Women at the Helm of Ocean Stewardship

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In April 2021, the Pacific Community (SPC) coordinated the 14th Triennial Conference of Pacific Women and the 7th Meeting of the Pacific Ministers for Women, hosted by the Government of French Polynesia. The conference brought together decision-makers, development partners, research institutions and civil society organisations. Following this landmark event, SPC will continue to publish portraits of inspiring gender champions who are at the heart of Pacific development programmes. 

In recent years more women are becoming sailors, marine scientists, and ocean stewards, a space that was once only dominated by men.

Although women are still underrepresented in these Ocean-related sectors despite making up almost fifty percent of the Pacific’s population, they have certainly come a long way to have their voices heard at the table.

Dr Katy Soapi, who works at Pacific Community Centre for Ocean Science (PCCOS) at SPC as an ocean scientist, believes it was the bold decisions of women ocean pioneers who were initially banned from accessing these sectors who led to the creation of new opportunities.   

“At times it may be appropriate to make your own table if you can’t have the space and opportunity to participate. For example, I am now part of a women seagrass monitoring group in my country of origin, the Solomon Islands. When we started conservation and monitoring activities on our island, ten years ago, men dominated everything. We advocated for women to be part of the work, but things were not moving. Therefore, we managed to create a separate seagrass monitoring group.  We collected data for ten years and the published the data,” she said.

Dr Katy says that it is important to include a diversity of voices in the development of ocean projects.

“When voices of people who use the ocean daily are missing, we end up with less progressive, less innovative and less enabling projects. What women bring to the table is inclusivity and diversity. We clearly need new diverse ideas to tackle problems like pollution, climate change, and overfishing but these ideas won’t change if we have the same people.”

The Decade of Ocean Science initiative also presents Pacific people with a unique opportunity to look for transformative ocean solutions for sustainable development and connecting people and the oceans.

 “We have a chance to develop, co-design and co-deliver a decade long of oceans projects that mainstream gender equity and capacity building activities that enforce women-specific actions as well as taking into account our cultural settings.”

The 14th Triennial Conference on Pacific Women also reaffirmed that the Ocean is inseparable from Pacific people’s cultures, economies, and societies. The Pacific Ocean forms a crucial element of Pacific women’s identities, ways, and knowledge, and is a source of cultural and material empowerment.

“We need to be guided by the wealth of traditional knowledge held by our people and our local communities,” said Katy.

 

by Epeli Lalagavesi

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