Caption: Jane Prentice MP, Dorosday Kenneth, and APGPD Chair Dr Sharman Stone MP
A passionate and accomplished campaigner for women’s rights in Vanuatu, Mrs Dorosday Kenneth visited Australia thanks to the Pacific Women’s Parliamentary Partnerships Forum.
As Director of the Department of Women’s Affairs, within the Ministry of Justice and Community Services, Mrs Kenneth works to promote women’s leadership, economic development, and violence against women services.
Mrs Kenneth spoke of three key programs that her Department is working on to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment:
Though no women MPs were elected to Parliament in the recent snap general elections in January, her Department has been working hard to increase women’s representation in politics, particularly at the municipal level where they have introduced gendered quotas.
Her Department has also been developing a program to address the high rates of gender-based violence in the community. Community members are encouraged to volunteer to become community leaders, akin to Justices of the Peace, to support victims of violence. Their assistance includes helping file police reports and referring people to appropriate services. While not paid, they are appointed by the Prime Minister in recognition of the important service they are providing for the community. The Department is also developing a manual to assist them with these tasks.
The Department is also working with churches to develop a gender and faith policy in the religious country. The Uniting Church of Australia is assisting with this program
Recently, to mark International Women’s Day, the Department focused on the theme of women and children in emergencies, highlighting the recent experiences of Cyclone Pam, and raising awareness among women about the rights they can claim.
In response to a question about access to family planning, Mrs Kenneth said it is more widely available in urban centres. Often women living more remotely must travel – and this poses a barrier both in terms of travel times and costs, but also often requires telling family members the reason for this travel, which may face additional pressure from social taboos. The Government is working with UNFPA to support education about reproductive rights. The Government has been focusing on targeting the youth as the levels of teenage pregnancy is high. The ‘Push em head’ (pop you head in) clinics are designed to encourage young people to try sexual health services.
In response to a question about alcohol consumption, Mrs Kenneth said that it is rising, though there is no solid research on alcohol consumption rates. The growth of the tourism industry, and a new culture around nightclubbing appear to have contributed to rising drinking levels among the younger population.
Mrs Kenneth’s previous roles in the public service include Director of Agriculture and Rural Development and Director of the Department Fisheries. She is also Chair of the Vanuatu Coffee Industry Council and member of the University of the South Pacific Emalus Campus Advisory Committee.
Agriculture, including the coffee industry was badly damaged by Cyclone Pam in March 2015, and little of the aid money disbursed from Australia has been spent on the recovery efforts, due to mismanagement and delays because of the elections and ministerial changes.
Mrs Kenneth was interested to see a new coffee harvesting machine when visiting Queensland, and hopes that some technological improvements – such as the new coconut pulping machine new used in some parts of Vanuatu, will increase productivity.