The Gender and Environment course (GN402) is the Pacific’s very first course that examines gender equality and social inclusion within the context of fisheries and aquaculture and the environment. In alignment with the PEUMP Programme’s key principle, mainstreaming of human rights and gender equality through a human rights-based approach, the Gender and the Environment course provides a forum for the critical examination and understanding of how gender plays out in environmental issues, with a focus on the Pacific Island countries. The course provides students with a holistic view on gender and environmental issues through an integrated approach that acknowledges the cross-cutting nature of gender concepts.
To mark this milestone, USP PEUMP reached out to several of the first cohorts that successfully registered and completed this course in Semester 1, 2022. This is Annie’s story.
USP is one of four key implementing partners of the PEUMP Programme, an initiative funded by the European Union and the Government of Sweden. The overall EUR 45million Programme promotes sustainable management and sound ocean governance for food security and economic growth while addressing climate change resilience and conservation of marine biodiversity. It follows a comprehensive approach, integrating issues related to ocean fisheries, coastal fisheries, community development, marine conservation and capacity building under one single regional action.
- Tell us briefly about your background and journey into the gender space and this course.
Talofa and Bula Vinaka, my name is Annie and I am an individual of mixed ethnic background. My mother is an iTaukei woman of Tuvalu and Irish descent, while my father is of mixed heritage of Tuvalu and Kiribati. I grew up in Qauia Settlement, an informal settlement in Lami, located in the outskirts of Suva City boundary. My core childhood memories consisted of cooking meals on an open firewood stove, doing laundry in the Qauia river, catching fish and prawns in the Qauia river for our meals and going to the farm every Saturday morning without fail to do farming with my extended family. Our home was an open planned house which housed my mother and siblings, aunts, uncles and grandparents. My father was a non-existent figure in my life from when I was born until I turned 16 years old. My mother was a sole bread winner supporting our large family and it was not an easy feat. Despite our struggle, my mother was adamant that my siblings and I are educated. With the budget from her wages solely for food, going to school from as early as Class 1 until Class 7 meant walking to and from home to Lami Primary School (then known as Lami Fijian School). When it rained, we would put our school bags in plastic bags and proceed to walk to school. Our struggles in the past has always been the main context of what motivated me to do better and be better.
My journey in the gender space started at a very young age. Growing up as the 3rd and eldest female in family of 10 siblings, the roles and responsibilities that surrounded being the oldest female in a large family was not an easy one. While home was in an informal settlement (Qauia Settlement, Suva) it has helped shaped my views as a Tuvaluan, a non-iTaukei woman on the traditional values and roles expected of women in Fiji. However, the nuances between the traditional values and the gendered roles of Tuvaluan and Fijian has allowed me to find the space to navigate the contrasting gender social norms of how women are valued.
- How has this course contributed to your understanding of feminist theory and gender equality?
Prior to pursuing the Post Graduate Diploma in Arts majoring in Gender Studies programme, I had no previous knowledge nor experience with gender studies. This course has contributed to my knowledge of feminist theory is a theory that has progressively evolved to ensure that all genders and genders of different social strata are becoming included in the study. It has also made me more aware of how gender inequality has grown over the years due to the influence of colonialization, cultural values and religion and even suspicions.
- From your personal/professional experiences, what are the 3 most common gender related issues within the context of fisheries/aquaculture and the environment at large?
The 3 common gender related issues at large with the context of fisheries, aquaculture and the environment are because of the following factors:
- Lack of access and control over assets- women’s inability to have exclusive ownership of their resources except through their spouse, father and male relative
- Constraining Gender Norms- The development of women in Tuvalu and Fiji is delayed because in a cultural and traditional society, the social status of a woman is lower than a man hindering the development of women. The gendered roles of women is defined by social expectations of how each gender should behave. These norms prevent women from contributing to decision making and being part of governance.
- Lack of Representation of women and girls at the policy level- empowering women with information that could help them also influence policies in the traditional fisheries industry.
- How will your learnings from this course help you to approach solutions to these key issues?
Women are key agents of development. Arming women with resources and information that they need will be key contributors to community growth. Due to their roles as nurturers, providers, counsellors to name a few, their input in policy making and decision making in the home is key to helping their family come out of poverty. Educating the men that are around me such as my husband, brothers, uncles and father will be a start to helping men realise the key roles that women play. Often men see women as inferior. As they learn to see women as equal partners, the ability for men to accept a change in gendered roles will become more accepting.
- Has your perception of the role of women in the fisheries, aquaculture and other environmental sectors at large changed as a result of this course? If so, how?
Yes, it has. The price of development is often paid by women. In Qauia Settlement, Lami, due to the increase in the building of new factories and mining of gravel, women now have to spend more time and money looking for fish and other food sources further away from home which was once readily available in the nearby creek and popular fishing areas in the Suva harbor.
- Describe 1 key lesson you learnt from this course that you can apply to your professional/personal life?
Women hold great knowledge that can be turned into power in fisheries and environment. Gender and environment relations are important and there is a need to involve women in decision making. Women are affected the most during landslides and other natural disasters. They need more opportunities to protect the environment. In the pacific we are surrounded by water. In small island countries women are helpless because they are one who gather fish to feed the families. Using this knowledge, I hope to empower women in Tuvalu and in my small community in Qauia to speak up, act, become resilient and pursue opportunities in policy making that will impact our communities for the better.
- Any other comments?
This course has widened my knowledge on how gender play an important role in environment, fisheries and aquaculture. I am grateful for your support to ensure this course was taught at USP.