In April 2021, the Pacific Community (SPC) coordinated the 14th Triennial Conference of Pacific Women and the 7th Meeting of the Pacific Ministers for Women, hosted by the Government of French Polynesia. The conference brought together decision-makers, development partners, research institutions and civil society organisations. Following this landmark event, SPC will continue to publish portraits of inspiring gender champions who are at the heart of Pacific development programmes.
One woman who isn’t afraid to engage herself in these ocean spaces is Ivanancy Vunikura, an ocean defender and sailor.
Ivanancy is one of the few women in the world who can claim that she has sailed the vast Pacific ocean on a traditional Vaka.
She started her sailing career with the Uto Ni Yalo, a Fiji-based association whose role is to promote sustainable, reciprocal relationship with nature by encouraging solutions for a healthy ocean – and gathering trash on the remote islands it visits. In 2011, traditional boats from Uto Ni Yalo sailed from the South Pacific to the USA, creating history and reclaiming the ocean.
This sail led her to work for the Okeanos Foundation where she currently advocates for sustainable sea transportation and the revival of traditional sailing in the Pacific.
Her sailing journey hasn’t always been smooth. Ivanancy had to fight storms, rough seas, and sometimes adverse cultural beliefs.
“I remember visiting a community where it was a taboo for women to sail with men, so we had to ask for permission from the chief upon arrival’, she recalls.
“We were granted permission, but it was hard to work with men from the community who joined our sailing cruise, since they were not used to share the Vaka with women. However, this didn’t deter me, and eventually, we all managed to work together.”
Ivanancy said that, because of their education, many women in the Pacific think they are not worthy enough, and not brave enough to stand up and have their voices heard. But winds are now changing, and Ivanancy believes that “Women also have a place at the helm of the Pacific Vaka”.