This item was first published in the Vanuatu Daily Post on March 7th, 2017
This week (March 8th) we will celebrate International Women’s Day. Sometimes this is a day to think about all of the challenges that we face in protecting and promoting the interests of women and girls.
There are certainly numerous challenges to address in this sphere in Vanuatu, just as there are in many other countries in our region and across the globe.
To take a different tack, I would like to take this opportunity to highlight and acknowledge the international work and activities that a number of women of Vanuatu undertake. Whilst there may not be as many women as men working internationally, their contributions are important and deserve recognition.
There are numerous members of the public service, male and female who are required to travel overseas in their official capacities. We can take pride in the fact that the women who represent us regionally and globally are often acknowledged as very diligent and hardworking. They make important contributions to conversations in many different spheres. They are part of how we ensure that the concerns of Vanuatu are heard beyond our shores.
And what do they bring back? Apart from the mandatory chocolates for the office, those who represent us overseas bring back new insights based on what they have learned from others. They return with enhanced relationships with their international counterparts that they can draw on for the benefit of their organisations in the future.
An overseas work trip may sound very glamorous but as anyone who has had to do them more than about twice will tell you, they can be very hard work. For those who have primary care responsibilities in the home (predominantly women), there are added factors to consider so that those at home are going along ok whilst they are away. In this their partners and other family members support them and this is a very important contribution that is often overlooked.
At a more substantial level, there are a number of ni-Vanuatu professionals working away from home in regional organisations. Jane Kanas has just completed an eleven-year stint working at USP in Suva. Her work has contributed to the ability of ni-Vanuatu students and others from around the region to study through distance and flexible learning. Anna Naupa is at the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (also in Suva) leading a team that is working out how regionalism will look and work in the future.
Working away from home brings its own opportunities and challenges. There is often a trade-off between professional advancement and being away from extended family and friends. Birthday parties get missed and instead of seeing aunties and uncles weekly (or more often) there may only be a handful of chances for family get-togethers in any one year.
It is very important that our country is well represented in regional organisations and we should be proud of those women and men that are doing that. They bring what they know of our society, economy and culture to wider discussions. They are always on the look out for opportunities to remind others about how regional issues affect or are perceived by the people of Vanuatu.
We should also make mention of those women who are currently studying overseas, whether in Fiji, Australia, New Zealand, China and elsewhere. They have been given great opportunities, as have the men who are also studying abroad. We can expect them to return to Vanuatu equipped with new skills to apply to their work and enriched with cultural experiences and new insights to guide their future thinking. They are ambassadors for our country, informing people they meet about Vanuatu and sharing ni-Vanuatu experiences and ways of doing things.
We are all aware of the great achievements of the women’s beach volleyball teams. As we know, they do an amazing job of representing their country at the highest levels of their sport. Again, the amount of time they have to be away from home presents significant challenges. They are well supported by their partners and their communities who are an essential part of the wider team. And they are not the only women who represent Vanuatu in the sporting arena. We also have tennis players, surfers and others who overcome various obstacles so that the Vanuatu flag is on display at regional and international sporting events.
There are, I am sure, many other examples of women who are contributing to Vanuatu’s international profile in a variety of ways. In an increasingly connected world, they are an important part of how we present ourselves to others. International Women’s Day is a chance to acknowledge the work that they do and offer our encouragement and support for what they do in the future.