Putting women first in the fight against climate change

Release date: 

Apr 28 2016

Woman harvesting seaweed in the coastal shallows in Rote Ndao, Indonesia.
Photo credit: Brianna Hunt Ficcadenti, via USAID Adapt Asia-Pacific

USAID Adapt Asia-Pacific is empowering women in coastal communities around the Arafura and Timor Seas. By helping national government agencies design clear, budgeted gender activities as part of adaptation projects, USAID Adapt Asia-Pacific  supports women to better and more sustainably respond to the impacts of climate change.

The warm tropical Arafura and Timor Seas are crucial globally, linking the Indian and Pacific Oceans and playing an important economic and ecological role in the littoral nations – Indonesia, Timor-Leste, Australia, and Papua New Guinea – bordering the Seas. The Seas contain 25% of the world’s mangroves and 90% of mangrove tree species. The Timor Sea has 160 species of coral that provide habitat for 350 species of reef fish. Collectively, the region sustains both small- and large-scale fisheries for communities in the surrounding countries, providing livelihoods and food security for millions of people.

But climate change and other anthropogenic threats are putting the region at risk. Already rising sea temperature is decreasing seaweed harvests for many fishing communities living in Rote Island in Indonesia, while in the Arafura and Timor Seas, ocean acidification is diminishing the numbers of calcareous organisms, most spectacularly, of coral reefs.

Given the region’s significance, United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the Global Environment Facility (GEF), and the governments of the bordering countries are coming together to coordinate their related conservation, protection, and adaptation actions. The Implementation of the Arafura and Timor Seas Regional and National Strategic Action Program (ATSEA2) is the second phase of an earlier project also funded by GEF and led by UNDP. It laid out specific action plans for the governments of Indonesia and Timor-Leste to manage the region sustainably, while tackling the threats of climate change. These gender-focused activities are a part of the project design recommendations that USAID Adapt Asia-Pacific is providing to support the design of the second phase of the program.

This ATSEA2 project sets out to help national government agencies in all four littoral countries – including Indonesia’s Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries and Timor-Leste’s Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries – implement those action plans. Importantly, this project ensures that those action plans adequately incorporate gender equality and social inclusion strategies.

With gender mainstreaming at the core of the ATSEA2 project, USAID Adapt Asia-Pacific developed a set of project design recommendations for gender equality and social inclusion based on checklists and principles outlined in USAID’s “An Online Sourcebook: Integrating Gender in Climate Change Adaptation Proposals” and UNDP’s “A Toolkit: Gender Mainstreaming in Practice”.

Specific activities are designed by prioritizing the needs of women, which include targeted job skills trainings and capacity building of local women’s groups for greater civic participation. These activities will enhance the political participation of women, improve their access to economic opportunities, and build up their business and financial skills for more secure livelihoods.

For example, one of the recommended interventions to support women’s empowerment involves strengthening Indonesia’s Forum Perempuan Masyarakat Adat Aru – or the Women’s Forum for Customary Communities in Aru. The Forum works to raise awareness about women’s rights on the use of natural resources by working directly with, and empowering, local women involved in coastal and fisheries management.

This intervention specifically addresses the different roles that women and men play in fisheries management – where men go on boats to fish, while women do most of their fishing in the coastal shallows. Women, however, continue to be sidelined from any real decision-making on coastal and marine use. This activity aims to help the women and men of Aru understand and appreciate the inputs of women to decision-making.

Other interventions seek to increase resilience of coastal communities through livelihood diversification. These interventions seek to improve market access and financial management knowhow of local women involved in seaweed farming and other home-based businesses, to help them increase sales and cash revenues. Anticipating the effects of climate change, local women will also be encouraged to diversify their products, moving away from a reliance on climate-susceptible marine resources to more sustainable ones.

For more information on USAID Adapt Asia-Pacific’s gender activities and the ATSEA2 project, contact: info@adaptasiapacific.org