Count her in: Invest in women and local organisations to accelerate progress

“Women’s economic empowerment is central to a gender equal world. When women are given equal opportunities to earn, learn and lead – entire communities thrive.” – UN Women Australia

Women face significant obstacles to achieving equal participation in the economy including in agriculture. To address both this issue and other barriers, AWP commissioned research to explore opportunities for designing water and food security programs in an integrative way across the diversity of policy and socio-ecological contexts of the Pacific Islands region.

Water and Food Security in the Pacific’ shows that while both water and agriculture in the Pacific region have had substantial aid investments over the last decade, only a small fraction of these have been directed towards water challenges and to civil society organisations.

The interconnected challenges of water scarcity, food insecurity and increasing climate impacts, provide an opportunity for development partners to understand the needs of Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs) and to incorporate the priorities, insights and needs of local communities to address these interrelated challenges.

In particular, Report 3 – Briefing paper: Gender and social inclusion in the Pacific water–food nexus outlines specific recommendations for the consideration of gender equality, disability and social inclusion in Pacific agriculture and water resource management, based on literature and interviews with women leaders from Vanuatu.

Co-author Melita Grant reflects on their findings:

“Women and girls (in all their diversity) are key managers and users of water, and hold deep traditional and cultural knowledge related to water management and its relationship with agriculture. We interviewed women who are leaders in natural resources management and civil society in Vanuatu, and heard their calls for greater investment in designing all infrastructure with inclusion in mind. Research participants also called for a family approach to be taken to capacity development, so that it is safer and more effective, and minimises backlash.”

“The experts we consulted for this report shared that they would like water and agriculture projects to take a catchment and conservation focussed approach to water management, drawing on local and traditional knowledge systems. Water, forests, and marine areas require integrated management given their natural connections, and ways in which they are core to community livelihoods.”

“Research participants also called for increased water literacy programs in the Pacific, again tapping into and valuing traditional knowledge and systems. Interviewees also showed interest in better understanding opportunities related to larger scale interventions, such as irrigation, storage and solar pumping to allow water to be accessed and transported to water scarce areas.”

Dr Federico Davila Cisneros added:

“For example, in Fiji, after coastal flooding and erosion, women’s intimate knowledge of the production of local nutritious food and traditional food preservation ensured food security for the community. Despite these contributions, women often do not have a voice in decision-making [in a post-disaster context].”

The ‘Water and Food Security in the Pacific’ report provides a range of recommendations for donors, NGOs, government agencies and research institutes based on this desktop and empirical study conducted by the Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney.

The ‘Water and Food Security in the Pacific’ report series is available on the Australian Water Partnership website.

Featured image: Vatukacevaceva community members participating in flood mapping and early warning workshop activities (Source: SPC)
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