Grants with Big Impact: Spotlight Initiative Supporting Gender-Based Violence Prevention in Vanuatu

May 30, 2023

Vanuatu is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world.

Photo: UNDP

The Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu is a place of great beauty, one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world, a place as awe-inspiring as it is diverse. However, behind the enchanting facade of turquoise waters and pristine white beaches lies a stark reality - Vanuatu has garnered international attention due to the significant challenges faced by women, with high incidences of domestic and gender-based violence a pressing concern.

The global Spotlight Initiative to eliminate violence against women and girls is a United Nations initiative supported by the European Union and other partners.

The Spotlight Initiative Regional Programme in the Pacific – supported in its implementation by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Pacific Office in Fiji – focuses on partnerships with key regional institutions such as the Pacific Islands Forum , and the Pacific Community including its Regional Rights Resource Team to leverage the influence and expertise of these institutions in supporting transformative change in addressing domestic violence and intimate partner violence in the region.

The Spotlight Initiative in the Pacific focuses its work on four key pillars:  

  1. Policy and legislation  
  2. Institutions  
  3. Prevention  
  4. Data  

A comprehensive approach is being implemented by targeting multiple settings for change such as the education sector, government, churches, justice sector, and civil society organizations, and by working across multiple levels of the socio-ecological model.

UNDP’s support to Vanuatu via Spotlight focuses on support to the Office of the Public Prosecutor, and a grantee program to assist civil society organization’s (CSOs) with their implementation of projects directed at gender-based violence prevention.  

The grantee program is in its second and final phase, partnering with six local CSOs to empower women in urban and remote communities and support prevention strategies against gender-based violence. The grants provided support service provision, innovative solutions and engagement activities that aim to provide information and basic services to those who otherwise lack access. The program also aims to identify those CSOs who have the capacity to engage communities nationwide in the provision of justice, health and economic support services to survivors of intimate partner violence in Vanuatu.

Two of these CSOs receiving funds via the Spotlight Initiative are Silae Vanua Market Vendors Association, and IsraAID Vanuatu.  

Silae Vanua Market Vendors

The Central Market in Vanuatu’s capital Port Vila is the beating heart of the city centre. From before sunrise each morning, vendors bring fruits and vegetables plucked from their trees and picked from the country’s fertile volcanic soil – with women playing a key role in this central pilar of the local economy.  

The Central Market in Vanuatu’s capital Port Vila is the beating heart of the city centre.

Photo: UNDP

Accounting for between 75 and 90 percent of all market vendors in Vanuatu, women remain the cornerstone of families and communities alike when it comes to income generation. However, with excessively high rates of gender-based violence prevalent in the country, a woman’s ability to take advantage of the associated economic opportunities through being a market vendor is drastically undermined.  

The Silae Vanua Market Vendors Association is the first association of its kind, an organization led by women, for women, established through UN Women's Markets for Change Project. The group actively participates in decision-making processes and collaborates with market managers and the municipal council responsible for the Port Vila Central Market, with the aim to bring about improvements in operating conditions for all market vendors.

Rachel Metak, Jeanette Wallace and Madlyne Taripoa are just some of the faces of Silae. None of the three finished any formal education, all have children and are the main provider for their respective households, and they have been involved with Silae since its establishment in 2015. Silae now represents over 1,000 market vendors on the main island of Efate alone.  

“A lot of vendors or people talk to us; they come and tell us their needs. I guess we act a bit like a mother for the market and the vendors,” Jeanette, Silae’s President, said.

The women are most proud of the fact that Silae provides a safe space to advocate for women’s rights, through activities related to food security and economic empowerment.

“I am not educated, as I only finished school up to Grade Six. The work here at Silae makes me feel as though I am up, as before I worked at the market I didn’t feel as good as I do now. I now feel as though I can do anything,” Madlyne said.

The support from the Spotlight Initiative has allowed Silae to increase their coverage and further educate market communities in Port Vila, and beyond.  

“Through the Spotlight grant, UNDP has provided training and guidance to help with Silae’s activities. We have been able to reach communities beyond Port Vila and to spread awareness messaging that has helped to educate market vendors around violence against women.

“Silae survives on vendor membership alone, which is not enough in terms of income to do all the activities that we ideally would like to do. We want our vendors to know they can be a businessman or a businesswoman and that Silae will support them to become who they want to be. The grant made possible through Spotlight has allowed us to do just that,” Rachel said.        


Within Vanuatu, patrilineal systems predominantly prevail. For Jeanine Shem, Project Manager with IsraAID, traditional family roles have been flipped on their head with her husband supporting Jeanine as she furthers her career working to better their lives of women and girls.

Rachel Metak, Jeanette Wallace and Madlyne Taripoa of Silae Market Vendors Association. (Photo: UNDP)

IsraAid’s Jeanine Shem says the Spotlight grantee program has profoundly enriched the lives of not only women, but entire communities. (Photo: UNDP)

“In Vanuatu, the culture is different but for me, my husband is so understanding, and that alone is why I have been able to do what I do. We have a real partnership,” she said.  

IsraAID has operated in Vanuatu since 2015, with their focus on the implementation of long-term strategies for programs in water and sanitation, health and nutrition, and mental health and psychosocial support. IsraAID’s work in Vanuatu promotes sustainable and inclusive solutions, giving special attention to hands-on training and community ownership, and working closely with communities, civil society partners, and government authorities.

This methodology aligns with the Spotlight Initiative, and on receiving grant funding IsraAid is working to provide women with the necessary resources to make it through disasters and emergencies with dignity.

With support from Spotlight and UNDP, IsraAID has developed a training module that focuses on health and wellbeing alongside gender-based violence awareness messaging, with this used to train volunteers and community champions across Vanuatu, many of these sessions being held across Vanuatu’s remote islands of Malampa, Penama and Sanma.  

These communities lie at the heart of IsraAID’s work, co-designing all activities and ensuring that community buy-in and positive relationships are built.  

“Before we start a project, we do a lot of field work. We work to understand what they want, and what they need. It doesn’t matter how good your plans may be, if you don’t build these relationships with the communities, it won’t work,” Jeanine said.

IsraAid's work through the Spotlight grantee program has profoundly enriched the lives of not only women but entire communities, igniting hope and fostering a sense of lasting transformation.

“The training manual we developed for addressing the mental health impact of gender-based violence has been incredibly effective in changing mindsets in our communities. In one of the training sessions, we had a participant who had previously been violent toward his partner, with his partner since ending the relationship.”  

“He said the training made him understand that his actions were wrong, and he felt remorseful, so the behaviour change element needed so badly here in Vanuatu is strong through our work,” Jeanine said.

UNDP Support

The Spotlight Initiative Regional Programme in the Pacific continues to deliver in an ever-changing and complex environment. For instance, in the case of Vanuatu, they went through back-to-back tropical cyclones in the recent past. Recently, Vanuatu took its case to the UN General Assembly to seek an opinion from the International Court of Justice on what legal obligations nations are under to protect climate systems and people affected by climate change.

UNDP Effective Governance Team Leader (Officer in Charge), Rustam Pulatov, said that meaningful investment in civil society remained a key driver to ensure transformative and sustainable change.  

“The prevalence of violence against women and girls in Vanuatu is concerning, with upwards of two in three women being subjected to physical or sexual intimate partner violence in their lifetime.  

“Progress is being made thanks to the strong support and efforts of government and community leaders, and engaging with civil society organisations who are well-respected within the community continues to be an effective way to bring about positive change,” he said.  

The Spotlight Initiative Regional Programme in the Pacific runs through December 2023.