Contributor: Gigi Baxter
On 14th April, the first ever Human Rights Inclusion for People of Diverse Sexual Orientation and Gender Expression (SOGIE) Advocacy event was held at the Melanesian Conference Room in Port Vila, attended by over 50 high level policy makers and organisational representatives.
The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) sponsored the event as part of its Born Free and Equal Campaign for diverse SOGIE inclusion. A special video message was delivered from the Regional Representative to the Pacific, Ms. Heide Alefsen. In her message, Ms. Alefsen stressed the importance of Vanuatu’s international commitments, and the need for Vanuatu to implement effective measures for inclusion, as part of its preparation for the next Universal Periodic Review, scheduled for 2024.
Participants in the event included representatives from the High Commissions of Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain and the French Embassy. The Vanuatu Government participated through representatives from the Ministries of Education and Training, Health, Internal Affairs, and Justice, the National Statistics Office, and the Department of Police, along with the Leader of the Opposition, the Honourable Mr. Ralph Regenvanu. Participants also included representatives from the UNDP Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Vanuatu Women’s Centre, CARE, Oxfam, IsraAid, KOBLE, APTC, Alliance Française, and ANZ Bank.
In addition to the OHCHR, co-sponsors of the event included Human Capacity Development International (HCDI), Sista, the WeRise Coalition, Oxfam, and Wan Smol Bag (WSB).
The program included a legal review of the status of SOGIE people in Vanuatu, highlighting the lack of protection, in spite of Vanuatu’s international commitments. This was followed by a presentation on the UNDP LGBT Inclusion Index, a valuable tool for assessing and measuring inclusion. Two research reports were presented: the Oxfam 2020 Gender and LGBTQI Policy and Programming in Vanuatu report, and the VPride 2021 Research report on SOGIE Diversity in Vanuatu, which is the first ever study on diverse SOGIE people in Vanuatu. This report is based on interviews with 275 respondents and highlights the challenges and cost of economic, social, and political exclusion in the country.
VPride, the only SOGIE organisation in Vanuatu, presented its 2020-2024 Strategic Plan and also launched its SOGIE booklet, a comprehensive educational resource on SOGIE diversity and best practices in the community, health care, education, and safety and justice. The booklet is available free of cost for anyone working on inclusion in those areas.
The event concluded with focused policy discussions in each of the key areas, with concrete recommendations offered for next steps. Human rights-based inclusion for all people is part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Vanuatu committed itself to the Universal Declaration, along with several other international agreements, such as the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the UN Joint Statement on Ending Acts of Violence and Related Human Rights Violations based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, the Commonwealth Charter, and the Pacific Platform for Action for Gender Equality and Women’s Human Rights 2018-2030.
In addition, the People’s Plan 2030 aims to develop “a peaceful, just and inclusive society in Vanuatu, that is supported by responsive and capable institutions, delivering quality services to all citizens”, including quality education, quality health care and social inclusion for all. t Participants expressed their unequivocal appreciation for the information shared at the event, and noted the importance of moving forward on inclusion for all people. VPride’s Executive Director, Ms. Gigi Baxter, quoted former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon “To those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, let me say: You are not alone. Your struggle for an end to violence and discrimination is a shared struggle. Any attack on you is an attack on the universal values the United Nations and I have sworn to defend and uphold. Today, I stand with you and I call upon all countries and people to stand with you, too “, and shared her hope that all those attending the event “will stand with us, supporting human rights inclusion for all.”