On March 8, 2021 – International Women’s Day – the United States Embassy to Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Tonga, and Tuvalu launched two US Agency for International Development (USAID) programs. The first program is a Project Management course for mid-level government and civil society managers from the Women in Maritime Association, Asia (WIMA-Asia). WIMA-Asia is an organization that advocates for greater visibility of women in this historically male-dominated industry through education, training, and employment opportunities. The second program is an online training module, available on USAID’s Climate Links portal, that incorporates Gender Equity and Social Inclusion (GESI) into development and climate change initiatives.
For the Pacific Islands, climate change is of utmost priority. Severe fluctuations in rainfall and sea levels are triggering natural disasters like tropical cyclones, storms, and droughts at increasingly high frequency and intensity. The ocean’s acidity levels, coral reefs, and fisheries are also susceptible to irreversible damage. The United States therefore continues to bolster the institutional and human capacity of these communities to mitigate disaster risks, reinforce infrastructure, and enable rapid recovery.
These two programs not only highlight an American commitment to climate resiliency, but also aim to do so in a socially inclusive, practitioner-led, and gender-balanced manner. Women and girls are disproportionately impacted by climate disasters as they are 14 times more likely to die, make up 80 percent of those displaced, and suffer from higher rates of gender-based violence during these periods. Yet, it is vital that these women and girls are not just treated as victims, but are empowered to design and implement sustainable climate solutions using their unique knowledge of natural resource management.
This initiative could not have come to fruition without a strong foundation of US-Pacific Islands cooperation. Take for instance USAID’s Climate Ready Project, which has worked with 11 countries – the Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu – to train a total of 1,738 people, including 812 women in global climate change adaptation. Overall, Climate Ready has helped the Pacific Island nations mobilize $26.7 million from various international funds that will alleviate the anticipated high costs of future disaster response. In particular, Fiji has secured direct access to the United Nation’s Green Climate Fund, by aligning its GESI Action Plan with existing international frameworks.
Efforts by the United States and the Pacific Islands to integrate female voices into climate action will undoubtably pave the way for mainstreaming diversity in all sectors. This trend has already emerged in Fiji, where divisions outside of the Climate Change and International Cooperation Division (CCICD) within the Ministry of Economy (MoE), identified the barriers to equity and inclusion that currently exist and devised potential strategies to tackle them.
Kyoko Imai is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington. She is a graduate student at Georgetown University focusing on Asian Studies and Refugees & Humanitarian Emergencies.