Pacific women’s leadership crucial to building resilience against climate change, food insecurity

Chendi Liu/Office of Women, Peace & Security

Women’s vital role in tackling climate change and food insecurity in the Pacific islands region was the focus of a recent workshop in Suva, Fiji, co-sponsored by the United States Indo-Pacific Command’s (USINDOPACOM) Office of Women, Peace & Security (WPS), the Center for Naval Analyses, and Women of Color Advancing Peace, Security, and Conflict Transformation.

The two-day event, titled “Building Inclusive Resilience,” drew 24 participating organizations with diverse expertise, projects and experiences, including Fiji-based femLINKpacific, the Vanuatu Human Rights Coalition, the Porgera Red Wara (River) Women’s Association and Transcend Oceania. Among other topics, panelists addressed the nexus of climate, food security and instability, noting that “in the Pacific, women are synonymous with food and responsible for providing food on the table for their families regardless of supply or availability.” This highlights the growing burden on women as food insecurity increases in the region. However, women also bring expertise and experience to the issue.

Panelist Maureen Penjueli, coordinator of the Pacific Network on Globalisation, noted the historic undervaluing of women’s contributions to food production. She underscored the need “to recognize the central role that women play as knowledge holders — particularly indigenous knowledge holders — around food production and cultivation, both at a household level but also at a livelihoods level; also food preparation and preservation, and the determination around food consumption and livelihood options.”

In 2018, the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), a political and economic policy organization that now has 18 member states, issued the Boe Declaration on Regional Security, designating climate change as the “single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and wellbeing of the peoples of the Pacific.” Climate change is a “threat multiplier,” increasing and intensifying “natural resource-related conflicts, instability, forced displacement, and exploitation,” according to a 2021 report by the U.S.-based Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security. From rising sea levels to natural disasters, slow- and sudden-onset effects of climate change disproportionately affect women, exacerbating inequalities in their livelihoods, health, safety and security.

Across the region, women are leading climate change mitigation and adaptation initiatives, including mobilizing communities, and promoting conservation and sustainable development.

In 2000, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, which recognized the disproportionate effects of conflict and crisis on women and girls, as well as the importance of women’s equal and full participation in peace and security. The resolution called on U.N. members to implement national action plans. In 2012, the PIF adopted a Regional Action Plan to enhance women’s leadership and ensure that the human rights of women and girls are protected.

Concurrently, the U.S. has supported WPS efforts in the region. In 2011, the U.S. adopted its first National Action Plan, followed by the WPS Act passed by the U.S. Congress in 2017. The subsequent WPS Strategy of 2019 mandated that four agencies develop implementation plans, including the U.S. Defense Department. Since 2019, USINDOPACOM’s Office of WPS has assisted partner nation initiatives.

It also partnered with the Pacific Disaster Center, an applied research center managed by the University of Hawaii, to develop a WPS Responsiveness score for Indo-Pacific nations. Climate change is a key exposure indicator, while economic participation, and access to information, clean water and sanitation are gender inequality indicators.

At the July 2023 workshop, femLINKpacific recorded interviews for its podcast series, which seeks to elevate women’s voices and leadership to help expand access to information through accessible media and messaging. The organization, which is dedicated to gender justice, ecological sustainability, peace, freedom, equality and human rights, shared public health information on the COVID-19 pandemic and empowers local leaders through the Rural Women Leaders Community Media Network.

It also helped create Women Wetem Weta (Women’s Weather Watch) in Vanuatu, a communication system that allows women leaders to prepare their communities for potential disasters.

Another theme to emerge at the workshop was the need to consider nontraditional notions of security. Beyond emergency response and mitigation, participants said “local history, knowledge and Indigenous traditions” must be incorporated because they are essential to promoting inclusive and holistic climate security, with women fully included in planning and decision-making.

The USINDOPACOM Office of WPS, meanwhile, continues to support women’s leadership by partnering with the PIF to develop capacity-building workshops and other forums dedicated to climate and food security, and other emerging transnational challenges.

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