Economic Globalisation and Exploitation of women in Vanuatu.

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For many years, economic globalisation has had an enormous impact on the lives of women in Vanuatu. Economic globalisation is the spread of the neoliberal capitalist system that becomes very global. Neoliberal capitalism is a system based on private ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange (Lindio-McGovern & Williman, 2009). Capital is wealth that is used to create more wealth. Globalisation privileges western cultures and politics while excluding marginalized indigenous women (Lindio-McGovern & Williman, 2009). Globalisation affects Vanuatu’s people, especially women, who have been exploited in the cheap labour (Jolly 1994; Rodman et al, 2017). For instance, house girls’ cost of the labour is still under the poverty level that makes it easier for the expatriates to hire them. Some organisations are working to try and soften the effects of neoliberal globalisation on women in Vanuatu. One of these is Oxfam, who are working together with communities on a program called Social-Justice Economic Empowerment Design (SEED) to empower women in creating their own businesses. This may improve their lives, but also, empowering women to earn their own income is part of globalisation, therefore SEED is helping to achieve poverty alleviation, inclusive economic growth, gender equality and women’s rights but at the same time is reinforcing the idea of neoliberalism.

Globalisation in Vanuatu

Vanuatu is an archipelago of 83 islands together with a population of 280,000 where most people live in rural areas. The structural system of Vanuatu has been affected by the Westerners for a long time. It is a very Christian country since the 19th century when missionaries came to the islands. Today, 80% of the population are practicing it (VNSO 2009). This was when the globalisation started, because it was the first time the westerners influenced the social structure of the communities. Later, Vanuatu was colonised by England and France which changed the systems of government and economy. Vanuatu got its independence in 1980 and made a constitution which emphasises Kastom (local practice and beliefs) and Christianity (Western influence) (Lini,1980:62). 40% of Vanuatu’s income comes from tourism, but a very large amount of money in Vanuatu comes from foreign aid (DFAT, 2019a) including 66 million from Australia this year (DFAT 2019b). Most businesses are owned by Western people. This research shows that Vanuatu is depending on outsiders for economic development and is influenced a lot by globalisation. This globalisation affects people’s lives in Vanuatu, and it affects women in different ways to men.

Women in Vanuatu

Women in Vanuatu do not have the same opportunities as men. In a big survey done by Vanuatu Women’s Centre (VWC) they found 60% of women have experienced physical or sexual violence, and 44% in the last year (VWC, 2011). This has consequences for their mental and physical health, for the health of their children, and it is a violation of their human rights (UN General Assembly, 1948). It is also evidence of their low position in society in Vanuatu. Women have also only had five seats in parliament since independence, and at the moment there is no woman in parliament. In the same way, they also do not have power in the household to make decisions. Men have most of the jobs in both public and private sectors (Vanuatu National Statistics Office 2009). Of the 18,000 full time homemakers in the Vanuatu census, 15,000 were women. Unemployment is highest for women in urban areas and they are less likely to be in senior positions (VNSO 2009). More women than men have no schooling, and more men than women have university education (VNSO 2009). These statistics show that women face injustice in Vanuatu in the community and the household.

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The effect of globalisation on women in Vanuatu

Global capitalism makes businesses search for cheap labour and resources so they can have bigger profit, which has a big impact on Third World countries (Lindio-McGovern & Williman 2009) such as Vanuatu. Western laws brought by globalisation affect the social structure, practises and the gender order that has been there before the colonisation. Lindio-McGovern & Williman (2009) show how gender inequality is not just at the individual or community level, but is linked in the system of neoliberal globalisation.

Neoliberalism is the economic and political system we live in. It is an ideology, policy and form of governance. Steger and Roy (2010) describe ideology as beliefs that are shared widely in a society. For example, ideology encourages people to act in certain ways. Neoliberal policy is about deregulation of the economy, liberalisation of trade and industry, and privatisation of state owned enterprises, such as cutting off tax for higher income businesses and earners. It is built around the “basic doctrines of deregulation, privatization, economic liberalization, labor flexibilisation and diminished state-support social provision” and is “meant to create the appropriate conditions for the preservation and global expansion of capitalism that has maintained a wealthy transnational capitalist interests” (Lindio-McGovern & Williman 2009, p2). It is about competitiveness, self interest and decentralisation.

