Gender and Climate Change in the Pacific

“The Pacific is speaking to the world”
Pacific Islands have a message for the world, and are leading the way in climate adaptation

Read more about the workshop here.

In March, we brought together women from from Pohnpei, Kosrae, Chuuk, Yap, Palau, The Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea, the United States, and England for a learning exchange on gender and climate change adaptation.

“You have a sphere of influence, whatever station you have in life. Never forget that. Women care for the land, women care for resources, women are the seeds, women are the caretakers. Woman are born to responsibility, and the Pacific is speaking to the world,” says Julie Tellei, a traditional leader in Palau.

The women shared personal stories of being female leaders in their communities and practical tips for resilience and survival.

“We want a collective approach to issues, so we need to sit together and listen to each other. It is an opportunity to see the similarities we have and learn from our differences. It brings us together when we have a common issue, it makes us stronger.” Kathryn Relang, Executive Director Women United Together Marshall Islands (WUTMI)

The three-day workshop was both life-affirming and alarming learning how communities in the Pacific live with the realities of water shortage, food insecurity and climate-induced hardships.

Water security

“With climate change, saltwater has come into the river system. Our fresh water has been inundated with seawater. We are now digging water wells. Some of the houses now also have installed rainwater tanks. Our freshwater is no longer fresh. It’s a problem,” Susan Pukuop from Manus, Papua New Guinea

Food security

“There are many food security issues in PNG. One of them is in coastal communities with saltwater intrusion that has caused a lot of challenges with women growing food. So for us women, we are trying different things. Some of us have been looking at ways to grow crops, so instead of having gardens for taro, cassava and yams we have been using recycled rice bags. That way they don't have to use a lot of land space,” Barbara Masike, Papua New Guinea Program Director, The Nature Conservancy

The attendees toured a local taro patch restoration project. Taro is a culturally and nutritionally important crop in the Pacific that is managed by women.

“As a woman born into Palauan culture, you already have certain responsibilities and roles. While in the taro patch, you learn “Taro Culture” from your mother. You learn how to care for taro, as well as the role of being a woman. Now that women are working, they are no longer cultivating taro. They have lost the taro patch network and transfer of the culture, it is slipping away in the modern society. Taro Culture is a way for mothers and daughters to connect and learn their culture.” Carol Emaurois Dengokl, Head of Education, Palau International Coral Reef Center; USP EU-GCCA In-Country Director

Erosion

“We see coastal erosion, many homes have lost their beach fronts where kids used to play. Some homes have had their foundations impacted. Families and communities do a lot of coastal revegetation projects with tree planting using native plants to help retain the soil and protect against coastal erosion.” Betty Sigrah from Kosrae, Capacity-Building Program Manager, Micronesia Conservation Trust

The women expressed the importance of traditional roles and practices that give them authority and responsibility for taking care of the environment and their families.

“The women are the caretakers of our land of our ocean. I believe in equal rights, equal opportunity, free speech and human rights, while maintaining the custom, culture and respect that each person has in his or her own culture or country.” Emeliana Musrasrik from Pohnpei, Migrant Resource Center, Micronesia Coordinator

Most Pacific Island cultures have a strong history of caring for their natural resources.

“I want to learn and bring back our traditional knowledge on how we save our marine resources so that I can go back and help my people how to protect our marine resources because I know it’s very important that we keep our resources safe.” Faustina Francis from Chuuk, Community Leader

Common connections were also discovered across cultures with being a woman, such as women being the primary caretakers of the household.

“Culturally, women are responsible for food production. Due to climate change, our work has doubled, because we have scarcity of crop production from soil infertility, erosion, increased population density.” Mariana Narukiap from Papua New Guinea, Crop Officer with Division of Agriculture & Livestock

Also being the stewards of the community’s natural resources. 

”In Yap, women are very involved in the community. Everything that happens at the community level, the women are involved even in men-led activities. The women are taking care of the basic needs of the community.” Berna Gorong from Yap, Partnership and Communications Coordinator, The Nature Conservancy
 

“Attending the climate adaptation workshop in Palau was one of TNC’s most inspiring gatherings for me. These women, who are on the front lines of fighting climate change and are seeing the impacts NOW on their homes, was powerful and humbling. Their wisdom and collaboration will protect this part of the world, and I for one will accept their invitation to join in them in this effort to address climate change. I came home with a greater appreciation for their traditions, their environment and the sisterhood of which now I am a part.” Alice Storm, Director, Global Priorities Development

The women felt hope for the future by engaging youth to support the leaders of tomorrow.

“My grandmother told me that when you plant something, it is like your child, you are their medicine. We have formed groups to bring the younger generation to join us and learn techniques on planting taro from the elders.” Bernadette Kadannged from Yap, Community member in Tamil

Everyone left with a sense of determination along with real-world examples of climate change adaptation they could implement in their own communities.

“It is important for women to come together and share and exchange ideas and challenges we face through climate change. It is a great opportunity for us to dialog and how we can make things better on the islands. There is so much we can learn from each other. We’re so unique in our different ways, yet we have so much in common in our island settings.” Kiki Stinnett, Chuuk Women’s Council

Being together formed a “Pacific sisterhood” that will last much longer than the three-day workshop.

Attendee Rebecca John from Marshall Islands, member of Ainikien Kora In Mejit (AKIM), the women’s group on Mejit

Women are often viewed as vulnerable to climate change. They need to be recognized as powerful agents of change.

“The science is clear: increasing women’s engagement in conservation and climate adaptation can result in a win-win for nature and people. It can lead to increased livelihood opportunities, improved health of natural resources, innovative climate solutions and women’s empowerment. By providing opportunities for women to come together and share, we validate their critical role and amplify our collective efforts to leverage climate solutions globally.”  Lizzie Mcleod, Climate Scientist, The Nature Conservancy

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