Gender and adaptation to climate change
Collecting shellfish in Kiribati. Photo: Lorrie Graham
The effects of global climate change include extreme weather events such as increased intensity of cyclones, droughts and flooding. Although it may seem everybody would be equally exposed to these hazards, this is not so. In the Indian Ocean Tsunami, three women to every one man died because women could not escape the waves, either because they were encumbered by their long skirts, were trying to hold on to children, or simply didn't know how to swim or climb trees. Women have less access to resources, economic advantage, social rights and environmental justice, all of which makes them more vulnerable to climate and disaster risk.
A recent meeting of the Pacific forum focused on topics such as disaster risk management and adaptation to climate change, with particular reference to understanding the gender implications. In the Pacific gender roles and knowledge are strictly defined and segregated. Yet women's knowledge and social practices could be used to advantage to build community resilience.
During a drought in the small islands of the Federated States of Micronesia, local women, knowledgeable about island hydrology, found potable water by digging a new well that reached the freshwater lens. Pacific island men know more about fishing in deep ocean waters whereas women, because they often collect shellfish close to the waters edge, know the shoreline. Women's observations could add significant value to programs designed to protect against coastal erosion. Divisions of labour between men and women denote different experiences and understanding and, consequently, can offer a good entry point for gender sensitive programming. Forum participants agreed that more women should be involved in activities concerned with disaster risk management and climate change adaptation.
A number of Pacific communities have developed different ways of coping with the threats of natural disasters and extreme weather events. For example, some Pacific communities know about a type of yam that is not very tasty but can stay in the ground for years and, unlike other root crops, is not damaged by flooding. Planting this yam prior to cyclone season can make a real difference to warding off hunger during difficult times. It goes without saying such knowledge is vital and proves how important it is to consult with communities.
In order to access the full range of knowledge to cope better with climate change effects and disasters, it's clear programmers will need to inform and consult with everyone - women, children, the elderly and the disabled, as well as men.
The Pacific forum is an example of Australia's aid program working collaboratively with United Nations agencies to address the Millennium Development Goals and to build a safer and more resilient Pacific region. The 2008-09 aid budget includes $150 million over three years to assist countries in the Asia-Pacific region to assess and adapt to the likely impacts of climate change.
Last reviewed: 1 June, 2008