Adaptation starts with me

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We all need water to survive, as do all the systems we rely on: sanitation, healthcare, education, agriculture, business and industry.

Around the world, extreme weather events are impacting water security. Water plays a fundamental role in healthy communities and families, and water security is intrinsically linked to a changing climate. Gender equality is also essential for economies and communities to thrive, which is becoming increasingly urgent in the face of increasing risk from climate change.


Vika lives in Matuku village in Ra Province, Fiji.


Ra was one of the worst hit provinces when Tropical Cyclone Winston made landfall in 2016 and continues to face prolonged periods of drought, the road to recovery following such climate related disasters is long and arduous. Fiji is at risk of increasing frequency and severity of both drought and floods, severe storms and cyclones all of which heavily impact the water security, agriculture, livelihoods and community stability that Fijians rely upon.


“During heavy rain, our accessibility to water is heavily affected… we often won’t have water as normal, the dam gets blocked” says Vika, “and during natural disasters the dam sometimes gets damaged from fallen trees.”


During natural disasters, the burden of care and household duties is often increased for women. Water sources and sanitation facilities may be impacted, which means women, who more often than not, have primary responsibility for domestic water, may have to go farther to collect water for their family’s daily needs. Many women in communities across the Pacific are also primarily responsible for their family’s health and wellbeing, poor sanitation increases health risks for families, and so again, women bear this burden disproportionately to men.


Vika, who has a daughter with a mental disability who requires additional care and attention, knows all too well how difficult things can get during and after natural disasters, “women in our community face more difficulties with incomplete daily chores, inaccessible water supply and with a daughter with a disability, I often have an increased burden of care aside from daily household duties.”


Gender equality is central to achieving a sustainable and resilient future for the Pacific region.


The Pacific is a region where gender inequality is high and this contributes to women’s vulnerability to climate change impacts. For example, opinions on climate change priorities are often sought from community leaders and household heads. In this context, women may be excluded because they are usually not the formal head of households. In some cases, they may miss the opportunity to contribute their skills and knowledge because cultural norms assign decision making responsibility to men. This reduces the capacity of women to adapt to climate change because they lack access to information and often not engaged in decision making and training opportunities.[1]


This is something Water for Women is seeking to change. Gender equality and social inclusion are central to Water for Women because actively involving all people within communities ensures more equitable and inclusive processes, which lead to more effective and sustainable outcomes in WASH.  


“Women and marginalised people are the most vulnerable to these climate change impacts, and they are therefore in strong positions to contribute to sustainable solutions to these challenges,” says Dr Alison Baker, Water for Women Fund Manager. “We see a very clear link between empowering women and tackling climate change, and WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) interventions are an important entry point to gender equality.”


However, we also need to approach this solution with care lest we risk placing further burden upon already overburdened women. Water for Women focuses on ‘Do No Harm’ approaches as a critical way of safely supporting equity and inclusion within our projects. To ensure no one is left behind in WASH programming, we need to address the very real risks of backlash that comes with challenging harmful norms that are not supportive of women and people from marginalised groups in decision making roles.


In Fiji, our partner Habitat for Humanity’s project, Strengthening community resilience and inclusion through Improved WASH services is mobilising men, women and youth to find solutions together that will assist their communities in combatting climate change impacts on their water supply.


Vika has been involved in this process and is learning a lot. “In fighting for climate action as well as women in our community, I will conserve and store water so as to limit difficulty faced during onset of tropical cyclone and droughts. Using alternatives to manage water shortage by rainwater harvesting and overall household water management will be the first step, adaptation starts with me.”

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