5 Jul 2013

Second ever Ni-Vanuatu woman gains PhD

5:56 pm on 5 July 2013

The second ever Ni-Vanuatu woman to obtain a doctorate says there is still a long way to go for gender equality in Vanuatu.

Andrina Thomas says since Vanuatu adopted the UN convention on the elimination of discrimination against women in 1995, little has changed in people's attitudes towards women and too few women are getting a proper education.

She told Jamie Tahana about the difficulties she had gaining her PhD.

ANDRINA THOMAS: It was good getting a scholarship, but it was also daunting in the sense that I had to leave to go and do PhD studies. But overall it's been a wonderful achievement for me and my family. The perseverance and having to go through and remain in New Zealand for the four and a half years to complete the PhD journey. It was overwhelming, but now that I've got my degree I must admit that it's been worthwhile.

JAMIE TAHANA: Only the second woman. What's prevented it in the past, women going to get PhDs?

AT: Well, Vanuatu has two different indigenous systems - you have a matrilineal system of government and a patrilineal. And the patrilineal women don't actually have a say, so they don't have voice space and they don't own property rights, while in a matrilineal system it's actually the opposite. So I must say that I have been privileged, originating from a matrilineal system. So I think that has been the emphasis in making me who I am through education, and enabling me to overcome obstacles, discrimination, and become the second woman with a doctorate degree in Vanuatu .

JT: How hard was it, though, to get to that situation, when you say women are up against it?

AT: Very difficult. If you look at the CEDAW convention, which was adopted by the Vanuatu government in 1995, very few women were accepting positions of authority in Vanuatu. And although I was lucky after returning from MBA studies to go straight into a managerial job, I know and have heard of experiences of women finding it extremely difficult to move up the career path.

JT: And this was the focus of your PhD, wasn't it?

AT: Yes, I was looking at the inclusion of women in formal authority. My PhD was sort of widespread. I was looking at... If you talk about social inclusion, that's an element of good governance, allowing women to be part of the formal decision-making process. I had to look at it from social perspectives, indigenous cultures, as well, and that's how I explained it in my PhD. because I had points, counterpoints and a standpoint theory using my indigenous knowledge to argue, okay, if this is what liberal feminism says then according to post-colonial theory it's not working. Where do we go from here?

JT: What did you find? Is the situation improving for women in Vanuatu?

AT: It's improving a little bit, but I have to admit it hasn't changed dramatically. I was actually in a gender discussion a month ago, and, apparently, it's still very hard. One of the issues we spoke about is changing patrilineal and patriarchal mindsets, because men still think that women should be in the kitchen, they should be rearing children, looking after the home rather than being leaders or decision-makers in the workforce. So unless we get men to understand that women do have a place in formal decision-making it's going to be very difficult.

JT: How do you change that attitude from men?

AT: It's something that won't happen overnight, and one of the suggestions of my PhD is for the government to understand that we need a national role-modelling, coaching, mentoring programme. At the moment, we have a system where people get appointed based on nepotism. So it's really important for men in Vanuatu, and not only men, women, as well, to understand that appointment needs to be done on merit.