Women’s Resilience in Fiji: How Laws and Policies Promote Gender Equality in Climate Change and Disaster Risk Management


Globally, women are disproportionately impacted by climate change and disasters due to gender inequalities and limited opportunities to participate in decision-making processes. Addressing this imbalance requires the integration of gender equality in laws and policies on climate change and disaster risk management, as well as ensuring gender equality in building social and economic resilience. This publication shares findings from a gender analysis of Fiji’s national legal and policy frameworks and provides recommendations to help address gaps.

1.1 Introduction

Climate change impacts and weather-related disasters fundamentally threaten the capacity of Fiji to continue on the path of sustainable development. As a small island nation, Fiji is highly exposed to the impacts of climate change and weather-related disasters, intense tropical cyclones and storms, sea level rise, ocean warming and acidification, and the related hazards of floods, landslides, and drought. In Fiji, there are strong linkages between climate change and disaster risk. The Republic of Fiji spans over 330 islands with a total land area of 18,333 square kilometer (km2). One-third of the islands are permanently inhabited, and most of these are volcanic in origin. The largest islands of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu make up around 87% of the Fiji landmass and are home to about 90% of the Fiji population.

There is a sense of urgency for Fiji to respond to climate change and disaster risks due to the immediate human impacts and recovery costs of weather-related disasters, the vulnerability of coastal communities, flooding and damage to agricultural activity due to floods and seawater intrusion. These hazards impact health, livelihoods, and industry (especially agriculture, forestry, fisheries, transport, and tourism), housing, infrastructure, poverty, and social cohesion. The future of Fiji depends on its citizens being resilient to sudden-onset disasters and adapting to permanently changed environmental conditions. Decisions about how to adapt to these changes impact social groups within the population differently. Gender inequalities influence the ability of women and men and different social groups to build resilience. Therefore, decisions must be informed by sex- and age-disaggregated data as much as possible.

Disasters and the social disruptions of climate change often have different impacts on women and men. Women have differential vulnerabilities to the impacts of climate change. Women are also key actors and agents of change in building more resilient communities. The Government of Fiji recognizes the gender-based vulnerabilities of disasters and climate change and notes that gender power relations determine the agency of women and men to respond to impacts. Gender inequalities constrain all women’s lives, and access to resources, income, education, and health present additional challenges for women to cope with disasters and respond to climate change. Yet women are active in identifying solutions to these obstacles, making them key participants in DRR and recovery, climate change mitigation, and adaptation.

Although there are many gaps in statistical data, much is understood about the gendered impacts of sudden-onset disasters in Fiji based on PDNAs, evaluations of response efforts, and case studies of particular disasters. Two issues dominated following Tropical Cyclone Winston in Fiji: increases in GBV in temporary shelter and affected communities, and greater impoverishment of women in recovery and reconstruction. The impact of gender roles and preexisting gender inequality in disaster contexts—and therefore appropriate responses for future preparedness—often require a nuanced analysis. Gender-based vulnerabilities to disaster impacts need to be identified and analyzed in national and local settings.

Official statistical data collection on gendered impacts of climate change has even more significant gaps than on gender and disasters. The scientific projections of an increase in average global temperatures—even if Paris Agreement emissions reduction targets are met—mean that ecosystems and indeed human systems will face permanent changes. Global warming is changing which crops can be grown and where, including forests; which livestock and fish will be viable given changes in sea levels, temperature, and acidity; whether water supplies can be sustained, as well as disease vectors such as malarial mosquitoes and crop pests moving into newly warmer regions. The role of women in food production—through subsistence farming or growing crops for income— is likely to be significantly impacted. These projected changes create risks to food security for families and communities. Changes to coastal marine fisheries and reduced availability of fish stocks—a challenge due to the changing climate—disproportionately affect women whose livelihoods and food security rely on them: there is a projected 50% reduction in coastal fishery harvest by 2100 in the Pacific. These impacts will be more slowly felt than extreme weather events and require more permanent adaptation responses in Fiji. In this respect, women’s participation in decision-making concerning climate change adaptation and resilience-building, environmental and natural resources management, and development planning is critical.

Women and men should both be included and benefit equally in the pursuit of climate adaptation, mitigation, and DRM. Research notes that gender inequalities in key socioeconomic areas in normal times can impact the ability of women to benefit from climate action and build resilience. In Fiji, structural gender inequality and discrimination against women exist in many socioeconomic spheres such as women’s economic participation and political representation, as well as grave human rights violations such as gender-based violence (GBV). To address these issues and enable women to build resilience, gender equality and nondiscrimination principles need to be embedded in laws and policies and actively implemented in programs and activities related to climate and disaster risks and socioeconomic development.

This report analyzes key national laws and policies of Fiji to understand how they provide a legal foundation and explicit commitment to strengthening women’s resilience. This is done by looking at the national commitments to promoting gender equality, analyzing climate and DRM laws and policies, and reviewing select socioeconomic areas that directly relate to building women’s resilience, including GBV prevention, access to assets, and decent work.


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