By month's end, Vanuatu will celebrate 40 years of independence from France and Britain.
In the weeks leading up to the anniversary on July 30, the nation has organised a series of agricultural, trade and cultural shows in an effort to highlight the unique features that define its history and underpin its identity.
One of the events preceding the official celebration is 'Strong Women Vanuatu,' a traveling film festival that showcases short films on the achievements of 10 prominent women across justice, education, business, health, and sport. The films explore how long-held societal norms for women have changed after 40 years of independence.
During the launch of the festival, Vanuatu Prime Minister Bob Loughman said women are the backbone of the nation.
"Women are the backbone of our families and our nation. Women have and continue to play an important and prominent role in the making and shaping of Vanuatu,” he said, according to Vanuatu’s Daily Post. "Across the sphere, from health to economy, security to social protection, the impacts of the current COVID-19 pandemic are made worse for women and girls. These 10 women are an example of women’s strength and the people of Vanuatu. These short films should inspire our young women and girls to see what is possible.”
Congratulations 🙌 to the #Vanuatu Ministry of Justice for producing the film “Strong Women Vanuatu” portraying amazing 🇻🇺 women. We are delighted to support this initiative through our 🇦🇺-funded programs @AustAssists & Balance of Power.💪♀️ #40YearsTogether@MarisePayne@dfatpic.twitter.com/CM0IncQnWf— Sarah de Zoeten (@AusHCVanuatu) July 9, 2020
Among the women featured in the short films is Anolyn Lulu.
Lulu, a champion table tennis player and 2019 Inaugural Vanuatu Sports Awards’ Sportswoman of the Year, said she was honored to be showcased in the festival and to have represented Vanuatu in the Olympics, Pacific Games, and Commonwealth Games.
"I qualified myself and competed in the Olympic Games. For me it didn't come easy, I worked hard and spent a lot of effort, time and commitment to what I do, so it is an honor for me to be a part of this project," she told ABC Pacific Beat. “I am a strong woman because I believe in myself and the abilities that I have.”
Lulu also highlighted that sport has the ability to change societal attitudes and behaviors, and urged young girls across the country to view sport as an opportunity to shine.
Another film tells the story of Liz Pechan, the founder and co-owner of the multi-award-winning resort The Havannah Vanuatu and the daughter of one of the nation's founding fathers.
Throughout her film, Pehchan says all women in Vanuatu have strength within them.
"It could be mental [strength]. A lot of strength comes through our communities, and through volunteering and passion and perseverance,” Pehchan states in the film, according to Radio New Zealand. “All the skills we have as women in Vanuatu make us very resilient to the environment that we live in and the culture that we live in.”
The film initiative was established by the nation’s Ministry of Justice and Community Services, in partnership with P&O Cruises and the Balance of Power program from Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The Balance of Power program seeks to address the gender inequality that exists within Pacific political processes and leadership positions.
Vanuatu is one of only three nations globally to currently have no women elected to parliament.
The country shares the unfortunate title with Papua New Guinea and the Federated States of Micronesia.
Loughman, however, says progress is happening.
"This year, we have three female directors-generals. We also have eight different directors within the government departments. That means 6% of the senior public servants are women. This is a big achievement,” he said. “It is my belief and commitment that Vanuatu will move towards a balanced representation between men and women in all levels of government, including Parliament.”
The festival is expected to end its tour in Melsisi, on the west coast of the nation’s Pentecost Island, on Aug. 8.