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Fighting for inclusion

Oxfam InuruID 361897 Together We Are Stronger - Yannick, Ivanka and Peter at VPride
Left to right: Vanuatu Pride Foundation (VPride) Programs Manager Yannick Tarivuhavuha, member Ivanka Simon, and Programs Support Officer Peter Uhi pose outside the VPride office. Photo: Arlene Bax/Oxfam

Vanuatu Pride Foundation, an Oxfam partner, ensures sexually diverse people are celebrated, served, and have a place in the country’s economy.

This Pride Month, we’re shining a light on an Oxfam partner that is leading the way for LGBTQIA+ rights in Vanuatu, a string of islands that sits just east of Australia. Vanuatu Pride Foundation started in 2017 and is the only organization of its kind in the country to create safe spaces for, advocate on behalf of, and mobilize LGBTQIA+ people in Vanuatu.

The group has created guides to educate people about the diversity of sexual orientation and gender diversity and expression, including their legal and human rights, and best practices for their inclusion into all facets of life. Staff also created the first inclusive guide for emergency response agencies to ensure the needs of sexually diverse people are taken into account during disasters.

And in addition to providing information about preventing sexually transmitted infections and offering prevention kits and testing opportunities, they organize a variety of events—such as the country’s first International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia celebration, which they did in 2016.

“When I joined VPride, I learn[ed] a lot of things in terms of human rights,” said Peter Uhi, programs support officer at VPride. “We all have our rights to do what we want to do. So we always go out to the communities and talk to the people and tell them of our rights. We tell people, ‘Yes, VPride members also have rights to do work and live just like any other man or woman.’”

Oxfam, which has been operating in Vanuatu for more than 30 years. In 2021, we began supporting a program called Together We Are Stronger, which works with organizations in Vanuatu serving marginalized groups to remove barriers that limit people’s ability to participate in the economic life of their communities. The program also provides opportunities for them to develop their leadership skills.

Learning her rights has given Ivanka Simon a boost of confidence. Photo: Arlene Bax/Oxfam

Since 2021, Together We Are Stronger has supported more than 22,200 women, young people, people living with disabilities, and LGBTQIA+ people.

“VPride has conducted some activities here ... that [are] helping [participants] develop their skills for sewing, which can then help to generate money and sustain their living,” said VPride Programs Manager Yannick Tarivuhavuha. “Today they have their own sewing business, and they make money. A lot of people in our society like their designs, and now their business has grown and become big to the point that they have an order every day, because the designs that they have created attracted people in the community.”

Every year, VPride hosts a fashion show to showcase students’ skills. In 2021, more than 500 people in the community attended. “The show helps people see they are not just people you can neglect in our community,” said Tarivuhavuha. “They can contribute to the economy of our country.”

The prevention services VPride offers also are essential to the community’s well-being. This includes community awareness-raising about HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, passing out safe sex packages, and partnering with a local clinic to test young people and help them understand their status.

Peter's role at VPride includes sexual health outreach and advocacy to communities. Arlene Bax/Oxfam

“SOGIE people live in the community, but they don’t have the right of movement in the community,” said VPride member Ivanka Simon. [SOGIE is an umbrella term for sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression that includes LGBTQIA+ identity and expression, but encompasses all orientations, identities, and expressions.] “We go to the community to make [people] aware so that those in the community can understand that everybody has rights.”

The confidence VPride instills in its members has rubbed off on its staff. “I was traumatized, afraid to go out in my community, but then when I came into VPride, it made me no longer afraid to go out and express myself,” said Tarivuhavuha. “As a person who lives with a sexual orientation and … a disability, it is like a double discrimination that I face every day. But that does not stop me from going out and from being who I am, and I love doing what I love to do every day.”

“My life ... improved a lot when I started taking part in the little workshops that VPride has organized,” said Uhi. “I learned how a SOGIE person has their own rights to express themselves. And there I learned that a SOGIE person can do whatever they want to do.”

Despite these gains, there is still a lot of work to do to ensure people feel safe and that their rights are being respected.

“Some people will swear at us. They will say nasty things to us,” said Simon. “I really hope that Vanuatu will change to recognize the rights of all of those of us who are SOGIE. And also that people will become friendly in the community and that there will be no discrimination, that there will be a safe place for all of us SOGIE.”


Oxfam acknowledges the support of the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP) in this project as well as Australian Aid.

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