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Overview: context for gender in Vanuatu and the Australian aid program


Vanuatu’s economy has been growing steadily since the early 2000s, largely propelled by tourism, construction and high commodity prices.1 Vanuatu’s size, island geography, and cultural diversity pose unique challenges for development.2 Approximately 77 per cent of Vanuatu’s population lives in rural areas, where there is limited access to markets, schools and government services, and where infrastructure and roads are poor. Small-scale agriculture is the main livelihood for 80 per cent of the population.3 About 13 per cent of the population lives below the national poverty line, and the majority of the population lack access to employment opportunities, and high quality education and health services.4 The country is ranked 124 out of 187 countries in the human development index.5

Women and girls are disadvantaged in significant ways in Vanuatu.6 While girls have caught up to boys in school enrolment and girls’ secondary enrolment rates now exceed those of boys, women remain underrepresented in vocational, technical and tertiary education.7 Rates of domestic violence against women are high.8 In 2011, 61 per cent of women were in the labour force, working mostly in agriculture.9 They represent just 33 per cent of workers in the formal sector;10 they are mostly selfemployed in microenterprises or in agriculture.

Australian aid programming priorities in Vanuatu are linked to the Vanuatu Government’s goals for growth, and governed by the Australia–Vanuatu Partnership for Development. The priority areas of collaboration are education, health services, infrastructure development, reform on economic governance issues, and increasing the effectiveness of legal institutions, which also addresses gender-based violence.11 Infrastructure and economic governance comprise about 35 per cent of Australia’s bilateral spending in Vanuatu. The aid program has a land-rights initiative that pursues gender equality and an initiative that supports women’s leadership. Programming under education also includes technical and vocational education and training.

A sizeable 89 per cent of Australian aid programming is reported to have a direct focus on gender equality. The Partnership for Development includes ‘addressing equality of opportunity for all men and women’ as a priority development goal. However, unlike for other goals, specific activities and targets to meet this goal are not mapped out. The priority action agenda of the Vanuatu Government addresses gender in terms of equal access to education and health services, with mention of equal access to non-agricultural jobs and women’s representation in decision-making bodies. However, interviews conducted during the field visit indicate that, in spite of this formal commitment, women’s equality and economic empowerment are not key government priorities for action,12 and the government’s support for women in business has been limited.13