Engaging with women peacebuilders in the Pacific to address climate change can transform regional responses, making them more inclusive and focused on human security, Sharon Bhagwan Rolls writes.
The Pacific region is commonly portrayed in tourism postcards that gloss over human security reports on the impact of rising sea levels and intensifying local and regional disasters. It is a region where these risks mean the loss of livelihoods, threats to cultural identity, and harm to the dignity of communities.
Women from 22 Pacific Island countries and territories are working at multiple levels in multiple ways responding to the impact of climate change. For them it is a daily reality, but they face further marginalisation, often regarded only as victims or beneficiaries of work in the Pacific, despite their unique identities, indigenous and traditional knowledge, and crucial role in building peace and enhancing human security in Pacific homes and communities.
Pacific women work at the intersection of environmental peace and security, development, and humanitarian action. The adoption of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security in 2000 demonstrated what is possible when women activists and civil society step forward, supported by member states and the multilateral system, to define their peace and security.
The Resolution brought women into the UNSC and enabled them to innovate and redesign processes to ensure inclusion that will enable future progress if used correctly.
For example, as Pacific peoples live with the reality of climate change, women peacebuilders of the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict Pacific network are calling for a shift from reaction to prevention, from traditional militarised responses during humanitarian crises to inclusive human security and preventative action approaches.
Resolution 1325 has been key to connecting the United Nations (UN) to these local women peacebuilders. The Pacific Regional Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, first adopted for 2012 to 2015, further provides a framework for conflict prevention and human security between civil society, government, the UN, and regional intergovernmental organisations, bringing women and civil society to the table to present recommendations based on their lived realities and peacebuilding initiatives.
This must continue today, as achieving climate security should extend beyond the UN headquarters.
In the Pacific, climate change cannot be effectively addressed without engaging women at the decision-making table, advancing transformation towards human and non-militarised security, and engaging men to promote women’s rights.
Engaging with women peacebuilders in addressing climate change helps to transform responses away from securitised approaches towards a human security approach that empowers communities and makes everyone a stakeholder in peacebuilding.
This is backed by the evidence. Monash University’s Gender, Peace and Security Centre, in collaboration with ActionAid, identified that valuing women’s localised knowledge, increasing women’s participation and collective action, and resourcing women’s networks and organisations provides the groundwork for a more integrated, gender-responsive approach to intersecting crises.
This wouldn’t be a case of starting from scratch either. The last 20 years of practice in the Pacific region offers a good starting point to build from. From the formulation of regional conflict prevention and human security frameworks to the establishment of the Pacific Resilience Partnership multi-stakeholder taskforce, and even the adoption of the Pacific Regional Action Plan by Pacific Islands Forum leaders, there is a progressive regional framework that can be harnessed for future change.
Women are leading movements for change from Sudan to the United States, and in the Pacific Island region they continue to drive a transformative agenda for gender-inclusive conflict prevention and human security.
The Shifting the Power Coalition, for instance, formed after cyclones hit Vanuatu and Fiji in 2015 and 2016, advocates new approaches to disaster risk reduction and management, transforming humanitarian systems to integrate diverse local women’s leadership, knowledge, and innovation.
COVID-19 has offered another opportunity to drive new responses to develop rapid human security assessments to determine key risks, including economic, health, and food security.
Collaboration across humanitarian, development, and peacebuilding initiatives must be based on priorities including young women’s leadership, disability rights, inclusion, and promoting an intersectionality that goes beyond a generic approach to gender to reflect that not all women’s experiences are the same.
Multi-stakeholder platforms are essential to ensure no one is left behind, and also to consider how they can be organised to ensure peacebuilding is integrated from the outset and as a continuous process.
This ‘triple nexus’ approach of peace, development, and humanitarian initiatives is the foundation of building positive peace in the Asia Pacific, and it brings together values of humanity’s relationship with nature, transformational education, and embracing diversity to build more sustainable, just, and peaceful societies.
The UNESCO Regional Bureau for Education in the Asia and Pacific, based in Bangkok, has brought together these foundations in the Together for Peace (T4P) Initiative, reaching out to communities across the region to transform societies.
Women and marginalised groups are not waiting for a seat at the table – they are already redesigning the table and weaving their own mats. The triple nexus approach means investing in stronger Pacific institutions and peacebuilding networks to ensure no one is left behind, including in women-led coalitions and networks, and strengthening development and humanitarian capacities.
20 years on, the women of the Pacific are living with the reality of climate change and going forward want to work towards prevention, not just continue reacting with traditional militarised responses to humanitarian crises.
This means shifting power to those who have the biggest stake in sustaining peace and human security in the region: women, young people, faith leaders, and local communities. This is the only way to realise inclusive climate security in the region.