The Pacific is known to be one of the regions that is very vulnerable to climate change and climate-induced natural disasters. Today, almost all the Pacific nations are battling the worst effects of climate change and COVID-19 in their communities. Many islands are finding it very tough to cope with the increasing impacts of climate change and the unexpected outbreaks of coronavirus in their communities as health facilities and equipment were very limited to cater for the population. The death rates are increasing everyday and families are having very limited supplies to support their children in their homes.
Also in the midst of this pandemic, the recent Tropical Cyclone Dovi and a volcanic eruption descended onto the region in the beginning of 2022 - causing massive flooding, landslides, uprooted vegetations, homes and communities. It has left destruction and debris, and survivors were deprived from basic needs like food and clean water. This is the reality that women, young girls and children are dealing with in the Pacific communities.
Earlier this month, the Intergovernmental Report on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group II (WGII) released a report that consisted of the impacts, adaptation and vulnerability. This report has shown that with all these climate crises, women are at the very forefront of climate change and that climate change will disproportionately affect the health, safety and well-being of women, young girls and children of the Pacific and all of the Global South.
As described in the IPCC scenarios, climate change will really have massive impacts on food security and fresh water supply - and that urban and rural settlements will face a huge scarcity of resources for the population. These impacts will mostly affect women as many women in the Pacific are known to be the breadwinners of their families. A question that was posed by many after the release of this report is: what can be done for the Pacific Islands and how will this affect the livelihood and vulnerability of women, young girls and children ?
Clera Gore Rikimani who is a local climate change researcher and now the Senior Programs Manager at Save the Children Solomon Islands observed:
“In the Solomon Islands many women are really affected by the climate crisis and COVID-19 on trying to provide their families with all the basic needs to sustain their families everyday. There are some communities that are still not being supported by the government or by the humanitarian aid that was being done. Some communities that are in the outskirts of Honiara still have a large number of population that are still unvaccinated and majority of them are women and this has made it difficult for them to travel in town to settle their local produce.'“
Rikimani added “ ….even though these crises were both happening all at once, many women have turned out to be very creative and innovative in terms of their marketing strategy to support their families and serve the communities in these struggling times. Many women have used the online platform to sell their local products and offer delivery services to customers by adhering to the covid 19 safety protocols that were put in place. This shows how resilient women are in critical situations.”
Mary Alalo who is the Project Coordinator for the Third National Communications Report Project ( TNC) and the First Biennial Update Report Project (FBUR) - a project that is implemented by the Climate Change Division of the Ministry of Environment, Climate Change, Disaster Management and Meteorology, Solomon Islands - contributed that “Women in highly vulnerable communities have adapted by practicing food preservation methods, crop diversification and planting crops that are more drought, flood and salt water tolerant and women as house managers have done well by ensuring their families have food and water to drink including ensuring their children are kept safe from COVID-19”.
She added that “Climate crisis and COVID-19 are making it more difficult for women, girls and children to access quality health care, access to quality schooling, access to clean water and sanitation, access to income generating opportunities including limiting their capacity to improve their livelihoods”. However, she was encouraged that “Pacific Women have excellent adaptive capacity because they live in a part of the world where it's highly susceptible to climate change, disaster risks and natural hazards. Climate change is not a new concept, we have been living and breathing its impacts on our lives through the rising seas that brought in the high tides, through the heavy rains that affected our gardens, through the droughts that dried up our water sources, through the severe cyclones that damaged our houses, trees and livelihoods”.
In all these frequent disasters that have occurred, various studies have proved that women and girls in every society were the ones who have been effectively responding in times of crisis - and actively working towards the creation of a more just and sustainable world.
The Chief Conservation Officer who is the lead for the Protected Areas and Coral Triangle Initiative in Solomon Islands - Agnetha Vave-Karamui - echoed that “ Women have inbuilt instincts and characters that foresee problems and in most times will try to prepare or mitigate for these impacts. Their curiosity for what will be done is always a suitable tool – they may want to find information from their spouses or their chiefs or others around them”.
Karamui gave a few examples of the adaptation measures that Pacific Women are engaging in - including rotating food crops, seeking new areas for gardens, planting new crops that are more suitable to changing weather, diversifying crops in their food gardens and engaging in multiple income-generating incomes. It has been found that all these adaptive measures have really suited their context of leadership by giving assistance and mobilizing community support to their leaders and community members to be calm in emergency situations.
Also the National Coordinator of the Australia Pacific Climate Alumni Network (APCAN) Gaylyn Puairana shared that women, young girls and children bear the brunt of climate change. Puairana also echoed a fundamental sentiment that there is no climate justice without gender equality. She emphasized that there is a need for women to be given platforms that they can demonstrate their ideas on how they can bring about change in their communities.
It is very important to ensure that there are equal spaces and resources for Pacific women to participate in climate change decision making and climate action at all levels. Climate Justice is not possible without having women’s equal participation and involvement. There needs to be an urgent need to integrate gender responsive frameworks into policies addressing climate change. Lastly, in order to move forward, there needs to be a strong recognition of Gender and Climate Change in the Pacific as many Pacific women are at the frontline of being affected by the rising climate change impacts.