Why Climate Change is a Feminist, Peace and Security Issue

Sharon Bhagwan Rolls
Posted November 20, 2018 from Fiji

This article is based on a presentation by the author at the WOW Festival 2018

While rural women are key stakeholders of the Pacific region’s tourism, agriculture and market and informal economies, the human security of rural women is affected by the impact of disasters as well as the persistent gender inequalities which affect social, economic and political status.

At a side event at the 62nd session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women titled “Empowering Rural Women: Building Resilience to Climate Change in the Small Island Developing States” President Hilda Heine highlighted that climate change is affecting the economic security of a third of the population of the Marshall Islands including women living in outlying islands who rely on the production of traditional handicrafts most of whom support their families through handicraft production relying on the supply of pandanus and coconut leaves, and shells.

The impact of prolonged droughts and intensifying weather patterns including cyclone are impacting on the availability of these resources which women rely on for food, health and economic security.

In Fiji, for example, it is clear that climate change has exacerbated existing gender inequalities.

Fijian women face gender discrimination in economic sector: they are less likely to be employed, more likely to be underemployed, and have limited access to economic resources in general. Fiji’s gender gap in the labour force participation is the largest in Pacific countries: 47% for women and 81% for men in 2010. Among wage earners, the incidence of poverty was 43% for women and 25% for men. Furthermore, it is reported that rural women have limited access to land, extension services, and loans compared to men

The economic insecurity has undermined Fijian women’s resilience to climate change, as climate change and natural disasters have aggravated agricultural sector, dramatically increasing the cost of living (Fiji NGO Coalition 2017). Tropical Cyclone Winston, which hit Fiji in February 2016, forced many rural families to rely on markets to purchase food, building materials, and other necessities

Pacific Feminist Coalitions and Alliances are working together

The We Rise Coalition is a dynamic, learning Coalition led by four feminist organisations - Diverse Voices and Action for Equality (DiVA), femLINKpacific (femLINK), Fiji Women’s Rights Movement (FWRM) and International Women’s Development Agency (IWDA)

The coalition has highlighted that while climate change is a global phenomenon, its impacts are not felt equally. It has a greater impact on those people and communities, in all countries, that already face multiple forms of injustice and human rights violations, who are most reliant on natural resources to meet daily needs, and/or those with least capacity and resources to respond to natural hazards. This is worse for marginalised and inter-sectionally affected women and people.

Women and girls commonly face much higher risks and greater burdens from the impacts of climate change. High levels of sexual and gender based violence, low levels of decision making, strong gendered social norms, high levels of gender discrimination and poverty all exacerbates climate change risks for women and girls of all ages, and the majority of the world’s poor are women.

Women’s unequal participation in decision-making processes further compounds inequalities and often prevents women and other marginalised groups from fully contributing to climate-related planning, policy-making, implementation and monitoring and evaluation.

Women and girls are often charged with responsibilities to provide water, food, and fuel to their families. In the context of climate change, increasing scarcity of natural resources necessitates these women and girls to work longer hours . In the Pacific, environmental change means rural women who depend on natural resources, such as fishing or agriculture, are often required to travel further to find alternative sources .

Women’s unpaid care work doubles in the times of natural disasters, but their restricted rights, unequal access to economic resources, and limited mobility make recovery difficult.

A heightened risk of gender-based violence is another challenge following disasters.

Strengthening opportunities for Pacific women’s leadership in emergencies would enable locallised gender responsive humanitarian responses in emergencies, including disaster preparedness, response and recovery.

This is one of the reasons why the Shifting the Power Coalition aims to ensure women’s organizations are resourced to be at the frontline of humanitarian response through strengthening pacific women’s leadership and collective voice:

  • Through the promotion of women-led innovation in disaster preparedness, response and recovery, and greater recognition and awareness of indigenous knowledge.
  • By investing in the capacity of diverse women to engage in district, sub national and national disaster coordination mechanisms and their ability to organize and influence decision making.
  • Strengthening the availability of evidence and data across the region to influence decision making in response to disasters.
  • Amplifying diverse women’s voices at regional level and influencing key processes.

