Rape and Domestic Violence: Although rape is a crime with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, the law does not specifically cite spousal rape, and police frequently were reluctant to intervene in what they considered domestic matters.
Violence against women, particularly domestic violence, was common, although no accurate statistics existed. Police reported an increase in the number of cases of violence against women, but most cases, including rape, went unreported because women, particularly in rural areas, were ignorant of their rights or feared further abuse.
The Family Protection Act covers domestic violence, women’s rights, children’s rights, and family rights. Violators could face maximum prison terms of five years, a maximum fine of 100,000 vatu ($945), or both. During the year the Family Protection Unit at police headquarters in Port Vila issued 302 protection orders. A protection order does not require proof of injury. As long as there is a threat of violence, police can issue an order. Police have a “no drop,” evidence-based policy under which they do not drop reported domestic violence cases. If the woman later wishes to withdraw her complaint, she must go to court to request that it be dropped.
There were no government information programs designed to address domestic violence, and media attention to domestic abuse was limited. As part of the New Zealand government’s regional Pacific Prevention of Domestic Violence Program, Radio Vanuatu aired a bimonthly program in which police raised awareness and discussed issues related to domestic violence. The Department of Women’s Affairs played a role in implementing the Family Protection Act. The Police Academy provided training in handling domestic violence and sexual assault cases.
Churches and other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operated facilities for abused women. NGOs also played an important role in educating the public about domestic violence, but they did not have sufficient funding to implement their programs fully.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Customary bride-price payments continued to increase in value and contributed to the perception of male ownership of women.
Sexual Harassment: The law does not prohibit sexual harassment and it was a problem.
Reproductive Rights: According to the country’s family-planning policy guidelines, couples and individuals have the right to decide freely the number, spacing, and timing of their children; manage their reproductive health, and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. In general the government supported these rights, but reproductive service delivery was inadequate in rural areas. According to the national reproductive health coordinator, the Ministry of Health provided training on and worked to raise awareness of human rights and gender equity with regard to reproductive health services and behavior. The society is strongly patriarchal, and sometimes the man in the relationship made decisions on family planning and contraceptive use without considering the woman’s views. According to a UN report, an estimated 39 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 years used a modern form of contraception in 2014. The Ministry of Health cooperated with the Department of Labor on the Male Involvement in Reproductive Health Project, which worked to sensitize men in the workforce to reproductive health problems. A regional adolescent health and development program supported by the United Nations Population Fund worked with schools to strengthen school-based clinics and incorporate counseling and services.
The country’s geography in relation to service delivery points, both between islands and more remote inland locations, sometimes made it difficult to obtain medical care. Obstacles included lack of adequate roads and the high cost of transport to reach health care facilities.
Discrimination: While women have equal rights under the law, they were only slowly emerging from a traditional culture characterized by male dominance, a general reluctance to educate women, and a widespread belief that women should devote themselves primarily to childbearing. The majority of women entered into marriage through “bride-price payment,” a practice that encouraged men to view women as property. Although the law does not prohibit women from owning or inheriting land, tradition generally barred women from land ownership. Many female leaders viewed village chiefs as major obstacles to social, political, and economic rights for women.
Women experienced discrimination in access to employment, credit, and pay equity for substantially similar work (see section 7.d.). Transparency Vanuatu and the South Pacific Commission, through a program of the Pacific Regional Rights Resource Team, worked to increase awareness of women’s legal rights.