19 February 2024

Flora Vano: “Women are the first responders. We put others before us so that no one is left behind.”

Portrait of Flora Vano
UNDRR/Antoine Tardy

Flora Vano is the Country Manager of ActionAid Vanuatu, an organization that supports local women to become galvanizing and powerful community leaders, particularly in times of crisis such as disasters.  

“Our DRR work is focused mainly on women, young girls and women with disability,” Flora says. Through the Women I TokTok Tugeta (WITTT) network, ActionAid Vanuatu has been able to organize women to learn more about DRR, starting with doing women-led community-based protection assessments and setting their priorities and action plans.  

“The network is very vibrant! We also have Women I TokTok Tugeta Sunshine, which is the disability arm of the network, as well as the Women Wetem Weta (Women's Weather Watch) programme, which is the communications arm of it.” 

The latter was built a women's network of disaster preparedness experts who disseminate easily understandable early warning messages to their communities (spanning 30,000 people) when severe weather is forecasted. Besides increasing preparedness and decreasing disaster impacts, the programme supports women being recognized as respected and knowledgeable members of their community.  

“It was adapted from a similar model in Fiji,” Flora notes. “Now we have a Pacific-wide, women-led and -owned communications system that was innovatively created by Pacific women.” 

At this point, Flora’s strong feminist ideas and pride are no longer a secret. “My mom has been my inspiration. She is a very strong woman. She is a feminist and I am a feminist as well. In the community, she is known to be a woman who welcomes everybody with open arms. She taught me that women should not be treated differently.” 

As a matter of fact, women with disabilities, Indigenous women, widows, single mothers, and fisher folk women are already marginalized in their communities and face pre-existing inequalities even before a hazard strikes. 

“Women are not fully recognized in the DRR space because of all the unpaid and unseen work they carry out. From 4:30 in the morning until 11 at night, they do household chores, get the groceries and so on. They do everything before they even think of themselves. And that is a barrier for women.” 

“They are told to be in the house, not out, and that defines them. That becomes who they think they are. But it should not.” 

“Women are the first carers. They are the nurses at home, they are the teachers before and after school, they set the path for their children right from the beginning.” 

Flora’s enthusiasm when she speaks about her work with and for women is infectious. “Action Aid is an organization that stands to elevate the voices of marginalized groups and to fight injustice. The most important for us is local ownership. We want to make sure that the network is locally led by women. Then we support female leadership to scale it up to all of our islands across the country.”  

Looking beyond Vanuatu, Flora demonstrates her ambition and sisterhood: “If we can be resilient, we want the same for our sisters in other countries of the Pacific, of Asia, and our learnings as community women can also help the global north.” 

Her final message is no less compelling: “To all young women and girls out there, I want to say: prioritize your career, prioritize what you want to do, prioritize what you can achieve. Ask yourself:  what can I do to make a change? What can I do to contribute to the transformation of my home, my family, my community, and you as a person? Get your priorities right.”

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Themes Gender
Country and region Vanuatu
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