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Sex: changing minds and winning hearts in Tanna, Vanuatu

In a traditional community where the topic of sex is highly taboo, attitudes are changing as men and women are engaging on family planning matters.

“Very traditional.”

These two words are often used to describe the people of Tanna in Vanuatu, one of the most populated islands in the small country in the Pacific. 

Between 1 and 5 March 2023, the Vanuatu islands were hit by two consecutive Category 4 cyclones (“Judy” and “Kevin”) with widespread damage to the northwest and northeastern islands. Authorities report that some 250,000 people were affected, representing more than 80 per cent of the population. 

Since 28 March, The Vanuatu Family Health Association (VFHA) has been conducting their humanitarian response on Tanna. Team Leader, Enneth Ilaisa, said that they are very surprised by their breakthrough with communities - especially with the men.  

“Tanna is known to be very traditional, even in the past it was almost impossible get access to these communities to talk about sex, but now it is slowly changing, and we are surprised. In our recent field visits, we have seen men step forward bringing their wives and even their daughters to get family planning!” says Ilaisa. 

Levi, a 47-year-old father, said that he brought his daughter to the VFHA site to get Jadelle [a long-acting contraceptive] because he does not want his daughter to fall pregnant. 

“After the cyclones, I saw pregnant mothers walking to the hospitals for check-ups and I told myself that I do not want that for my daughter. I do not want her to suffer if the boy runs away. Some men were talking about VFHA, and I was surprised that even though most were hesitant to get family planning for their daughters because it meant that they were able to have sex, they also did not want their daughters to suffer,” says Levi.  

Ilaisa added that they have seen more men step forward due to their work with community chiefs to ensure men attend the information sessions. 

“We talk to the men too, we educate them. Then after they go to nakamal (a traditional meeting place in Vanuatu used for gatherings and ceremonies), they tell all the men about what they learnt. I believe because people are still recovering from the cyclones, men have seen the firsthand challenges of women getting pregnant and the hardships of looking after a pregnant woman when you have lost everything after a cyclone. “ 

31-year-old Rose, from Kumera, said that she is surprised her husband advocated for her to get family planning.  

“I can’t thank VFHA enough, my husband, who previously accused me of cheating when I told him I wanted to get family planning, is the same man who now wants me to get family planning. I thank VFHA for also speaking to the men as they are usually the problem when it comes to family planning!” says Rose. 

VFHA Programme Manager, Kalowi Kaltapang thanked his hardworking humanitarian team for their perseverance in breaking down barriers of sex in communities, but most importantly, the great support from DFAT in funding the humanitarian response. 

“It's always been tricky to engage men in these spaces, but I thank DFAT, IPPF and the hardworking VFHA humanitarian team, who are steadfast in their mission to ensure that everyone has access to SRH services.”  






East and South East Asia and Oceania



Related Member Association

Vanuatu Family Health Association