Peace and Security Connections:

Pacific SIDS face an existential threat to territorial integrity due to climate change impacts as a result of continued burning of fossil fuels by developed countries. These effects include sea level rise, extreme weather events, ocean acidification, and king tides, which threaten livelihoods, food security, health, safety and wellbeing. It is necessary to take actions to address the security implications of climate change, including violation of territorial integrity, more frequent and severe climate-related disasters, threats to water and food security, increased natural resource scarcity, and forced displacement and the human dimensions of climate change, including, where necessary, initiatives for preparing communities for relocation.

The Pacific Regional Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security (2012-2015), endorsed by Pacific Forum Leaders highlighted the role of women in peacebuilding processes:

For example, in Fiji women have organized peace vigils, dialogue and provided technical inputs into defence reviews and national security policy development; negotiations across crocodile infested rivers with armed combatants and developing education methods for peace building in the Solomon Islands; actions to bring about the laying down of arms in Bougainville; advocacy, research and education to encourage voting in Marshall Islands; efforts in Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu and across the region to end violence against women. These are only a few examples of responses to conflict or perceived threats to human security that women’s organizations have developed and sustained over the years. Despite women’s productive efforts their participation in peace building, post-conflict recovery and efforts to enhance the oversight and accountability of the security sector is still a matter for debate. Women still struggle to be heard at the negotiating table in leadership roles and are not given sufficient recognition and resources to do their work.” (Pacific Regional Action Plan 2012 – 2015)

The Pacific Regional Action Plan was progressive in its identification of the nexus between peace and development, as well as 1325 and humanitarian action, given our reality of dealing with the impact of the slow onset of climate change, particularly the nature of intensifying disasters, which affect food, water, health and other insecurities.

However, despite the adoption of the plan – the lack of dedicated resources to the WPS agenda in particular prevention, dialogue and mediation, has resulted in the envisaged collaboration between a Pacific regional network of women peacebuilders with government officials including in regional inter-governmental processes.

But we continue to drive a transformative agenda for gender inclusive conflict prevention and human security

Collaborating with humanitarian action partners, including through the Shifting the Power coalition, we are driving a localisation agenda in the Pacific, so that governments and humanitarian actors, including the United Nations and development agencies are reminded of their responsibility to draw on the existing knowledge and programs of local, national and regional women’s organisations and provide resources for women to building their capacity across the human security and prevention agenda.

The GPPAC Pacific network is applying 1325 and the women, peace and security agenda through Pacific women-led innovation in DRR, DRM and humanitarian response, including through the innovative use of community media.

We’re not the only ones saying this:

The UN Secretary General’s July 2018 report Repositioning the United Nations development system to deliver on the 2030 Agenda: ensuring a better future for all” reiterates a series of recommendations which have been heard through our GPPAC network including in my own Pacific region – in particular the nexus between peace-development-human rights and humanitarian action in order to progress Agenda 2030 in line with resolutions from the General Assembly and the Security Council, including the suite of women, peace and security resolutions.

At the global and regional level  transformation will only happen by ensuring SDG16 enables a transformation of the UN peace and security architecture, to ensure there is greater accountability building resilience, preventing crises; ensuring human rights are a lived experience and sustaining peace as envisaged in UNSCR1325.including within regional inter-governmental organisations,

It means increasing women’s political participation in national and local governance structures to ensure that national development strategies are risk-informed, addressing the drivers of conflict – whether in homes or communities and that there are clear human security responses when conflicts emerge.  The UNSG report also calls for greater attention to the link between peace and humanitarian assistance because for those whose livelihoods and lives are at risk on the ground, the distinction between humanitarian assistance, development support and building peace is meaningless. Those challenges affect people’s lives in a unified and simultaneous manner.

Women as First Responders: Participation for Preparedness, Response and Defining Recovery

It is vital to build on the ingenuity of women – whether it is helping them to market their products, or having the time, space and resources to respond identify their responses to the challenges of sustaining their livelihood.

Development assistance – whether it is designed to progress gender equality, political participation or regional peace and security must be accountable for women to be more resilient, to be more adaptable, and to continue to support the core of their family and community structures. Such assistance would also ensure food security and water safety and associated health security for affected communities.

