To leave no one behind, invest in us, invest in women


Port Vila - Flora Vano, a Ni-Vanuatu feminist and Country Program Manager of ActionAid Vanuatu (*), briefed Ms. Reem Alsalem the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, on local women-led initiatives to prevent violence amid the climate crisis and COVID-19.

Vanuatu is a seemingly innocuous small island developing country with some of the most pristine coasts, luscious tropical nature, and the most welcoming people, yet the country is also home to some of the world’s highest rates of domestic violence, and the highest at-risk country in the world for natural disasters. The compounding impact of the latter two records, in a context of climate crisis and climate security, is quickly deteriorating women’s livelihoods, and opportunities for a sustainable ecosystem where women can thrive.

Flora shared some of the findings of the study undertaken by ActionAid Vanuatu and Monash University in 2018 that looked at both the impact of climate change on women in Vanuatu as well as what was needed to drive more gender-responsive approaches to address climate change. She also shared some recommendations stemming from her work on the ground with women in communities.

Representation and inclusion

“We know that addressing gender inequalities is essential to any gender-responsive approach to climate change. However, the current state of affairs provides women with limited access to decision-making (in Vanuatu there are no women in the national parliament), hence women are often invisible in policymaking”, said Flora Vano.

“Without adequate representation of women in these discussions, we are jeopardizing our future, while the disproportionate impact of climate change and disaster on women is ignored. This includes the increased burden of unpaid work and food insecurity, increased rates of gender-based violence, and marginalization of women’s voices and leadership”, continued Flora.

“Women’s role in responding to climate security is often overcast and misunderstood, and yet, women’s knowledge, participation, and collective action are crucial to the climate mitigation and adaptation dialogue. Women are already working at the frontline of building more resilient communities,” she added.

At the regional level, ActionAid Vanuatu is one of the 14 women-led organisations of the Shifting the Power Coalition (**), a network of more than 100,000 grassroots, intergenerational and inclusive movements in seven Pacific Island Forum countries.

“We are supporting access to resources, sharing cross-coalition learning on innovation action and supporting local women’s leadership. Our publications and reports bring attention to how our leaders can use a peace-development and humanitarian nexus approach to achieve inclusive localisation, build resilient and peaceful communities and also ensure equitable access to resources to reach diverse women based on our needs, priorities and aspirations”, said the Coalition’s Regional Manager, Sharon Bhagwan Rolls.

Leading the way

Policymakers are duty-bearers and need to lead the way to:

  • Develop inclusive and accessible early warning mechanisms for disasters and community-level conflicts, at household and village levels, incorporating women’s knowledge and leadership.

  • Support women-friendly safe spaces for community participation, and enable the meaningful engagement of women’s community networks and organisations with customary and government policy-making.

  • Build on existing women’s networks such as Women I TokTok Tugeta Network (WITTT) to connect women from other islands and nationally to support women's leadership on climate change adaptation and response efforts. This includes investing in women-led community-based protection efforts to prevent and respond to violence against women, which intensifies during climate-related disasters and periods of food insecurity.

  • Invest in services and infrastructures, in most islands there are limited justice services (e.g. police, shelters), and some have no police posts.

  • Allocate gender-responsive budget and funds targeting women’s organisations, women-led networks, and movement-building groups.

Human and Community Assets

Women need resources to be able to respond effectively.

Women’s indigenous and traditional knowledge of climate change is a global asset and needs to be linked to scientific knowledge through our modern technology while securing a continuous exchange of information. Such exchange is crucial for sustainable growth and to prevent further harm to the lives of women, young girls, and women with disability. “To eliminate violence against women, girls, and women with disability, the simplest action one can take is to include us, listen to us, walk with us, and invest in us.” concluded Flora.

Inclusion and participation are part of the solution, and even more so for women with disabilities. Their vulnerability and increased risk of violence in times of crisis, call for specific actions and solutions that can only be devised with the inclusion of people with disabilities and disability networks.

This piece was adapted from a briefing prepared by Flora Vano for Reem Alsalem, the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women.

(*) ActionAid Vanuatu was established in 2015 to support Ni-Vanuatu women's leadership in response to climate change and disasters. Today they support a collective of 5000 women on 5 islands called the Women I Tok Tok Tugeta (WITTT) network, and coordinate Women Wetem Weta, a women-led early warning and communications system using mobile phone technology, that reaches close to half the population. They also support women with disabilities in voicing their collective needs and rights through the WITTT Sunshine network. WITTT is a grantee of the EU-funded Spotlight Initiative programme to eliminate violence against women and girls.

(**) Established in 2016, Shifting the Power Coalition brings together a network of more than 100,000 grassroots, intergenerational and inclusive movements in 7 Pacific Island Forum countries. Drawing on its peacebuilding, community-led activism, Pacific-driven innovation, and humanitarian expertise the Coalition brings attention to Pacific Island women’s collective and personal lived realities and supporting mobilizing emergency response to cyclones and health emergencies including to enhance community-based protection.


About The Spotlight Initiative

Violence against women and girls (VAWG) is a major obstacle to the fulfillment of women’s and girls’ human rights and development and a threat to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

To address the challenges of VAWG, the European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN) embarked on a global multi-year programme- the EU-UN Spotlight Initiative. Backed by a financial investment of EUR 500 million, the Initiative operates in five regions (Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America, and the Pacific). The Spotlight Initiative aims to support transformative change on the ground to end violence against women and girls and harmful practices, in numerous countries globally. The Spotlight Initiative in the Pacific region is implemented through UN agencies and a range of development partners including Civil Society Organisations and governments, with a focus on eliminating VAWG, including intimate partner violence and domestic violence. 

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