Aug 07, 2020 Last Updated 5:12 AM, Aug 6, 2020

In the recent Vanuatu national elections, Dr Andrina Thomas stood for the rural electorate of Espiritu Santo. In this article, which was originally published on the DevPolicy blog, she offers some reflections to Elise Howard.

In the 2020 Vanuatu elections, 18 women campaigned and none of them got through again, just as in 2012 and 2016. I think the blockage is vote buying and candidates having no money for sponsorship and campaigning. We also need to work better at capturing votes. Support for women to run for elections needs to move out of workshops in lavish hotels in Port Vila and instead get down to the constituencies to encourage the grassroots to resist bribery and vote for women.

I want to say to the young women of Vanuatu, do not be discouraged! If we fail the first time we need to keep trying and believing in ourselves. The meaning of FAIL is First Attempt In Learning. Therefore, we can’t stop now just because there is still corruption and rampant vote buying in Vanuatu. Vanuatu defeated its fundamental principles of independence by selling passports, which is our identity, and selling land, which is our mother, because of money. It’s our civic duty to continue to preach good governance, and hopefully one day when we have more ethical people in power, better management, leadership, and governance will happen in Vanuatu.

Political parties and vote buying

In my small village of Matantas in Big Bay in the rural island of Espiritu Santo, the 150 people who were registered voters had to choose between 12 different political parties. For those voters to make their choice at the polling station, they are thinking of the people who paid them, who bought and gave them bags of rice, bags of kava, made promises for road contracts, and people who gave them money. It’s very difficult for someone like me to go in and say: “Look I’m not going to bribe you, but I’m going to come and tell you why I want you to vote for me because I have ethics and integrity. If I go into Parliament tomorrow, I will make sure I will not misuse your constituency development funds and I will report back to you how these funds were used”. But it’s difficult to compete with rampant bribery and corruption which is how men have always been voted into Vanuatu’s Parliament.

In Vanuatu our voters are handed a booklet of ballot cards when they go to vote. Their vote is supposed to be secret. When they go into a voting booth, the voter picks out the card for their candidate and puts this in the ballot box. For voters who aren’t literate, they are picking out a face from a photo on the card. In this election, political parties kept the voting cards – they were putting money in and returning the cards with money inside, a thousand vatu, and then getting people to vote for them. After the election the parties check whether any of their votes are missing. There was one incident when one husband went and beat up his partner with a stick and then asked her who she voted for, her response was that she couldn’t find the card for that person, so she took another one and put it in the envelope. The other problem is literacy. When people don’t know how to read, the only thing they can identify is pictures. In one instance on Malekula, a candidate only had his name on the card but no pictures. So, he was highly disadvantaged and now we have to ask, why did the picture not come out? This is something the Electoral Commission will have to look at.

Political parties and gender equality

The big political parties come with a lot of money and there’s no chance to compete against them. The smaller parties, who campaign transparently, are not going to dish out money. It is difficult to get the sponsorship that the older and bigger parties have because there are limited sponsors in Vanuatu.

Despite a lot of awareness around gender equality, when women are actually nominated, they are not nominated in their own right. Political parties will make a woman stand with another man; she is like a token. The parties say yes, we understand there should be gender equality but when it comes to vote casting, it’s usually the men that get the highest vote. So that’s why the women said look, we’ve tried. That’s the reason why the Vanuatu National Council of Women created the Leleon Vanua Democratic Party, a woman-led party on 15 May 2018. Access to funding is problematic which makes it hard to field contestants as our fundraising strategies were not sufficient compared to the bigger parties. We didn’t field any contestants in 2020, but we will do so in 2024. We want future leaders with good ethics and integrity standards.

Capturing votes

The next strategy is undertaking advocacy work for my community by spending time educating people and answering their questions. I don’t just do good governance educational work, I also do financial literacy training. I’ll be helping the Mamas who are market vendors, and other Mamas with their small businesses, on how to save and manage their business properly and improve their small businesses to prosper. There are 3,000 market vendors. If all these women actually rallied behind me, I would have gotten elected, but the problem is they don’t know me personally. I need to come down to their level, get them to trust me, and maybe I will do better in 2024.

Support for women to run for elections – what do we need?

International donors have run many programs to support women to run for elections. The aid funding usually benefits the INGO groups. They run lots of meetings, always with the same people, in expensive hotels rather than reaching out to the grassroots. Internal assessments are done, but not a lot of work is done with communities externally to sensitise them and encourage them to vote for women. Gender equality means going down to the communities to convince both men and women to vote for women.

