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The Vanuatu Photo Project: Meet Elisa and Alicia

Alicia works to challenge gender inequality any way she can. Photo by Elisa.

Alicia works to challenge gender inequality any way she can. Photo by Elisa.

"When you respect another, you attract the same respect."

Alicia, 24, hails from the islands of Efate and Ambae in Vanuatu. She is the oldest of four girls.

Alicia’s earliest memories of her childhood were of the outdoor adventurous life. After school, she would often help her grandfather feed his pigs inside his pig fence located at the back of their yard. Alicia and her siblings would spend most of their free time playing outdoors or helping their father or grandfather with chores around their yard. From developing this love for nature as a kid, Alicia grew up to be an outgoing, adventurous young lady.

Later, she had the opportunity to complete her high school years in New Zealand. Being away from home in her teenage years gave her the freedom she needed to discover herself, her potential and her voice. Whilst studying there, she was elected the international student leader and learned the value of respect, responsibility and relationships. Alicia explained why these values are still close to her heart today, “When you respect another, you attract the same respect, for it is your responsibility to build a trustworthy relationship with your people as a leader.”

“When you respect another, you attract the same respect, for it is your responsibility to build a trustworthy relationship with your people as a leader.”

Little did she know that the decision to come home after several years of studying abroad would lead to many challenges, starting with the strong opposition between her views on gender equality and some traditional aspects of her home culture. Once back home, she was told off for wearing clothes that were ‘showing off too much skin,’ or were ‘too short,’ and so on. Regardless, she persisted and stood her ground that as a young woman she had the right to wear whatever she liked and felt comfortable in.

She saw the discrimination and domestic violence women faced. She saw blaming and shaming of women for their choices, for what they wore or said or did. She wanted to break the blame cycle and help create a safer environment for herself, her sisters and the women of Vanuatu.

With a determined mindset, Alicia worked to challenge gender inequality in any way she could. She took up a leadership role in her church youth group as an education leader and became the secretary for Presbyterian youth in South Efate. It is that same spirit that motivated her to start working as a counsellor at the Vanuatu Women’s Centre, providing counseling to women who have experienced domestic violence. It also encouraged her to continue expanding her leadership knowledge and skills, and eventually led her to apply for CARE’s Young Women’s Leadership Program (YWLP) in 2020.

Photo by Elisa

Alicia shared, “There is no limit to how far you can go. We should take every opportunity to go to the next level as leaders.” She said the YWLP was a unique opportunity to rediscover her power as a young female leader.

From being a participant in the leadership program to graduating, Alicia has never stopped learning. She is clear on her goal, “Living by faith and not by sight,” 2 Corinthians 5:7.

About the author: A passionate photographer and aspiring writer, Elisa is a 2019-20 YWLP graduate. Previously a project officer with Sista, a charitable Vanuatu-based feminist organization that exists to empower women and girls, raise awareness and advocate. She is currently a full-time student completing her studies in psychology and social work at the University of the South Pacific. Photo by Valerie Fernandez.

The Vanuatu Young Women’s Leadership Program (YWLP) is implemented by CARE in Vanuatu with the generous support of the Australian Government. The YWLP is a 12-month program which promotes the leadership of young women so they can take action to promote gender equality and eliminate violence against women and young girls in Vanuatu. Over eighty young women aged 18 to 30, including women with disabilities and diverse gender identities, have graduated from the program since it started in 2017. These graduates are now using the knowledge, skills and confidence strengthened through the YWLP to realize gender equality in their families, communities and across Vanuatu. All the young women featured in these stories, and those who captured their photographs and stories, are YWLP graduates.

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