Australians who want to support justice for women on International Women’s Day (March 8) should be extremely concerned about the impact of climate change on the Pacific’s most vulnerable women, says the CEO of Anglicord – Anglican Overseas Aid.
“We know that the poorest communities are most vulnerable to climate change, we know poverty in the Pacific is bad and getting worse, and we know that women and girls account for 70% of people living in poverty. Australians have been hearing all week about Pacific communities that are sinking under sea level rises. Women are bearing the brunt of climate change in the Pacific, and they are bearing it right now,” Ms Coleman said.
Women are responsible for growing crops for food and income in places like Solomon Islands, which has one of the highest rates of sea level rises in the world, putting pressure on crops through land loss and salinity. Communities are reporting food shortages.
“In Solomon Islands, women already experience high levels of poverty and family violence,” Ms Coleman said. “Women and families are under terrible pressure right across the Pacific and we can’t just shrug our shoulders while their burden gets heavier and heavier.”
Ms Coleman is urging Australians to lobby their political leaders to embrace Australia’s role of tackling climate change in the region and to acknowledge its impact on women’s rights, a call supported by Dr Meredith Burgmann, President of ACFID (the Australian Council for International Development).
“We have a lot of work to do on this issue. Women in the Pacific have the lowest participation rate in parliaments in the world,” Dr Burgmann said. “Until women are properly represented on these bodies, women’s interests in the region will never be addressed.”
“If women’s livelihoods are threatened by climate change, they are in an even worse position to be involved in making decisions about their communities,” Ms Coleman said. She pointed out that former Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd acknowledged in November that the Asia Pacific region loses around $16-$30 billion per year because of gender gaps in education, and the region loses in excess of $40 billion a year because of restrictions on women’s access to employment.
“I can’t imagine a bigger obstacle to education and employment than the sheer exhaustion of having to eke out a living on land poisoned by the sea,” she said.
Ms Coleman is also asking Australians to support programs that help women in the region become economically independent.
“When women have access to employment and education, they increase their ability to adapt to environmental change,” she said, “through exploring alternative ways of earning income other than growing crops, or encouraging solar power to avoid the cost of kerosene, on which many Pacific communities rely for lighting and cooking.”
Anglicord’s solar program in Solomon Islands assists young women to sell solar lamps in their communities, providing them with an income while encouraging solar power which frees women from the burden of growing crops to pay for kerosene.
“Anglicord’s solar program in Solomon Islands is a great example of how smart development can help reduce pressure on women and their families,” Ms Coleman said.
 United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution 7/23
 Tracking development and governance in the Pacific, AusAID, August 2009
 Understanding Women’s Vulnerability And Adaptive Capacity, ActionAid, 2012
 Sea Level Rise Threatens Communities – Solomon Times Jan 31 2012
 Opening speech to Australia-US Pacific Women's Empowerment Policy Dialogue