Vanuatu - The first thing Anna Ishmael wanted to do after Tropical Cyclone Harold was nail together some iron sheets and timber to put a roof back on her family home. Like many others, her house had been blown down by the category 5 cyclone in 2020. Securing a durable roof is a priority for many Ni-Vanuatu women, as it is the only way to ensure dry, safe shelter and avoid having to run to an evacuation centre at the onset of heavy rain fall.

“My prayers have been answered. I no longer have to walk kilometres to get clean and safe water” - Leontin Michael, woman with disabilities

The Pacific region has a high risk of exposure to natural hazards and the effects of climate change, hosting 5 of the world's 20 highest risk countries (Vanuatu, Tonga, Solomon Islands, Fiji, Kiribati). According to a UN University World RiskIndex, Vanuatu is the most at-risk country in the world.  

ActionAid Vanuatu, an implementing partner of the Spotlight Initiative, has supported Ni-Vanuatu women to establish the Woman I TokTok Tugeta (WITTT) network (Women Talking Together Network). The locally-led and women-driven forum brings together over 5000 women from the islands of Erromango, Eton, Tanna, Malekula and Malo to discuss how to mitigate the impact of natural disasters and strengthen the resilience of women. Women and girls are disproportionally affected by crises and often have their vulnerability compounded by other factors, for example disabilities.

water tank
Leontin Michael no longer needs to travel long distances to access clean water. Photo: ActionAid Vanuatu/Flora Vano 

In addition to providing building materials for homes, the collective is relieving women from their next biggest burden - accessing clean drinking water - by installing water tanks in homes.

The WITTT Network is assisted by male champions who help to transport water tanks up hills and inland, so that women no longer have to walk 1 to 3 kilometres daily to fetch water from springs or underground wells near the coastal area. This is especially important for women with caring responsibilites, disabilities or low mobility.

Leontin Michael, a woman with disabilities, was in tears when the water tank was installed in her house. “My prayers have been answered, I no longer have to walk kilometres to get clean and safe water,” she said.

“I am a mother and when we have cyclones it destroys and contaminates all water sources," said Rurael Andrew, another woman who benefitted from the programme. "Having a water tank will decrease my stress and allow me to access clean, safe water at my house, no need to walk the distance."

“I am a mother and when we have cyclones it destroys and contaminates all water sources. Having a water tank will decrease my stress and allow me to access clean, safe water at my house, no need to walk the distance” -  Rurael Andrew, mother

LONG-TERM RESILIENCE

By enhancing access to clean and safe water, lighting and safe buildings, WITTT is strengthening Ni-Vanuatu women’s livelihoods and resilience.

“We are leveraging crises as a moment of societal upheaval that creates an opening to drive gender-transformative change over the longer term, leaving no one behind," says ActionAid Vanuatu Country Programme Manager, Flora Vano. "We are building back better in ways that work for diverse women and girls and women with disabilities.”

women with iron sheets
Linda Toa (left) and Wodom Matahoso (right) used iron sheeting to make their homes more resistant to unpredictable weather. Photo: ActionAid Vanuatu/Flora Vano

Mothers, widows, single women, young girls and women with disabilities have also been able to access loans and resources to help them decrease financial dependence, and thus their vulnerability to violence, with the support of the Spotlight Initiative, ActionAid Vanuatu and WITTT.

The Ni-Vanuatu collective is strengthening women's understanding of their rights and their ability to prepare for and respond to climate change and disasters, as well as how to engage with provincial and national decision-makers to voice their priorities and concerns.

Building on the experience of sister organization femLINKpacific, WITTT also facilitates Women Wetem Weta (Women’s Weather Watch), a women-led communications platform that provides early disaster warning, health and violence prevention messages, and other practical information through SMS. It reaches over a quarter of the population.

Working with women with disabilities, WITTT has established WITTT Sunshine, which focuses on the unique concerns of women and girls with disabilities and supports their collective efforts to ensure an inclusive humanitarian response that protects their rights and responds to their needs.

The Spotlight Initiative is a global initiative of the United Nations which has received generous support from the European Union. Its aim is to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls.

About Woman I TokTok Tugeta: WITTT is a locally-led, national women’s platform for diverse Ni-Vanuatu women to support women to prepare for disasters and lead their communities. As a women’s collective they create a safe space for women to define priorities for their safety with dignity, and build a movement that is inclusive of young women and women with disabilities. They support efforts to build a resilient future for all women.

By Cristina Comunian