The impact of neoliberal globalisation often has a more severe impact on women than men. Tor and Toka (2004) argued that women had a huge role in the community’s decision making and in the household before the arrival of Christianity but this changed. Many argue that since the arrival of the Chistianity, the Bible emphasised patriarchal power in the house with the father as the head of the house and having control over his wife (Jolly, 1994). It also changed because economic systems changed.

Neoliberal capitalism came to Vanuatu when Western people came to use the land for farms for things like copra and cacao. Men were employed by Western workers on their farms (Jolly 1994). Walliman and Lindio McGovern (2009) talk about reproductive labour, which is when domestic workers work to support workers who work in capitalist businesses. Globalisation affects women in a way that they have been exploited to working for cheap labour. Women around the world are living under the poverty line and the only way for them to earn money to support their living is to accept to work for cheap labour (Free Trade Zone DVD, 1999). Rodman et al, 2017, explained that women in Vanuatu have been exploited in domestic work to work for westerners. They describe that westerners train ni-Vanuatu women to become civilised by teaching them how to clean the house, ironing and doing laundry and on how they should behave. Domestic work is manual labor and most of those work are exhausting but housegirls have to show that there is competition in their work and are regarded as low paid and low status professions. In Vanuatu, lots of women are house-girls who work to look after children and cook for men while they work in businesses (Rodman et al, 2007). They also do this for white families working in Vanuatu, and they do this for low pay. Women are exchanged between men (fathers and husbands) to bear them babies, do house chores and use their sexuality to satisfy their needs. This means women are treated like property and objects.

This affects education. Because of the idea that men will be doing production work that makes money, parents send them to school. But women will do reproductive labour, so they need to be at home learning to do that. This is part of the reason why women have bad education levels in Vanuatu, which makes the problem continue because they don’t learn to be independent. Also, because they are treated like objects and property belonging to men, men feel they can use violence for discipline to control them.

Globalisation has made women’s lives worse in this way, but also it opens up lots of other opportunities for women to challenge the social structures which exploit women. For example, governments like Australia give funding to Vanuatu while making agreements that the Vanuatu Government must create policies to improve the lives of marginalised groups including women DFAT 2016). Globalisation also brings non-government organisations (NGOs) which challenge the structural system which oppresses women. One of these is Oxfam International, which runs a Social Economic Empowerment Design (SEED) program.

Oxfam’s Social Economic Empowerment Design (SEED) program

The SEED program gender-just program “seeks to bring together gender justice with economic and environmental considerations in a new approach to creating and supporting gender-just, green and vibrant and productive economies” (Oxfam 2017 p4). Oxfam argue that to improve gender justice “requires both social and economic strategies, brought together in a feminist framing of the economy” (Oxfam 2017 p7). It works together with communities using activities to help them understand inequality and to help them find solutions on how they can overcome injustice. These activities are workshops, interviews, stakeholder analysis and gender market mapping. The workshops are with whole communities and designed to support communities in making more gender-just relationships which have fair shares of responsibilities for women and men. They give support to help communities develop their existing businesses or start new ones which help the whole community. By “identifying, analyzing and discussing these key issues, barriers to their achievement and opportunities for action” (p7) it helps communities to create their own solutions. This includes making sure women are involved in decision-making.

