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Sex work seems to be on the rise in much of the Pacific, however remains illegal or on the legal margins, and there are reports of significant maltreatment faced by the Pacific Island sex worker population (Amnesty International, 2016; Godwin, 2012; McMillan, 2013; McMillan & Worth, 2011a; McMillan & Worth, 2011b; Stolz, Lutunatabua, & Vafo„ou, 2010). The research, undertaken over several months in 2016, on which this article is based was the first to explore the sex work industry in the rapidly urbanising context of Luganville on the island Espiritu Santo in Vanuatu. At the time of this research, Luganville was undergoing significant modernisation efforts, such as the expansion of the main wharf, funded by the Chinese government, to increase trade, industry and tourism to the island. This research is thus an important case study for analysing the links between the sex work industry, gender and development, and, importantly, the ability for sex workers to claim their sexual and reproductive health rights in this context of significant and rapid change.

In this article, I explore the sex work industry of Luganville as embedded in a historical analysis of the dynamics of, as I conceptualise, gender and developman in Vanuatu.


I begin below with a review of key literature: first I discuss the concept of gender and developman, before considering Margaret Jolly‟s (2015) discussion of the practice of „bride price‟ in Vanuatu as an example of gender and developman, and then give an overview of existing literature on sex work in Vanuatu.

Gender and developman

Sahlins (2005) encapsulated some of the fundamental differences in how Pacific Islanders respond to the incursion of Western commodities, principles, and „ways‟ in the concept of developman. The concept of developman refers to „tradition‟ as a „distinctive way of changing‟ (pp. 36) in relation to that which is introduced. In contrast to Western societies‟ underlying values of individualism and self-betterment, Pacific peoples „are still embedded in relationships of kith and kin [… and] have not yet acknowledged the radical opposition between „satisfaction‟ and „obligation‟ by which we [Westerners] rule our lives.‟ (Sahlins, 2005, pp. 23). Furthermore, the modern-day Pacific cannot be described in the dichotomous terms of tradition versus modernity, as neither terms denote a static state of affairs (Sahlins, 2005). Rather, developman is a nonlinear process that describes how people understand, adopt (or discard) and mould that which is „introduced‟, and generally cope with contradictory colonial or neo-colonial structures (Mitchell, 2000; Sahlins, 2005).

While the concept of developman is an important framework for thinking about „development‟ for Pacific Islanders, these changes are deeply intertwined with gender relations. In general, the analytical framework of „gender and development‟ explores how a person‟s gender impacts how they are affected by development efforts and processes, and prioritises the analysis of underlying gender constructs and subsequent power imbalances within specific cultural, economic, social, and historical contexts (CEDPA, 1996; Momsen, 2004; Rathgeber, 1995). However, here I rephrase „gender and development‟ as „gender and developman’ as this phrase more accurately represents the unique and complex ways in which various external influences have been mingled with, adopted, and resisted in the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu, and as such have transformed gender relations. Through the conceptual framework of gender and developman, we may analyse the ways in which events, things, and people are gendered and re-gendered as they interact and cope with introduced commodities, beliefs, and ways. Furthermore, historical gender and power relations in Vanuatu have underpinned the distinctive ways Vanuatu has changed, and who has control over Vanuatu‟s social, political, and economic transitions.