ROUGHLY 90 kilometres from northern Bougainville, the Carteret Islands were the first place in the world to move people due to climate change related sea level rise.
Ursula Rakova told Sistas, Let’s Talk that she swam and lived off the sea, but ‘the same sea is now destroying our atolls’.
Ursula owns land on the islands and knows how destabilising it is in every aspect of her life.
“It’s eroding our shorelines really fast,” she said.
“My people, they live lives of anxiety because they don’t know what tomorrow is bringing.
“They don’t know what the changes of the sea will be like tomorrow.
“And if I continue to ignore the fact that people are going without food, it will be with me for the rest of my life.”
In a region highly susceptible to extreme weather, women are at the front line and are among the most vulnerable to changing weather patterns.
Ursula runs Tulele Peisa, a community-driven climate displacement program supporting people relocating from the Carteret Islands to Bougainville.
“Coming from a matriarchal society, and having to see my people facing a shortage of food, starvation, children not going to school for weeks, months, because there’s hardly any food on the island, has led me to think.
“I’ve got to walk my talk,” she said.
“I’ve been talking about living sustainable lives and if my people are not living sustainable lives how can I continue to talk about sustainable livelihoods if I’m not helping my own people? So, this basically, led me to, saying, ‘OK, I’ve done so much for other people, I think it’s high time I go back and help my people in whatever little ways I can’.”
Women’s rights and climate change
In Vanuatu, Flora Vano and Anne Pakoa say empowering women is not just about gender equality, but is central to building resilience and addressing the broader challenges posed by the climate crisis.
Vanuatu, home to about 300,000 people across roughly 80 islands, has been labelled the most at risk country in the world for natural disasters.
Anne founded the Vanuatu Human Rights Coalition and Young Women for Change in Vanuatu and said a comprehensive approach to support both men and women in the community was needed.
“It’s about how do we support men as well during this crisis. Because, you know, when the men are not happy, you know who they’re going to blame, they’re going to blame their wives.
“And then if they’re violent, they will hit their wife,” she told Climate Mana.
“Women’s rights are a climate justice issue because women face impacts more severely than men.
“As a human rights defender and activist, this is what I’m seeing. It affects the livelihoods of women.”
Flora leads the ActionAid Vanuatu team in emergency response and has witnessed first-hand the crucial role women play in ensuring their communities’ survival.
“We have seen that when you empower women, and you trust them, they grow anything you put on their hands,” she said.
She joined the organisation, a non-profit that empowers women to respond to humanitarian crises, when Tropical Cyclone Pam hit in 2015.
Flora has since helped establish Women I TokTok Tugeta, a forum that brings together more than 4000 Ni Vanuatu women.
She’s also helped establish a sister program — Women Wetem Weta — which translates to women’s weather Watch.
The program involves Flora and her team translating messages from English into Baslama and then broadcasting those messages via SMS to 40 per cent of the population. “And so information flows from the government, down to the hub, all the way to the village, and then coming back right up,” she said.
“We have activities and empowerment programs tailored for women so they can take charge in their lives, to be the leader of who they want to be, to have a voice.
“As a Ni Vanuatu woman, empowerment of women means access to information, access to education, access to be able to talk, access to be able to lead, and if I can be empowered to have all that, I want all women across Vanuatu to be empowered also, to have the same thing I have.
“Empowerment means a lot. It means recognition of women.”
• DINAH LEWIS BOUCHER is a digital journalist for ABC News.
The views expressed in this article are hers and do not necessarily reflect the
views of this newspaper.