From Whispers to Revolution: Breaking the Chains of Gender-Based Violence in Vanuatu

December 11, 2023
Spotlight CSOs

Spotlight Initiative civil society grantee recipients at a recent workshop in Port Vila, Vanuatu.

Photo: UNDP

The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence concluded on 10 December, but the stark reality of violence against women persists beyond this designated period. It's an everyday struggle for countless women globally; in their homes, communities, workplaces, and online.

Can you imagine a world where the 16 Days campaign becomes obsolete? Where the orange ribbon, once synonymous with ending violence against women, now hangs in a museum—a relic of the past. A symbol of a hard-fought victory for women's equality.

That's the world we should all be working towards, and it requires consistent, collective action, beyond just a 16-day sprint.

This isn't about diminishing the 16 Days campaign. It's about amplifying its impact, transforming its focus from a temporary spotlight into a permanent revolution.  

In Vanuatu, UNDP has concluded its activity under the global Spotlight Initiative to eliminate violence against women and girls, a United Nations programme in partnership with the European Union.

Under the Spotlight Initiative, UNDP partnered with the Office of the Public Prosecutor to make significant strides in two key areas: the refurbishment of the Port Vila’s Victims Center, and the introduction of a Survivor Charter.

The Victims Center now stands as a beacon of hope, boasting enhanced facilities that include two private offices, a child-friendly area, and a playground. With its modernized infrastructure and compassionate staff, the center efficiently handles around 25 cases each month, providing survivors with the support they need to navigate legal proceedings and rebuild their lives.

In parallel, the country’s first Charter for survivors of gender-based violence is a landmark publication that provides survivors with a thorough guideline on how to access the criminal justice system and other support services across the entire country.

And in compliment to UNDP’s work at the judicial end of the spectrum, our work under Spotlight has empowered eight grassroots organizations through grants, enabling them to implement projects focused on prevention and response to gender-based violence. This initiative has significantly strengthened the civil society landscape, fostering deep engagement with community leaders and chiefs. As a result, there has been a notable shift in awareness and an improvement in reporting mechanisms within these communities, indicating a positive change in addressing gender-based violence.

However, in Vanuatu – as in the world – the challenge of changing ingrained behavior is the kind of change that requires more than the delivery of an awareness session at the community level, or within the nakamal, should deep, long-lasting behavioral change occur.  

Spotlight CSOs

Rhoda Sandy (pictured left) will not rest until all women in Vanuatu feel safe, valued, and empowered.

Photo: UNDP

Rhoda, and the fight for her daughter’s future

Rhoda’s story is one that would resonate with many other mothers across the Pacific, and around the world. As a single mom to four children, she rises at 5am each weekday to prepare lunches and see her kids off to school.  

But things don’t get any easier when she waves goodbye to her 13-year-old daughter each morning.  

She travels to school on the bus, where she is most-often told by the bus driver that she looks ‘sexy’, or ‘older than her age’. Rhoda must ring her daughter’s school most days just to ensure that she has safely completed her journey.

Rhoda says that the statistics make her feel an incredible sadness: over 60 percent of Vanuatu's women have experienced gender-based violence, often at the hands of their intimate partners or family members.  

These acts of violence are not just physical assaults either; they are emotional scars that run deep, leaving women feeling powerless and trapped.

She refuses to let her daughter inherit this legacy of fear and pain. As women we deserve to live in a world where we can walk freely, without the constant fear of harassment or assault. We deserve to pursue our dreams without the limitations imposed by a society that undervalues so many women’s worth.

The Spotlight Initiative has ignited a spark of change in many women in Vanuatu, as well as male allies from the highest corridors of power to those in the remotest of villages.  

Despite the Spotlight Initiative ending, our work is far from over. Our efforts to combat violence against women and girls in Vanuatu is only just beginning.  

We must continue. We must come together, we must unite, as for now we have worked on treating the symptoms of gender-based violence, but we are yet to treat the disease.

Rhoda’s daughter is the embodiment of a brighter future. And as a mother, Rhoda will not rest until all women in Vanuatu can walk the streets with their heads held high, knowing they are safe, valued, and empowered.  

Together, we can usher in an era of equality, where every woman feels the warmth of the sun on her skin and the freedom to dance in the wind. 

Munkhtuya Altangerel is the UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji's Resident Representative.