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Gender equality is a condition in which men and women have equal enjoyment of rights, socially valued goods, opportunities, resources and rewards. Gender equality is a key pillar of sustainable development as it underpins all development processes and efforts.
Over the past 20 years, there has been evident progress for women in Vanuatu. According to the 2009 National Population and Housing Census: Gender Monograph, the gender gap in literacy and education has narrowed: in some provinces, girls outperformed boys in school attendance.1 Child mortality rate has significantly declined in the decade between 1999 and 2009 and there has been a notable drop in teenage pregnancy across the country.2 In terms of labour participation, the proportion of women in waged employment has substantially increased. A significant achievement over the recent years has been the introduction of the Family Protection Act (FPA) (approved in 2008 and came into effect in 2009), which provides legal protection for victims of violence.
Various government ministries, including agriculture, public works, environment, health, education and lands have developed gender strategies and are taking proactive steps to integrate gender perspectives into their respective sectors.
Despite the notable progress, a number of challenges remain:
- Gender based violence (GBV) is a serious issue affecting women and girls. Approximately 60% of women in Vanuatu have experienced some form of physical and/or sexual violence in their lives, of whom 21% were left with permanent injuries and 68% were subjected to psychological violence by their intimate partners (Vanuatu Women’s Centre 2011).
- Since independence in 1980, only 5 women have been elected into national parliament (World Bank 2013). Recent report indicated that women represent just 3% of total senior/executive government positions (Morgan 2013). More often than not, women are excluded from decision making and are absent from leadership positions.
- Women represent 40% of the labor force in both public and private sectors compared to 60% for men. More women than men are economically inactive, most being full time homemakers caring for children, the elderly, people with disabilities and other family members (Vanuatu National Statistics Office 2011).
- The opportunity for women to set up businesses is limited as they lack access to capital, financial services and markets (Bowman, Cultural, Ellis and Manuel 2009). This is particularly the case for rural women (World Bank 2013).
- Despite gender parity being closely reached in school enrolment rates, women remain underrepresented in tertiary education and are less likely to be awarded government scholarships (Vanuatu National Statistics Office 2011).
- As stated in the Combined 4th and 5th CEDAW report, discriminatory laws restrict women’s rights to property and inheritance (Government of Vanuatu 2012).
- More women than men (49% and 41% respectively) are involved in the subsistence economy (Vanuatu National Statistics Office 2011), which makes them more susceptible to poverty, climate change, disasters and other livelihood stresses.
- There are more female headed single parent households with children, grandchildren or extended family members compared to men (Vanuatu National Statistics Office 2011).
- Adolescent fertility remains relatively high at 66 births per 1,000 women aged 15-19 years (UNFPA 2014). According to some studies, 60% of pregnancies are mistimed or unwanted (UNFPA 2014).
- Disability is somewhat more common among women (13%) than men (12%). Women with disability are likely to experience educational and employment disadvantage (Vanuatu National Statistics Office 2011).
- Discrimination against women is reinforced through legislation as well as through wider cultural and religious beliefs and practices (Bowman, Cultural, Ellis and Manuel 2009).