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Pacific women’s leadership in climate change, peace and security

Pacific women’s leadership in climate change, peace and security

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 in Pacific – from 22 Pacific Island countries and territories, connected by our blue Pacific – are working at multiple levels, in multiple ways responding to the impact of climate change. It is a daily reality. But we face further marginalization, regarded only as victims or project beneficiaries, despite our unique identities, indigenous and traditional knowledge, and roles in peacebuilding and enhancing human security in our homes and communities.

We are working at the intersectionality of environmental peace and security –development and humanitarian action. The adoption of UN Security Council 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 our peace and security. The Resolution brought women into the UNSC and enabled us to innovate and redesign processes to ensure our inclusion.

As we live with the reality of climate change, women peacebuilders of the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC) Pacific network amplify the call for a shift from reaction to prevention, from traditional militarized responses during humanitarian crises to inclusive human security and preventative action approaches.

UNSCR 1325 has been a key to connecting the United Nations to local women peacebuilders. The Pacific Regional Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, first adopted for 2012 to 2015, further provides a conflict prevention and human security framework between civil society, government, the UN system and regional intergovernmental organizations, bringing women and civil society to the table to present recommendations based on our lived realities and peacebuilding initiatives.

This must continue today as we know that achieving climate security should extend beyond the Security Council and UN headquarters. In the Pacific, we know that climate change cannot be effectively addressed without engaging women at the decision-making table, advancing transformation towards human and non-militarized security, and engaging men to promote women’s rights.  

Engaging with women peacebuilders in addressing climate change helps to transform responses away from securitized approaches towards a human security approach that empowers communities and makes everyone a stakeholder in peacebuilding. Monash University’s Gender, Peace and Security Centre, in collaboration with ActionAid (2019), identified that valuing women’s localized knowledge, increasing women’s participation and collective action, and resourcing women’s networks and organizations provides the groundwork for a more integrated, gender-responsive approach to intersecting crises.

The last 20 years in the Pacific region offers good practices to build on, from the formulation of regional conflict prevention and human security frameworks to the establishment of the Pacific Resilience Partnership multi-stakeholder task force and adoption of the Pacific Regional Action Plan by Pacific Forum Leaders, a progressive regional framework focused on the peace-development-humanitarian nexus.

We have examples of where that triple nexus works. Women are leading movements for change from Sudan to the United States, and in my own Pacific Island region, we continue to drive a transformative agenda for gender-inclusive conflict prevention and human security.

The Shifting the Power Coalition, 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 the humanitarian, development and peacebuilding nexus is based on priorities including young women’s leadership, disability rights, inclusion and promoting intersectionality that goes beyond a generic approach to gender as if all women’s experiences were the same. Multi-stakeholder platforms are essential to ensure no one is left behind, and also to consider how they can be organized to ensure peacebuilding is integrated from the outset and as a continuous process.

The peace-development-humanitarian nexus is a foundation of building positive peace in the Asia-Pacific, bringing together values of humanity’s relationship with nature, transformational education and embracing diversity to build more sustainable, just and peaceful societies. 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 our societies.

Women and marginalized groups are not waiting for a seat at the table – we are already redesigning the table and weaving our 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.

The adoption of UNSCR 1325 more than 20 years ago demonstrated what is possible when women activists and civil society step forward to define our peace and security. We are living with the reality of climate change. Going forward we want to work towards prevention, not just reaction and traditional militarized responses to humanitarian crises.

We need to shift power to those who have the biggest stake in sustaining peace and human security in the region: women, young people, faith leaders and our local communities. This is how we can realize inclusive climate security.

Sharon Bhagwan Rolls is the GPPAC Pacific Regional Representative, Chair of the GPPAC Board and a member of the Experts Panel for the Together for Peace initiative.

* A version of this article was first published Asia & The Pacific Policy Society Policy Forum.