In the 2009 National Census the population of Vanuatu was 234,000 people of which there are 119,091 of males against 114,932 of females. The composition of female to male is around 50% and in “logical” terms, this could mean that all are treated equally in all aspect of life in Vanuatu. We all know that in real life this is not the case at all for many reasons.

By Evelyne Toa, Media Association of Vanuatu

The main reason being its cultural heritage. For thousands of years Vanuatu had and is still in most cases a male dominated society where male is the dominant figure and women unheard of in the arena of decision makings.

In the northern part of the country especially on Pentecost and Ambae islands there are female chiefs but the majority of chiefs throughout the country are males. There is some changes in terms of outlook towards women in the society, but when compared to develop countries this is in its infancy stage and when one considers that this country had only got its independence just 36 years ago, the change can be said to be “fair”. This is because changing mindset of a population is very difficult indeed. This applies to both females and males.

Since independence from 1980 to date only 5 women were elected to the national parliament.

It used to be thought of as this is due mainly to political parties not pushing for female candidates, but in at least the past two national elections more independent candidates, were elected to the parliament with no women successful candidate.

When one looks at the votes each women candidate got the number is lower but could be said that this is improving.

The majority of women voted for men most probably due to mindset shaped by culture.

It is not in the political arena alone, that women are under represented but in the government top positions as well, as there is no female Director General. Directors and most senior management positions are males dominant. As one gets down to lower levels of the hierarchical system one will see more females. Nearly all preschool teachers are females as well primary school teachers but the heads are predominantly males. Similarly the same can be said of the institutions in the country.

With global changes sweeping across countries, this will accelerate the gender issues in the country.

With more and more girls having access to schools and going to universities, they will rise up to meet this challenge and with more men educated in gender issues a wave of change has started and this will hopefully lead to more improvement in this area of gender related issues.

Apart from the issue of being in position of decision making, since many women occupy positions in the lower hierarchy of structure, there is a need to improve in the level that all have equal status in pay and benefits generally.

The local media outlets in a way as operating in the cultural environment of Vanuatu, has a lot of work to do, not only in contributing to educating the public as well in dissemination of accurate and appropriate information, hopefully to put an individual in a position to make and, with the expectation that that individual will act appropriately, decide on a right path to follow.

This cultural environment poses a lot of challenges for the local media in promoting gender issues in Vanuatu.

Firstly there is a lack of understanding in general on gender issues due to the effect of cultural mindset, imposed on individuals especially those with positions of influence.

The media outlets of the country in order to contribute to better understanding of gender issues, its journalists themselves need to firstly understand these issues, before they can be more effective in contributing to improving the understanding of these issues to the public.

The local media through Media Asosiesen blong Vanuatu (MAV) and other international and regional organisations including the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) did organize some trainings on gender issues, but most journalists that attend are mainly females, who tend to show more interest and enthusiasm in reporting on such issues.