Written by Zeerak Ayaz
Pacific nations are at the front line of the most extreme impacts of unprecedented weather changes.
Fiji in particular is highly susceptible to the dangers of climate change and disaster impacts, particularly cyclones, storm surge flooding and droughts.
It does not take much to realise that climate-related disasters will intensify over time.
There is a sense of urgency that is being directed at Fiji to respond to weather-related disasters.
Fleur Newman, Gender Lead Change at UN Climate Change stated that:“Climate impacts, especially extreme weather events, are affecting the roles of women and men around the world, particularly in rural areas”.
As stated by Girls’ education in climate strategies: Opportunities for Improved policy and enhanced action in Nationally Determined Contributions (2019), climate vulnerability and its consequences not only raise the issue of gender inequality, but also reinforce socially constructed ideals of power norms, and practices that prevent gender equality. When it comes to age, the topic of girls is raised- then there is another layer of vulnerability. For example, teenage girls are at an additional risk of dropping out of school to help lighten extra domestic burdens- like fetching water kilometres away from where they live. This added layer of responsibility obviously increases absenteeism rates in schools which makes girls less likely to be informed about climate change and therefore exacerbates their susceptibility.
Rural and remote communities are more susceptible to climate change because they are often unseen and underserved in the recovery stage due to their geographical location.
According to the findings of the Fiji Bureau of Statistics 2019-2020 Household Income and Expenditure Survey, rural poverty is still higher than city poverty.
When resources do finally reach these communities, women and girls are marginalised and discriminated against and often at times completely unheard.
In 2016, Tropical Cyclone Winston affected about 62% of the total population in Fiji. The direct impact of the cyclone was in the western and northern areas with average wind speeds of 233 kilometres per hour on Vitu Levu and storm surges that created sea flooding. It caused 44 fatalities and destroyed over 30,000 homes and schools. Cyclone Winston heavily impacted women and girls economically. When this happens then of course access to education would be very limited.
Damage to schools from the result of natural disasters also impacts girls’ access to education. Over the years, inadequate resourcing for better-built classrooms and better learning facilities has led to a decline in the physical condition and safety of classrooms.
When cyclone Yasa struck a small, rural community school Vumimanuca Primary- which consisted of approximately 70 students in the northern part of Fiji, the classrooms lost their roofs and walls. Furniture was destroyed. In addition to all that, the cyclone’s 240 kilometres per hour strong winds and heavy rain destroyed the school’s books and other kinds of learning materials.
Due to the unfortunate turn of events, students had to continue their education in tents with fewer resources at hand.
How can education impact Girls in Fiji tackle climate change?
Addressing a global challenge as complicated as climate change begs for a full set of solutions. But the most powerful intervention is widely overlooked and that is educating girls!
Education gives girls the skills and knowledge to appropriately respond to climate change. Not only are more girls affected by climate change than boys – but they also play a major role in adaptation and mitigation.
There is plenty of research that indicates that girls’ education can definitely strengthen climate strategies in 3 different ways such as:
- By empowering girls and increasing their knowledge by talking to them about their reproductive health and rights
- By providing well-informed decisions about climate change
- By teaching them about resources to combat climate change. This can be done by embedding climate topics in formal and non-formal education. This would allow them to promote behavioural change and skills that help girls to lead in climate actions.
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