This article first appeared on www.devpolicy.org

Tonga’s double whammy

  • Aug 08, 2020
  • Published in April

Whilst the world is dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, there are countries across the globe that are undergoing a two-fold or double-whammy blow with the impacts of natural disasters also crashing in on their already fragile state.

Earlier this month, Tropical Cyclone (TC) Harold ripped through Vanuatu, Fiji and Tonga. TC Harold entered Tongan waters while the nation was in lockdown for COVID-19, in the early hours of the morning of 9 April. It hit mainly Tongatapu, ‘Eua and Ha’apai.

My immediate thoughts took me to the additional burden that would pile up on our women. Women were already having to deal with surplus demands from family members during lockdown: cooking, cleaning, washing, tending to the sick, helping children with homework, weaving to cover for pay cuts, calling for family prayers, managing family conflict, and so on. Now they were faced with having to deal with the unexpected arrival of TC Harold: facilitating the move to evacuation centres, preparing and cooking food for the family for the cyclone period, ensuring elderly and young members of the family were in safe locations. Not to mention its exit: immediately cleaning up, assessing damage, facilitating relocation of family members, feeding the family, and keeping up with family demands. All this, while making sure that family members kept to strict hygiene rules because of COVID-19.

I saw firsthand the resilience of women in Tonga post TC Gita in 2019. Despite the destruction, desolation and anguish that Gita caused for many families throughout Tonga, it was the women in these families who resiliently rose and took charge of the clean-up and repairing of homes. It was the women who ensured that, despite loss and damage to homes and possessions, the family unit itself would make it through those darkest times.

I expected that the practice would be no different with TC Harold and that the 113 families that either completely lost or had major damage to their homes on 9 April would have resilient women working around the clock to bring things back to normal as soon as possible, despite the burden of the COVID-19 lockdown.

By 10am on 9 April, I received communication from one of the staff of the organisation I work for, the Women and Children Crisis Centre (WCCC). I was told that our centre branch office in ‘Eua had been completely destroyed. Everything inside has been damaged. The ‘Eua WCCC counsellor informed me that she was still going to undertake safety and risk assessments with the families at nearby evacuation centres whose homes were completely or greatly damaged by the cyclone. By midday, two of my staff on Tongatapu had already made safety risk assessments at evacuation centres on the main island, despite the challenges of social distancing rules. Both staff on Tongatapu and ‘Eua reported back by 10pm the same day. What they observed and found was indeed what we had already experienced and documented during the aftermath of TC Gita. It was the women who were cooking at and cleaning the evacuation centre and quickly preparing to return home to clean up and fix whatever could be done before sundown.

A woman wrote to WCCC at about 11:15pm on the evening of 9 April stating the following (which is reproduced here with her permission):

(translated) Hello. I ‘m married with three children. Ever since I’ve been married my husband has never stopped having extramarital affairs. We have been on and off many, many times. Last year I wasn’t feeling too well and I went and got a medical check-up. To make a long story short, I found out that my husband had given me a sexually transmitted disease. I confronted him about this and he denied it but he eventually blamed it on one of the women he had been sleeping with. During the lockdown, he couldn’t go as he usually does in the evenings and over the weekends and because we were all stuck at home he forced me to have sex with him. I didn’t want to have sex with him because of the fear of getting the STI again. One night during the lockdown, I refused and he grabbed me by the arm, twisted it around my back and hurt me before forcing me. I now am scared I will get the STI again, what should I do? I am too embarrassed to go and get tested again.

Imagine for one moment you are this woman. Meeting all the demands expected of her as a mother and a wife during lockdown. Having to deal with the anxiety of catching another STI and on top of that being forced to have sex in a violent way. Then having to deal with the possible oncoming impacts of TC Harold.

If that is not resilient, then I don’t know what is! But this I do know: women’s resilience in the face of adversity is more than often never talked about. It doesn’t make the news. It is rarely talked about in depth during post-recovery cluster meetings. It is almost certainly never talked about in terms of women being our true superheroes in dealing with crises head-on and ensuring that families get back to normal as soon as possible. Instead, children are socialised into thinking ‘that is the role of a mother’, and so it becomes an expectation rather than an example of resilience and strength.

We need to change this narrative, and acknowledge and recognise the critical role of our women during crises. Imagine if women were given a platform to come together and develop a national response to national crises. I absolutely have no doubt that we would see some pretty kick-ass action happening across our nations. Think about that for moment.

Ofakilevuka ('Ofa) Guttenbeil-Likiliki is Director of the Women & Children Crisis Centre (WCCC) in Tonga, a women's rights activist and a filmmaker.

This article first appeared on the DevPolicy blog from the Development Policy Centre at the Australian National University:  devpolicy.org

 

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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