Disasters do not discriminate, and people of all genders are affected. Women living in the Pacific region are often disproportionately affected by the socio-economic impact of disasters, largely due to climate change.

“Food crops and farms were completely damaged during Tropical Cyclone Yasa while we were still recovering from the COVID-19 lockdown. People moved from urban areas back to the villages to do farming because of job losses which led to sharing of limited resources and farming land, resulting in community-based tensions affecting us women,” said Sera from Naviavia village in Fiji.

IOM, in partnership with the Global Partnership for Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC), together with Transcend Oceania, facilitated ‘on the mat’ community consultations on human security and climate mobility with women in Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, and Fiji from April to June 2021.

The ‘on the mat’ approach enables women leaders to present their concerns and recommendations with male leaders both from traditional and faith communities. It is a user-friendly and a culture-specific local solution to support the implementation of national gender equality commitments at the community level. As Marika, the village headman of Naviavia Village highlights “when there are changes, we should work together with women, children and with people with disabilities so that we can know things that come to affect us in the village”.

The consultations provided an opportunity for women to share their experiences on the impacts of climate change and disasters and to use a human security mapping approach to agree on a set of collective recommendations for regional and national policy development and planning related to climate mobility.

What are the key challenges?

The consultations in the three countries revealed that existing gender inequalities exacerbate the negative impact of climate change on the lives of women. These inequalities include unequal distribution of resources, disruption to health care, water and sanitation, community conflicts, and sexual and gender-based violence.

Disaster displacement was highlighted as one of the major concerns in terms of human security as women participants from Naviavia village reported that “some of our houses were destroyed”.

The participants further stressed that they feared for security of tenure, asserting that “the land that we are planting on is being bought by the Kiribati government due to climate change, and the land we reside on is being governed by the Anglican church of which we do not have the ownership title”.

Women in Tangari and Romsua villages in Papua New Guinea emphasized that the relocation of new families into the villages led to a chain of socio-economic issues. These included clan conflicts, an increase in competition over resources among villagers, and food insecurity, which in turn created community-based tensions.

Women provide solutions

However, women also have solutions as 35-year-old Jane Besu, from Kona Village in Bougainville explains. “The biggest impact is food security and environment security and the change in my community. Before my people could produce a lot of sweet potatoes, we could sell five to ten baskets of it a day but today we only produce enough for our own consumption.”

“Climate change drives us to be productive and we ensure responsible and sustainable consumption. We also promote sustainable agriculture to sustain our daily lives, climate change makes us think and act, like here in Bougainville we have long periods of no rain. So we make a water catchment to store water,” Besu adds.

In all the communities that participated in the consultations, women highlighted their desire to maintain their culture and identity in the face of climate related mobility, both for the current and future generations. They stressed the need for increased investment in spaces such as the process that the ‘on the mat’ consultations provided to enable women to engage in decision making.

As Rayneth Ranou from the Sokela Community in Bougainville says “the biggest impacts of climate change in my community are sea level rise and the sawmill cutting all the logs and trees. We should have meetings that bring peace into our homes, meeting with our local leaders so that we can come up with local by-laws or in the beginning of marriage talk, share and help our mothers in our homes”.

Photo: IOM/Muse Mohammed 2016

Inclusion is key to human security and climate mobility

The key recommendations from the consultations for a gender inclusive human security approach include:

  • The government should provide women’s groups with income generation projects to support in-situ adaptation;
  • Involving women in decision making processes; and
  • Ensuring women are in the frontline and actively participating in policy level work.

IOM will continue to work closely with civil society and NGO partners to ensure that the voices of women inform the development of the regional framework on climate mobility and its subsequent implementation.

SDG 5 - Gender Equality
SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
SDG 13 - Climate Action