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Helping women in the Pacific strengthen their resilience to disasters

Vanuatu and Fiji are experiencing climate-induced disasters that are continuously increasing in both scale and frequency. Both nations have been struck by a number of disastrous cyclones over the past three years – most notably Cyclone Pam, which struck Vanuatu in 2015 and Cyclone Winston, which struck Fiji in 2016.

In response, ActionAid is supporting women in Fiji and Vanuatu to lead community efforts to strengthen their resilience to increasing disasters.

Women sitting around and writing on a large document
Women belonging to the Women's Forum in Tanna, Vanuatu, plan protection elements of Disaster Risk Reduction initiatives. Credit: Yasmin Bjornum, ActionAid

The impact of these disasters on communities has been significant. Cyclone Pam displaced an estimated 65,000 people from their homes, and destroyed crops across the countries, compromising the livelihoods of at least 80% of Vanuatu's rural population. Cyclone Winston affected 350,000 people across Fiji, and like Pam, devastated livelihoods in affected parts of the nation.

In both disasters (as in any disaster), women were disproportionately affected. Mary Kaviamu Jack, provincial manager of the community led protection program in Vanuatu, said that women experience a number of gender-specific problems in disasters. Women face higher risk of exposure to sexual violence during emergencies. This was true in Vanuatu due to a number of factors, including crowding in evacuation centers.

On top of this, women have been largely excluded from decision making processes – both around humanitarian response, as well as preparedness for emergencies. This exclusion means that women's specific needs and rights aren't ensured through humanitarian response, and that women are disproportionately impacted when a disaster strikes.

In both Vanuatu and Fiji, women are mobilizing to ensure they have their say in disaster preparedness and are leading resilience initiatives in their community. Across both countries, 9000 women have mobilized to ensure that women's rights issues are firmly on the agenda.

In Fiji, ActionAid partner FemLINK Pacific is supporting networks of women across the country to prepare for emergencies – both by training them, and by ensuring they have access to early warning signals through community radio initiative, Women's Weather Watch.

In Vanautu, women's forums have been established in three provinces – Eton, Erromango and Tanna. These forums, known as "Women I Tok Tok Tugeta" have begun raising their voices to influence policies and engaged with Community Disaster Committees to influence disaster preparedness plans.

ActionAid is supported by the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).

Last Updated: 11 October 2017
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