Women’s political party established by civil society call for representation in parliament

In the last few months, Vanuatu has been taking steps towards implementation of its international human rights obligations. In August 2018, civil society group, the Pacific Community’s (SPC) Regional Rights Resources Team (RRRT) organised a meeting with key government agencies and stakeholders in Vanuatu to discuss implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Children (CRC) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). On 26th September 2018, Vanuatu officially joined the Global Alliance on Torture-Free Trade which was launched in 2017 and currently has 60 countries as part of its alliance.

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Activists calls for women’s representation in parliament 

In July 2018, a Vanuatu Civil Society Influencing Network (VCSIN) which consists of 38 civil society groups called for urgent action from the authorities to eliminate patriarchal mindsets about the place and role of women, and reduce alleged “rampant corruption including bribery, nepotism, cronyism and gender discrimination which is happening on an epic scale in Vanuatu’s work-places, thus resulting in women not accessing or being removed from their positions of authority or not having a voice and space in Vanuatu’s parliament”.

One major step that was taken by civil society to combat this problem was the creation of a women’s political party known as the Leleon Vanua Democratic Party by the Vanuatu National Council of Women (VNCW). The new political party was a vehicle to launch women political candidates for the 2020 general election. The party has called on the Vanuatu government to stand with the women of Vanuatu and commit to 50 percent representation for women in the National Parliament. Vanuatu’s National Parliament is made up of 52 elected members, none of who are women.

VCSIN stated that:

“The political party encourages membership from both men and women and will provide a platform for women to contest future municipal, provincial and national elections without any political party interference.”

In September 2018, during a workshop on political parties, Leleon Vanua Democratic Party Interim Secretary General, Hilda Lini, raised questions on why there are no seats reserved for women in the Parliament.

Airport workers issue strike notice

On 4th July 2018, the Vanuatu National Workers Union (VNWU) on behalf of its Airports Vanuatu Limited (AVL) Union members, issued a 30-day strike notice. Among the reasons for the strike was due to political interference in the appointment of the CEO, union busting activities and the lack of recognition of trade union rights

Criticising the strike notice, Airports Vanuatu Limited said that a strike should be the last resort to highlight the concerns of workers. AVL CEO Rakau said while AVL management understands the importance of the union, it called for a dialogue to first discuss the issues, and referred to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the two bodies in 2016.

Vanuatu NGOs support call for end to Australia’s refugee policy

On 31st August 2018, the Vanuatu Human Rights Coalition joined 84 other civil society organisations, in a joint open letter, to call for Australia’s refugee policy to be at the top of the agenda when regional heads of government meet at the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF). PIF is an intergovernmental organisation that aims to promote cooperation between the countries of the Pacific, that held a meeting in Nauru from 3rd to 6th September 2018.

The letter urged PIF leaders to call for an immediate end to Australia’s cruel and abusive refugee policy, which has seen more than 2000 women, men and children detained on Nauru and Manus Island in cruel and degrading conditions over the last five years. The letter stated that:

“While it is hard to call out close neighbours and allies, the Pacific Islands Forum is the correct space for this urgent discussion. It is important that Pacific Island countries hold Australia and each other accountable to human rights obligations for all refugees and people seeking asylum.”

On 19th July 2013, Australia enacted a policy that meant anyone who arrived by boat to Australia would be barred from seeking asylum in the country. Instead, they would be transferred to Manus Island in Papua New Guinea or Nauru, and even those recognised as refugees would not be allowed to settle in Australia.