Climate change and deforestation threaten the world, and global discourse has recently emphasized the disproportionate effects of climate change on groups of people who face inequalities related to poverty, race, age and other factors. The last decade has demonstrated that women and girls face outsized risks as a result of climate change and climate-related disasters; environmental degradation has an increased impact on the livelihoods of women and girls and also contributes to violence and abuse in communities and families. As gender and social inclusion experts at WI-HER, we advocate for protections to be mainstreamed in decarbonatization and conservation efforts that both address the gender-based risks (GBR) brought about by climate change and also mitigate the unintended consequences of environmental programming.
In Fiji, a nation of islands located in the South Pacific, there is great promise for decarbonization efforts. Women play a critical role in forest conservation as traditional knowledge bearers, and they are legally entitled to inherit land and benefit as landowners in the mataqali (clan) into which they are born. Yet, cultural norms and beliefs about gender and social status restrict women’s abilities to participate in public life and decision-making about land, despite the fact that women’s livelihoods are significantly impacted by the negative effects of deforestation. Furthermore, from a GBV perspective, more than two in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes, which is double the global prevalence of physical and sexual violence. Women often experience violence for years without receiving support due to stigma associated with reporting, challenges in accessing services and extensive delays to receiving justice.
“Women, as always, they are not in the frontline [of decision-making], even though they are the ones at the frontline facing the problems, the challenges of natural resource development. When there is a problem, it’s women that face the problem.”– Key informant, Gender-based Violence and REDD+ in Fiji: Gender and Environment Analysis
The Government of Fiji, supported by investments from the World Bank and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), has committed to decarbonization through the Fiji REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) Programme. The REDD+ Programme has incorporated a protective mechanism, the Feedback and Grievance Redress Mechanism (FGRM), for residents involved in and impacted by decarbonization efforts to provide an alternative method for community members to voice their complaints and seek resolution. Mainstreaming gender throughout the Fiji REDD+ Programme has been a critical objective since its inception and, under the USAID Resilient, Inclusive, Sustainable Environments (RISE) Challenge, WI-HER and Marstel-Day have partnered to support the Government of Fiji to continue this commitment and strengthen the FGRM in Fiji to be inclusive of GBR and GBV. This adapted, gender-responsive mechanism will be known as the FGRM+.
Using WI-HER’s iDARE methodology, we have engaged communities in Fiji to identify how this mechanism can best empower women to fully access the benefits offered by the REDD+ Programme and incorporate protections that mitigate risks for GBV. Through our remote research during the COVID-19 pandemic, key informants from across Fiji, including in the rural areas where the REDD+ Programme is implemented, described gender norms and expectations about land use contributing to GBR and GBV. Whoever disrupts or challenges these expectations faces consequences from their communities, families, and partners—up to and including violence.
“[The biggest challenge to women’s rights] in Fiji and across the Pacific is the way we were brought up, in terms of the delineation of roles and responsibilities from an early age, where we were taught, ‘A man should be engaged in this, and women should be engaged in other activities.’ We grow up with it, and it’s hard to try to change these as people are growing up.”– Key informant, Gender-based Violence and REDD+ in Fiji: Gender and Environment Analysis
As we undertook research for the GBV and REDD+ in Fiji: Gender and Environment Analysis, we learned that one of the biggest concerns of community members in REDD+ Programme Sites is that they are not continually included in conversations and kept up to date as the implementation of development initiatives evolve. Initial outreach, sensitization and education do not continue through the life of development projects that affect and are designed to benefit them. This lack of interaction and engagement often leaves women confused, disenfranchised, and unable to take advantage of the benefits of these initiatives, undermining the resilience and sustainability of decarbonization efforts. Hearing these concerns, and in light of our commitment to gender equality and social inclusion, our vision is to continue or work to promote community and gender-responsive approaches to environmental conservation.
“The fear is among the cultural groups, especially among Indigenous groups, that things are designed that are very foreign to them, and therefore impedes, encroaches and affects the culture bearer.”– USAID RISE Socialization Event Participant, Emalu Community, Fiji
We have relied heavily on the insights and recommendations gathered from REDD+ community members—women, men, and youth—in our efforts to enhance and redesign the FGRM to create the FGRM+. Despite challenges faced during the Covid-19 pandemic, virtual opportunities for connection continue to allow us to include the voices and experiences of women, men and youth, promoting sustainability and acceptability of the FGRM+ and adding to the growing body of evidence linking gender and environmental impacts. WI-HER is committed to developing the capacity of community members in remote areas affected by climate change and conservation efforts to advance inclusion, accountability and responsiveness to the needs of communities. We call on the global community to join us in mainstreaming gender-responsive approaches in decarbonization and conservation programming as we turn the tide on climate change.
This activity has been made possible by the USAID Resilient, Inclusive, Sustainable Environments (RISE) Challenge, which funds efforts that prevent and respond to GBV across programs that address the access, use, control, and management of natural resources. To request a copy of the Gender and Environment Analysis, please email co-author Maddison Leigh Hall at email@example.com.