A FIRST ever ‘peace table’ gathering was held recently in Port Vila where Head of Vanuatu Courts, Chief Justice Vincent Lunabek stressed that Vanuatu needs the contribution of its women.
Speaking on ‘Women’s Economic Equality and the Law’, Chief Justice Lunabek said that a country cannot develop economically without the contribution of women, who are the substantial part of the population.
“The world has become a global village, among other things because of the development of means of transportation and communicating, and it must demonstrate greater solidarity to achieve to well-being that every human being is entitled to expect,” he said.
“Governments must make improvements to the economy, create jobs for women and eliminate all discriminatory laws and practices.
“To avoid exacerbating the existing imbalances decision-makers must not hesitate to undertake bold reforms to give women their proper place in all areas, especially the economy, by recognising that women are entitled to the same rights and treatment as men while promoting their participating in defining the main lines of social, economic and cultural policies for a better future in a world of peace.
“Funding activities for women will be identified; assistance given to women will take account of the responsibilities they assume both in the home, by making their unpaid contributions more viable, and in the economy, to give them more influence in the decision-making process.
“Emphasis will be placed on creating viable financial institutions designed to grant credit to women; non-governmental and international organisations dealing with women’s issues will be given encouragement or created; the community will work to allocate special resources to women who are victims of violence while involving women in the search for ways to achieve peace.”
In regards to the legal status of Vanuatu women, Justice Lunabek said this will be considered from an economic perspective.
Article 11 of the 1979 International Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, which was ratified by the Republic of Vanuatu (1992) and thus became part of Vanuatu legal system, requires that government takes all appropriate measures to eliminate any discrimination against women in the field of employment.
“Likewise, International Labour Organisation Conventions No.100 of 1951 and 111 of 1958 set out the principle of equal remuneration and prohibit discrimination in respect of employment. Similar provisions also exist in domestic law: in Vanuatu, for example, both the Constitution, the Public Service Act and the Employment Act proclaim the equality of the sexes in employment matters. Section 8 of Employment Act provides: (1) where a woman is employed on like work with a man in the same employment she shall be entitled to remuneration at the same rate as that man; 2) a woman is to be regarded as employed on like work with men if her work and theirs is of the same or a broadly similar nature, and the differences, if any, between the things she does and the things they do are not of practical importance in relation to terms and conditions of employment; subsection (1) shall not apply in relation to a variation between the woman’s contract and the man’s contract if the employer proves that the variation is genuinely due to a material difference (other than the difference of sex) between her case and his.”
He stated that the control of Marriages Act also provides for equality between spouses in the consent for marriage for a person under the age of 21 years, although the husband, de facto, remains the head of the family.
“Women have the same rights as men with respect to lands,’’ he said.
“However, very few women became land owners. However, certain discriminatory legal provisions remain. Those that are favourable to women are justified by women’s physical constitution and proactive function: thus, women are prohibited from doing some types of difficult or risky work and may be given rest and breastfeeding time and maternity leave, have their employment contracts suspended or be laid off.
“As to inheritance, a woman is entitled to half of a man’s share but in practice less. However, it is above all in practice that the greatest obstacle to equality can be seen.”
In relation to obstacles to real economic advancement for women, Justice Lunabek said these obstacles are primarily social and cultural.
“Women are generally confined to repetitive, tiring and often mind- numbing domestic chores, such as getting water, gathering wood, washing and cooking.
“Pregnancies often follow one another in close succession, and poor treatment affects women’s health and limits their productivity.
“Vanuatu women who have paying jobs are in the minority; unemployment particularly affects city (town) dwelling women, who turn to the informal sector: small business dry cleaning, sewing and road market sellers.
“However, the great majority of women live in rural areas. Rural women do agricultural work but rarely own the land they cultivate and do not have easy access to factors of production. Another obstacle is women’s low level of literacy and schooling. The statistic is improving in respect to those enrolled in secondary schools and those enrolled in higher education institutions who were female.”