In the world’s most natural disaster prone country, women are used to juggling crisis after crisis as they are repeatedly hit by cyclones, floods and volcanic eruptions. Now as Vanuatu prepares to face a new kind of challenge, the Women Wetem Weta (WWW) network is tapping into their expertise in communications and community response to share vital COVID-19 information with vulnerable communities across Vanuatu.
Originally formed as an early warning and response system for climate-related disasters, the group recently seized the opportunity to use their existing networks to lead community hygiene demonstrations and communicate vital government and humanitarian health messages to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
“Vanuatu is an island nation and the sharing of information isn’t always easy because of the remoteness of some communities and a lack of infrastructure,” says ActionAid Vanuatu’s Country Manager, Flora Vano.
“The WWW network is trying to make sure that all communities have access to the right information about COVID-19 but also to make sure that the government and humanitarian organisations know what the communities actually need.”
WWW is a two-way communication system that allows villages to communicate directly back to these same organisations with information about their community needs. This open flow of communication led by the WWW women’s network is essential to achieving a healthy community and ultimately it positions the women as trusted sources of information – empowering them as community leaders.
“For those of us living in the community, we know what we need. But sometimes it is a challenge to be heard. That’s why the WWW network is so valuable – we are able to share important information both ways,” adds Flora.
As they become more respected as community leaders, the women are increasingly included in all facets of village decision-making; and although change can be slow, the men in their communities are beginning to acknowledge the extent of their capabilities.
“It is good to see that our local women in the village care about our health and are able to assist the government in delivering such important messages on COVID-19. Our local mothers know best,” remarked one male village chief.
While the women of Vanuatu will face many challenges in the context of this health pandemic, this time of crisis is also an opportunity to break down social barriers and create a lasting shift towards gender equality that will extend far beyond the coronavirus crisis.