In short, climate change combined with existing gender inequalities has had negative consequences for women’s human rights in Fiji. The vicious cycle is sustained by well-meaning research, policies, and services that are lacking of gender perspective. For instance, although the UN Sustainable Development Summit recognised Climate Action as one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), none of the indicators require sex- and gender-disaggregated data. Likewise, Fiji’s Post-Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) highlighted key economic and social impacts caused by the tropical cyclone Winston from a gender-neutral perspective, without reflecting the reality of women’s role and their needs and experiences.

Despite all this, women can, and do, play critical roles in response to climate change due to their local knowledge of, and leadership in sustainable practices at the household, community and national levels, their roles in unpaid care work, in sustainable resource management, agriculture, fisheries and aquaculture, and more.  Women’s participation at the political level can result in far greater responsiveness to the needs of diverse individuals and grassroots communities, and in ensuring that climate and development justice, as much as generalised mitigation, adaptation, loss and damage, technology transfer and capacity building responses, remains the real goal

Our Demands

It is vital that we place gender justice and human rights at the core of all our climate responses, remove profit as the main goal of much ‘development’ work, and ensure that safety and wellbeing, access to justice, health, and ecological sustainability are the ways that we measure real progress for climate justice and sustainable development.

Key recommendations include:

  • There must be allocation of funds for grassroots organizations representing women and girls. Donor governments must commitment to ensure 25% of humanitarian financing goes directly to local and national organizations in line with the Grand Bargain commitments, which must include financing for women’s groups and PwD organizations, with more flexible timelines and direct funding for capacity development and preparedness.
  • Implement and fund the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Gender Action Plan
  • Ensuring stronger local disaster preparedness and responses through the resourcing of women-led models of media and information communication technologies
  • Humanitarian actors and planning must be accountable for implementing and integrating international commitments to CEDAW ensuring gender equality and disability inclusion including those enshrined in UNSCR 1325, CRPD, SDGs, FRDP, and Paris Climate Agreement and be evaluated against these. All recipients of humanitarian aid should demonstrate how they have advanced these commitments and be independently evaluated against their contribution to gender equality.
  • Governments must ensure women and PwDs and their organizations are part of decision making at all levels of disaster planning and response with specific resourcing to support women’s leadership in disaster preparedness and response;
  • They must also renew the focus on UNFCCC gender quotas, including in the Secretariat, quotas of women in Party delegations, and Heads of Delegations
  • Appoint national Gender and Climate Change focal points by all Parties to the UNFCCC
  • Ensure the safety and protection of climate, environmental and Women’s Human Rights Defenders (WHRD)
  • DATA:
  • Research and data collection for baselines with disability groups and women’s networks needs to be a priority for resourcing.
  • Engage with diverse women’s organizations to review and revise existing policies including National Disaster Plans to ensure gender equality and inclusive approaches.

Comments 5

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Kay Link
Nov 20, 2018
Nov 20, 2018

Thank you for putting this so eloquently, Sharon! Climate change disproportionately impacts the most vulnerable populations and I'm glad passionate, incredible women like you are standing up to point out we must bring attention to climate justice and that gender equality, as it often in, is so interconnected to the environment as well. I loved reading this!

Sis. Salifu
Nov 21, 2018
Nov 21, 2018

Hi Sharon,
Thanks for your statistical information.

Lovely :-)

leila Kigha
Nov 25, 2018
Nov 25, 2018

Thank you for sharing Sharon. the statistics and details so elaborate. Thank you for shinning your light.

Beth Lacey
Nov 26, 2018
Nov 26, 2018

Great post!

Tamarack Verrall
Nov 26, 2018
Nov 26, 2018

Hi Sharon,

I agree wholeheartedly that women suffer the effects of climate change disproportionally, and that it is women's leadership that is missing and needed. Your words are an important call to action in support of women in your area, that it is "vital that we place gender justice and human rights at the core of all our climate responses, remove profit as the main goal of much ‘development’ work, and ensure that safety and wellbeing, access to justice, health, and ecological sustainability are the ways that we measure real progress for climate justice and sustainable development". This is such fine and essential work being done by the We Rise Coalition. It is so good to know you are there, and that this is already a strong coalition of groups, hopefully able to steer the UN decisions. Please keep us posted here and thank you for this detailed news.

In sisterhood,