SEED is rooted in principles of gender justice. These are:

  1. Transform gender power relations
  2. Build positive masculinities
  3. Promote transformative leadership for women’s rights
  4. Understand and counter marginalization:
  5. Iterate and improve
  6. Work collectively for change
  7. Co-create programmes (Oxfam 2017, p12)

SEED’s activities are very good because they help the men and women to identify what is happening in their community or household and help them imagine how it will look if the power relations are more equal. It is focused on economic empowerment but at the same time targeting the injustice that is affecting women to change the way we do things to have successful businesses as well as more equality. It is trying to transform these injustices while also helping communities to have the economic empowerment they need to work in the social and economic structures of globalisation and capitalism.

At the same time the process of SEED reinforces the ideas of neoliberalism and capitalism, because it is still focused on business and ownership. However, it is focused on benefits for the whole community, not just individuals. It is also focused on bringing business back to communities and away from large businesses owned by people from outside. The SEED program is still in a pilot process and there is nothing written about its success yet. However, I worked on this program and I could see women taking up roles in community businesses and decision making. I saw communities beginning to understand how neoliberal economic systems leave them left out, and how this affects everyone but women differently to men.I could also see men becoming more supportive because they could understand that the benefits would affect everyone in the community. In my analysis I think programs like SEED have a lot of potential to transform people’s lives more than other aid programs which do not address capitalism and gender injustice.


Women in Vanuatu are victims of a lot of violence and have very little authority in the house and the community. Neoliberal globalisation has had a huge effect on women and has emphasised their low position through Christian missionary beliefs and their economic exploitation. For example, women are exploited as unpaid reproductive labourers (domestic workers who allow ‘productive’ workers to work more and produce more to drive capital). In this way, they contribute to capitalism without gaining much from it. The ideology leads them to be treated as objects in the community and the home.

Neoliberal globalisation also opens up other ways of thinking to challenge the ways women are exploited. Globalisation doesn’t only spread neoliberalis, it also spreads feminism. Feminist ideas are spreading and encouraging women to step out from injustice and challenge it. It helps them to work together and share ideas to stand up for their rights Walliman and Lindio McGovern (2009). One of the ways this has spread is through NGOs like Oxfam.

Lastly, neoliberal globalisation is probably not going to go away soon. Vanuatu is stuck in this system. Oxfam’s SEED program looks for ways that it can help neoliberal policies to evolve in ways that include marginalised groups such as the people of Vanuatu, and especially women. It does this by challenging ideas, educating communities and helping them look for creative solutions to overcome injustice while working in a neoliberal economic system. It is part of globalisation and neoliberalism, but it is having a positive impact on communities. Maybe this kind of program can give us hope for a better future.


Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), (2019a) Vanuatu Country Brief, accessed at on 19th October 2019

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) (2019b), Overview of Australia’s aid program to Vanuatu, accessed at on 19th October 2019

Department of Foreigh Affairs and Trade (DFAT) (2016), Australia-Vanuatu Aid Partnership Agreement, accessed at on19th October 2019

Jolly, M. (1994). Women of the Place: Kastom, Colonialism and Gender in Vanuatu. Chur and Reading: Harwood Academic Publishers

Rodman, M et al.,(2007)”Housegirls Remember: Domestic Workers in Vanuatu, University of Hawii

Rowland, C, & Kilsby, D, (2017) “Gender-Just Social Economic Empowerment Design”

Tor, R. & Toka, A. (2004). Gender, Kastom and Domestic Violence: A Research on the Historical Trend, Extent and Impact of Domestic Violence in Vanuatu. Vanuatu:Department of Women’s Affairs.

UN General Assembly, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 10 December 1948, 217 A (III), available at: [accessed 20 October 2019]

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Vanuatu Women’s Centre (2011). Vanuatu National Survey on Women’s Lives and FamilyRelationships. Vanuatu Women’s Centre, Port Vila

Vanuatu Women’s Centre. (2016). Program Against Violence Against Women: Program Design Document, March 2016, available at:

Wallimann, I, & Lindio-McGovern, L 2009, Globalization and Third World Women: Exploitation, Coping and Resistance, Ashgate, Farnham England. Chapter 1 Introduction: ‘Neoliberal Globalization and Third World Women: Exploitation, Coping and Resistance’