By MONIKA SINGH
The Fijian government remains steadfast in its commitment to addressing climate change with a distinct emphasis on gender inclusivity.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Tourism Viliame Gavoka said the government’s proactive pursuit of policies aligned with this commitment, propelling them towards meaningful and impactful change.
Mr Gavoka made the comments at the Regional Conference on Gender Responsive Climate Policy and Environmental Governance at the Grand Pacific Hotel.
“A study from the International Union for Conservation of Nature revealed that nearly a quarter of 89 nationally determined contributions have no references to gender.
“Therefore, the urgency to confront gender-specific challenges within Pacific climate policies stands as an imperative. This conference, I am sure, will serve as a pivotal platform, fostering collaboration and devising pragmatic strategies for positive change,” he said.
According to Mr Gavoka Fiji’s National Climate Change Policy 2018 – 2030 targets reducing climate risks and addressing climate vulnerabilities.
He noted that despite being heavily impacted, women are often underrepresented in local, national, and global policymaking forums where responses to climate change are decided.
“This can lead to policies and programs that do not address or even recognize the different experiences and needs of women in the context of climate change.”
Climate and gender
Mr Gavoka said the study conducted by a group of researchers, along with scientific evidence, supported the conclusion that women were more vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change, which put them at a higher risk.
“When there is a cyclone in Fiji, we often empathise with the people where the impact was most felt. And this is often geographically. But we often overlook the additional dimensions that come with it.
“Women, our mothers, wives, and daughters, are primarily responsible for household water supply, food security, and energy to feed and keep us clean. So, when there is a disaster, women work harder, increasing their workload and exposure to greater safety risks. We know this because we have seen this in our own communities.”
He said we should also take into account the fact that women frequently worked in industries such as farming, which were directly impacted by climate change.
“Their access to resources is likewise restricted, as they have less rights to land and less access to finance and education.
“In the aftermath of disasters, women tend to be more vulnerable to violence, exploitation, and other forms of abuse.”
Gender responsive policies translated into action
With a recognition of the practical aspect of implementing gender-responsive policies, Mr Gavoka said our commitment should extend beyond rhetoric where we should pledge to translate these policies into tangible actions that directly benefit our communities.
He said there was a need to systematically integrate gender considerations into all stages of policymaking.
“We need greater representation of women in climate-related decision-making at all levels, ensuring that women can influence climate strategies. And it’s heartening to see many women here today,” he said.
Women’s input in decision-making
Marie Damour, the ambassador of the United States (U.S) to the Republic of Fiji, said including women’s input in policy discussions made the policies more effective and discussions on climate change were no different.
“We must empower women and include their needs and perspectives in the discussion to ensure more equitable and sustainable solutions to the many threats posed to us by climate change.”
In her keynote address at the conference yesterday, Ms Damour said the government level, research showed that when more women were in positions of leadership, environmental agreements were more likely to be ratified, the land use policies were more likely to be reformed, and the environment was more likely to be protected.
“At the community level, women and girls are leaders of environment and environmentally sound practices such as reducing waste, adopting sustainable agricultural practices, planting trees, preparing their communities for disaster, and so much more,” she said.
Impacts of climate change on women and girls
According to Ms Damour women and girls experience the greatest impacts of climate change which amplifies existing gender inequalities and poses unique threats to their livelihoods, health, and safety.
Even without climate change, she said women around the world depended on natural resources but had less access to them, adding that in many regions, women bear a disproportionate responsibility for securing food, water and fuel for their households.
“When you add the effects of climate change to those pressures, the situation for women and girls becomes even more dire. For example, when disasters strike – something that happens often in this part of the world, women are less likely to survive and more likely to be injured due to disparities in information, mobility, decision making capability and access to resources and training.
“In the aftermath of a disaster, women and girls are less able to access relief and assistance. This further threatens their livelihoods and creates a vicious cycle of vulnerability to future disasters. Extreme heat increases the incidence of stillbirth and increases the spread of vector borne diseases that are linked to negative maternal and neonatal outcomes. The effects of climate change increased risks of displacement and conflict, adding to the burden placed on women to maintain their homes and their families.”
Need to amplify women’s voices
She said she was honored to work with amazing women such as those in the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Protection who uplift their communities while improving climate resilience.
“We need to see more women driving the conversation of how to create climate resilience and adaptation in their communities. We need to see more women running for local office and winning those elections. And we need to amplify the voices of the women in our circles, who are advocating for change and protecting the future of our communities and our families with locally relevant solutions,” she said.
The ambassador said these included indigenous women and girls whose traditional knowledge and understanding of community needs was indispensable in designing and implementing culturally appropriate solutions.
Mentorship and training
Ms Damour said mentorship, encouragement and leadership training were some of the critical areas that could change the trajectory of a woman’s career.
“To put it more bluntly, the absence of mentorship, encouragement, and leadership training can crush ambition.”
She said the US Embassy now funded several activities which provide paths to political leadership, including workshops for those interested in being political candidates.
Through the embassy’s female leaders and energy project, we’re also working to advance the professional development of women in the clean energy workforce.
“These are some of the concrete ways the United States is working to help amplify the voices of women in the region. We encourage all countries, businesses, and civil society organizations to do the same. Both men and women in leadership positions across all sectors should look for ways to promote and elevate women’s, we need to instill those values starting at a young age by teaching youth that they are equal partners with equal value, regardless of gender.”
The two-day conference is organised by Dialogue Fiji and funded by the International Republican Institute and the US government.
This news piece was first published in Wansolwara and has been republished here with the kind permission of the editor(s).
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