vanuatu where we are culturally and spiritually strong,” she said.

Pakoa believes women must go the extra mile to prove themselves worthy to run for office.

The poor representation of women in Vanuatu parliament is a continuing trend. Since Independence, only five women have been elected into parliament, the most recent in 2008.

With only 11 women declared eligible to run for the election during the first announcement on Tuesday, the slow response from government departments to the Electoral commission on the candidates’ eligibility is also causing delays and doubts for many candidates.

One of the prominent women leaders whose name was not read out during the declaration of eligible candidates, Dr. Andrina Kl Thomas, said she has already settled her outstanding fee of Vt 9000 (approximately FJD$167) and is ready to start her campaign at her constituency on the Island of Santo very soon.

“We have to give it a go and I will continue to influence, educate and advocate for the adoption of good governance ethics and integrity standards aimed at improving institutional performances.”

While women in Vanuatu continue to struggle to make it into the national parliament, there have been some positive developments in the representation of women in higher government positions and in the private sector.

Prior to the launching of the Vanuatu election campaign on Tuesday, a panel discussion in Port Vila hosted by the Vanuatu Dialogue Live Team considered the theme ‘the rise of women does not mean the fall of men’.

The Vanuatu election campaign is now ongoing and will end at midnight on March 16 ahead of polling day on March 19.

A final official declaration of eligible candidates will be announced this coming Friday.

In the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (DEVAW), violence against women is defined as any act of gender based violence that “results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including the threat of violence, coercion, or arbitrary deprivations of liberty. Violence against women (VAW) includes:

1. Physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring in the family, including battering, sexual abuse of female children in the household, dowry related violence and violence related to exploitation. Physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring within the general community including rape, sexual abuse, sexual harassment and intimidation at work, in educational institutions and elsewhere, trafficking in women and forced prostitution and physical, sexual and psychological violence perpetrated or condones by the state, wherever its occurs.”

2. Of the 6 Pacific countries with national prevalence studies using the World Health Organisation methodology (Fiji, Vanuatu, Kiribati, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Samoa), all have prevalence rates for intimate partner violence that greatly exceed the global averages, ranging from 60% to 68% in Melanesia and Kiribati, and from 40 to 46% in Polynesia. Rates of non-partner violence are also extremely high in the Pacific when compared with global averages, particularly non-partner physical violence in Tonga and Samoa.

The rates of childhood sexual abuse of girls are extraordinarily high: 37% in the Solomon Islands, 30% in Vanuatu and 8% in Tonga. Emotional violence and coercive control by intimate partners is extremely high across the region.

In Fiji, 58% of women were emotional abused in their lifetime, 69% were subjected to one or more forms of control by their husband/partner, and 28% to 4 or more types of control. For example, 39% of women have to ask for permission from their husbands before seeking health care for themselves. Women living with their intimate partner violence are subjected to economic abuse: 28% had husbands/partners who either took their savings or refused to give them money.

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3. Women and girls who face multiple forms of discrimination due to ethnicity, sexual identity and ability/disability are exposed to increased risk of all forms of violence. Although prevalence data is scarce on violence against women and girls with disabilities, it indicates that these women experience much higher rates of violence. Our research also demonstrated that violence against women contributes to disability, due to the frequency and severity of injuries. It is widely accepted that the rick of violence against women increases during periods of political, tribal and ethnic conflict and in the context of natural disasters and emergencies.

4. Our analysis of the consequences of VAW highlights the health, social broader development and economic impacts. This analysis aligns with other international actors who identify VAW as a critical problem which contributes to and reinforces poverty and impedes sustainable economic growth and overall national development. Our analysis also highlights the fact that VAW, in addition to being caused by gender inequality, is a social mechanism that perpetuates and reinforces inequality and unequal gender power relations, by forcing women into a subordinate position compared to men.

Impacts of VAW highlighted by the findings of FWCC’s research report include: direct impacts on survivors including to their physical, reproductive and mental health. Direct economic costs to families, communities and the nation due to the significant health impacts of VAW and other costs of responding to the problem (such as by welfare and law and justice agencies). Enormous lost opportunities for social and economic development due to the threat of violence and coercive control, which undermines women’s agency and prevents women from participating in education, economic development and political decisionmaking and short term and long term impacts on children which further impede economic development.

Around the Pacific a lot of work is being done in the area of eliminating violence against women through the Pacific Women’s Network against Violence against Women (PWNAVAW) and other agencies in partnership with development partners.

Over the last 34 years we have seen changes- many more stakeholders including faithbased organisation, traditional leaders and some governments are committing to ending violence against women and children through specific legislation, policies and programmes. Most of the funding for this work is from foreign governments. Its time our own governments come to the table and take responsibility to demonstrate this commitment to our women and children.

3-year journey begins

Discriminatory laws affect women in business

THE Pacific journey for the next three years to maximise benefits and achieve positive impact on the lives of women and girls in the region begins now following a successful four-day conference in Fiji last month. More than 200 women from 21 countries and territories reached consensus in an outcome document which will be the guiding policy for advancing the Pacific’s gender equality agenda in the next three years.

Women leaders also discussed the economic standing of 4.5 million women and girls across the greater Pacific region. Despite making up half the region’s population, women continue to be economically under-represented due to discriminatory laws, and the social and cultural norms which place unrealistic expectations on their responsibilities for home and family care. Pacific Community director-general Dr Colin Tukuitonga said the conference covered some good grounds to strengthen political commitment and facilitate the enabling environment required to pursue gender equality.

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A vendor’s struggle

WHEN Janet Ramo of Malaita in Solomon Islands started her business 32 years ago, she had one thing in mind - money. With $5 in her pocket, a sewing machine and two pieces of garments given to her by her husband, Ramo left no stone unturned but headed to the small town of Auki and started her business.

The 51-year-old mother of four makes close to $600 a fortnight as a seamstress, targeting working women in Honiara. Her theories are simple, work hard, never give up and believe in her dreams. Like other women vendors in Malaita, Ramo shared her untold stories of the struggles she endured to make ends meet for her family.

At the market, she said, her life was always at risk. “There are no security, and we have to sleep on the floor without proper beddings,” she said, while trying to contain her emotions. “Some women came with their children, without proper facilities, they have to sleep and eat at the market and return to their homes when their products are all sold.” 

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THE adoption of the Revised Pacific Platform for Action for Gender Equality and Women’s Human Rights during the deliberations of the 13th Pacific Triennial Conference on Women and the 6th Meeting of Women’s Ministers convened by the Pacific Community (SPC) marks an important journey for the Pacific region. A journey which needs to tackle a dearth of social, economic, environmental and political challenges.

Minister Mereseini Vuniwaqa, Minister of Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation in Fiji, who chaired the conference, is pleased with the outcomes: “Apart from setting a roadmap on next steps, it also allows us as a government to measure what we have been doing so far, whether that is the direction that the region, as an entity, is taking and what it is that we can do differently and do better,” she said.

“We have identified some key challenges, as a government, from this particular meeting: data, the lack of data here in our nation, to drive and inform policy-making. We see that as a challenge and I am glad it has come out very strongly in the outcome document as well.”

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