Flora Vano, a Ni-Vanuatu feminist and Country Program Manager of ActionAid Vanuatu, has briefed Ms Reem Alsalem, the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on violence against women, on local women-led initiatives to prevent violence amid the climate crisis and COVID-19. This article was adapted from her briefing.

Vanuatu is a seemingly innocuous small island developing country with some of the most pristine coasts, luscious tropical nature, and the most welcoming people, yet the country is also home to some of the world’s highest rates of domestic violence, and the highest at-risk country in the world for natural disasters. The compounding impact of the latter two records, in a context of climate crisis and climate security, is quickly deteriorating women’s livelihoods, and opportunities for a sustainable ecosystem where women can thrive.

Ms Vano shared some of the findings of the study undertaken by ActionAid Vanuatu and Monash University in 2018 that looked at both the impact of climate change on women in Vanuatu as well as what was needed to drive more gender-responsive approaches to address climate change. She also shared some recommendations stemming from her work on the ground with women in communities.

Representation and inclusion

“We know that addressing gender inequalities is essential to any gender-responsive approach to climate change. However, the current state of affairs provides women with limited access to decision-making (in Vanuatu there are no women in the national parliament), hence women are often invisible in policy- making,” said Vano.

“Without adequate representation of women in these discussions, we are jeopardizing our future, while the disproportionate impact of climate change and disaster on women is ignored. This includes the increased burden of unpaid work and food insecurity, increased rates of gender-based violence, and marginalization of women’s voices and leadership.

“Women’s role in responding to climate security is often overcast and misunderstood, and yet, women’s knowledge, participation, and collective action are crucial to the climate mitigation and adaptation dialogue. Women are already working at the frontline of building more resilient communities.”

At the regional level, ActionAid Vanuatu is one of the 14 women-led organisations of the Shifting the Power Coalition, a network of more than 100,000 grassroots, intergenerational and inclusive movements in seven Pacific Island Forum countries.

“We are supporting access to resources, sharing cross-coalition learning on innovation action and supporting local women’s leadership. Our publications and reports bring attention to how our leaders can use a peace-development and humanitarian nexus approach to achieve inclusive localisation, build resilient and peaceful communities and also ensure equitable access to resources to reach diverse women based on our needs, priorities and aspirations,” said the Coalition’s Regional Manager, Sharon Bhagwan Rolls.

Leading the way

Policymakers are duty-bearers and need to lead the way to:

• Develop inclusive and accessible early warning mechanisms for disasters and community-level conflicts, at household and village levels, incorporating women’s knowledge and leadership.

• Support women-friendly safe spaces for community participation, and enable the meaningful engagement of women’s community networks and organisations with customary and government policy-making.

• Build on existing women’s networks such as Women I TokTok Tugeta Network (WITTT) to connect women from other islands and nationally to support women’s leadership on climate change adaptation and response efforts. This includes investing in women-led community- based protection efforts to prevent and respond to violence against women, which intensifies during climate-related disasters and periods of food insecurity.

• Invest in services and infrastructures, in most islands there are limited justice services (e.g. police, shelters), and some have no police posts.

• Allocate gender-responsive budget and funds targeting women’s organisations, women-led networks, and movement-building groups.

Human and Community Assets

Women need resources to be able to respond effectively.

Women’s indigenous and traditional knowledge of climate change is a global asset and needs to be linked to scientific knowledge through our modern technology while securing a continuous exchange of information. Such exchange is crucial for sustainable growth and to prevent further harm to the lives of women, young girls, and women with disability.

“To eliminate violence against women, girls, and women with disability, the simplest action one can take is to include us, listen to us, walk with us, and invest in us,” concluded Vano.

Inclusion and participation are part of the solution, and even more so for women with disabilities. Their vulnerability and increased risk of violence in times of crisis, call for specific actions and solutions that can only be devised with the inclusion of people with disabilities and disability networks.