New Post Graduate Course on Gender and the Environment: Dr. Domenica’s story


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 of students and the course facilitator/lecturer for reviews on their learnings. This is the Gender and the Environment lecturer, Dr Domenica’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.

  1. Tell us briefly about your background and journey into the gender space and this course.


My name is Domenica Gisella Calabrò and I hail from the Mediterranean. I was born and raised in Southern Italy, specifically in Reggio Calabria, a town overlooking the strait that separates the mainland from the Sicilian Island. Through my maternal side, I have spent significant time in the countryside, and the annual grape harvest that involved extended family and neighbours, and other annual family activities like almond and olive harvesting, preparing tomato sauce conserves and drying figs were part of my upbringing.

I became aware of gendered practices, dynamics, expectations and associated inequalities from an early age. My parents kept emphasising that my younger sister and I should become independent women and that education was key to achieve that. At the same time, I absorbed specific values and practices locally associated to womanhood, which have become part of me. I equally experienced other family expectations as constraining for my self-fulfillment, if not puzzling for the way they seemed to contradict the main message. Indeed, I found many items that challenged my pursuit of ‘freedom’ as a woman within the sociocultural fabric I was part of and beyond!

In all of this, I was particularly intrigued by men within my family, starting from my father, and the kind of expectations they were dealing with. As a young woman, I sailed off and have since lived in places like UK, Northern Italy, France, Spain, Belgium, Netherlands, and New Zealand. It is in Pacific waters that I ‘met’ gender as a category to analyse a range of social dynamics and issues. I hold a PhD in Cultural Anthropology and have conducted extensive ethnographic research in Māori contexts. While exploring the terms in which communities and individuals have engaged with the national sport of rugby in relation to their Indigenous status, I started to examine the formulations of Māori masculinity around the game, and how those revealed issues of belonging, recognition, socioeconomic inclusion, and marginalization.

In 2018, I joined USP as lecturer and discipline coordinator in the Gender Studies Programme. In 2019, the USP-PEUMP Team approached me to work together on implementing the gender component of the PEUMP programme. That same year, we held a one-day workshop on human-centred approaches to fisheries and aquaculture together with SPC for PEUMP-funded Masters and PhD students and the students enrolled in the Postgraduate Certificate in Gender Studies. At the time, I was envisaging the development of the Postgraduate Diploma in Gender Studies, which entailed the creation of a new course.

Alert to regional needs, I had already noticed the increased call for awareness of and research on regional gender and environmental issues to impact policy-making. The plan for a gender and environment course building on the PEUMP attention to gender, fisheries and aquaculture emerged organically.


  1. What were some key learnings you wanted the students to gain from this course?


  1. I wanted students to become aware of the correlation between gender as a set of norms, roles and practices and the natural environment, as traditionally those social roles have also been constructed around the natural environments people inhabit, translating into specific skills and knowledge, and different participation in terms of access to and management of resources. This starting point should enable students to recognise that every gendered group and their relations are impacted by environmental deterioration or changes, and that gender inequalities also manifest in the human relations with the environment.
  2. In the gender studies programme, students approach gender as being about everyone – men, women, gender and sexually diverse people – and their relations. They are also encouraged to be alert to internal power imbalances, as factors like rank, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, disability, urban/rural location and others can nuance differences amongst women, queer people and men in terms of subordination/access to power. In this course, I wanted students to apply the gender lens to human relations with the natural environment as an all-inclusive and relational notion, which takes internal power differences into account. For instance, even when they focus on women’s issues around fisheries and aquaculture, they are doing so in the context of the gendered relations those issues are connected to; and considering differences amongst women in terms of inequalities.
  3. I wanted students to realise that they know more than they may be aware of. They bring in the context for the theoretical analysis of the interactions between gender and the natural environment through their lived experiences in the region. Some may actually be working in the environmental sector or may have completed environment-related studies in the past, but everyone’s life is to some extent connected to the environment, starting from the Ocean, and embedded in a set of gendered relations within their communities and country at large. In this sense, all students constantly learn from each other, and myself, as the lecturer, constantly learn from all of them.


  1. From your personal/professional experiences, what are the 3 most common gender related-issues within the context of fisheries, aquaculture or the environment as a whole?


  1. The limited recognition of women’s contribution to fishing, which has a range of social and economic implications. Many may leave out gleaning, even though this plays a key role for the family in terms of protein intake, and more largely food security, or may not consider women’s involvement in post-harvesting activities. The same can be argued for farming, where women are more likely to be represented as the farmer’s wife. This ‘invisibility’ may extend to aquaculture.
  2. The impact of issues affecting water security and energy security on women. As these are traditionally in charge of securing water and energy for the household, the scarcity of those resources may affect women’s safety as they fail to access those resources or go far lengths to procure them. Additionally, as they make big efforts to secure those resources, women may be overburdened and girls may have to neglect their education.
  3. The limited attention to men and masculinities in the analysis of environmental issues both to understand how power operates and to consider the impact of environmental changes and scarcity of resources on men’s roles, as well as the limited inclusiveness of gender and sexually diverse people in the understanding of environmental impact on people and in initiatives supporting environmental sectors.


  1. How has this course equipped the students to approach and address these common issues?

Students examine feminist theories that have addressed human relations with the environment, as well as emerging studies on men and masculinities applied to the environment, and queer ecology. They consider the relation between gender justice and environmental justice and the place for gender in environmental governance. They then look into gender-related issues concerning different aspects of the environment. While the space of fisheries and aquaculture is given particular attention, students also consider gender in the context of agriculture, forestry, water and energy, biodiversity conservation and climate change.

The course includes a range of scientific works presenting relevant scholarship. It equally integrates the Pacific Handbook for Gender Equity and Social Inclusion in Coastal fisheries and Aquaculture. This is used to examine examples of dynamics and issues contextualised to the region, and to equip students with tools for intervention. While these are specific to fisheries and aquaculture, many of the insights and responses may be transferrable to other sectors.

Finally, classes are mostly discussion-oriented and spaces that try to elicit students’ pre-existent knowledge, which is connected to their experiences within their communities and countries, and possibly their work or activism. Classes, as well as group work where students need to use story-telling provide opportunities for students to contribute to the learning journey on gender and the environment.


  1. Were there any lessons (if any) you learnt from your students within the context of gender and environment?


I have learnt a lot about gender and environment dynamics and issues, including the difficulties around discussing/integrating gender in environment-related practice, analysis and advocacy, and more broadly about the region and its needs, from the students’ realities and the tensions and aspirations they have brought in the class.


  1. Do you have any advice for Pacific island students wishing to delve more into the gender space?


I would encourage them to start by looking for ‘gender’ in their lived realities, in their stories and histories. Also, gender as a category of analysis is cross-cutting and can be approached in the different disciplinary fields they may be interested in or operating within.


  1. Any other comments?


While the Gender and Environment course is part of the Postgraduate Diploma in Gender Studies, it can be taken as a one-off course by students working in environment-related sectors. It is also an elective course for students enrolled in the Postgraduate Diploma in Environmental Studies.


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