Women’s rights groups welcomed Julie Bishop’s visit to Vanuatu as part of the response to Cyclone Pam currently underway in the small nation, ActionAid representatives in Port Vila said this morning.
The crisis is impacting heavily on women and their protection at this time is critical – yet this is a factor in the response that has been largely overlooked, ActionAid workers on the ground in Vanuatu have reported this morning.
Carol Angir, Senior Program and Policy Coordinator at ActionAid Australia working on ActionAid’s response in Vanuatu said:
“We’re enormously relieved the Foreign Minister is on her way here. We’ve been working with the Director of Women’s Affairs for the Vanuatu Government and with the Vanuatu Women’s Centre here in Port Vila to reach out to women in evacuation centres here and the situation is dire.
“Pregnant women are sleeping on thin mats on the ground. Evacuation centres have little – if any – light in the night time, and the women have told us they don’t sleep because they’re afraid of violence at night. Communities in evacuation centres are being told they will have to leave soon and return to their homes when they don’t have homes to return to, and haven’t been provided with materials to rebuild.
“We’re also being told by the women that dwindling food and water will increase family tensions and inevitably lead to increased domestic violence. Prior to the emergency, the Foreign Minister provided direct support to the women of Vanuatu who deal with extremely high levels of domestic violence at the best of times but more support is needed.
“We’re confident that Julie Bishop will do everything she can to ensure the protection of women in this crisis. Women need immediate assistance when a disaster hits – it cannot be an afterthought, as it so often is. The Foreign Minister is committed to women’s rights, particularly in emergencies, and Vanuatu government representatives and local women’s organisations are aware of this.
“This is a great opportunity for Australia to continue with its commitment to lead internationally on protecting women in times of crisis.”
Merilyn Tahi, Coordinator of the Vanuatu Women’s Centre, said:
“Australia funded research we carried out that shows that three in five women have experienced physical or sexual violence in their relationships. They provide ongoing support to us to provide counselling and legal support to women who need it, amongst other things.
“Women are responsible for ensuring the safety and health of their families and communities in this crisis – and on top of that, are at increased risk of violence. They are coping with significant trauma, and they need our support to get by day to day at this extremely difficult time.
“We’re hopeful that Foreign Minister Bishop will step up support to us to provide further assistance to Vanuatu women in this time and that we will have the opportunity to speak with her about the work we are doing to protect women coping with the impact of Cyclone Pam.”
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