Women Guardians of the Mangroves
Women in Papua New Guinea are coming together to care for each other, their families and lead change for their environment.
Around the world, many cultural, structural and historical issues can limit a woman’s opportunities to achieve their potential: to be educated and to be a part of decision-making. In Papaua New Guinea (PNG), women are working to overcome this imbalance by forming groups, exploring business opportunities and striving for a better future for their children and their families.
Surrounding many parts of PNG, coastal waters, land and sea connect in a tangle of twisted mangrove forests. In these forests, women work extremely hard, for example, chopping wood for cooking and gathering seafood to feed their families. Women account for 60 to 80 percent of all food production in PNG. As such, they directly rely on healthy and accessible resources on land and in the sea to provide for their children and other family members who depend on them.
Mangroves are invaluable: They are the breeding and feeding grounds for fish and shellfish that many PNG communities rely upon. Mangroves also trap sediment from land runoff, so that coral reefs and seagrass aren't smothered by silt, and they buffer coastal communities against the impact of king tides and storm surges caused by climate change. But mangroves are one of the most threatened ecosystems on the planet. They are cleared for housing, logging and aquaculture and are over-harvested for timber and firewood. This has a negative impact on the environment and on people's lives.
In response to these issues, women have created Mangoro Market Meri (meaning Mangrove Market Women) to manage their mangroves sustainably and also to improve the benefits they can derive from them. The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is supporting the women of Mangoro Market Meri (MMM) by helping them develop and trial their business and conservation ideas, and then link them to larger-scale economic benefits for conservation. Our focus is on supporting women to identify their needs and then create opportunities for them to access leadership, financial literacy and business and conservation management that generates much-needed income and employment.
To create long-term solutions for mangroves and PNG women, MMM is linking local efforts, ecotourism and blue carbon (the carbon that is captured by the world's oceans and coastal ecosystems). By sustainably managing their mangroves and near shore fisheries, MMM addresses two urgent problems: over-fishing and over-harvesting. Using innovative approaches, the women are building local markets for sustainably harvested mangrove products like mud crabs and clams. They are also exploring “volun-tourism” initiatives and have successfully partnered with a tour operator.
For my people, our livelihood is totally dependent on the sea. But our marine resources have reduced in number and size at a very fast rate due to over-fishing, to meet the demand for food and money.
TNC continues to support efforts at the provincial and national level to develop sustainable mangrove policies, which MMM can both inform and reinforce. Women’s empowerment is expanding to other provinces in PNG with the goal of creating a network for sharing and learning between women across the country.
MMM is showing how women’s involvement in conservation, economic development and decision-making create more prosperous and healthy futures for themselves, their communities and their environment.