Innovation Station: Women’s Weather Watch, Fiji

By FemLINK Pacific


“When I think about protection with dignity, where is dignity when there is no toilet, no bathroom in an evacuation centre in church?” asked Sereima Lutumailagi of the Namotomoto Women’s Club, Fiji.

“We need more information like Women’s Weather Watch (WWW) and community radio.”

femLINKpacific’s Women’s Weather Watch (WWW) model commenced in 2004 after devastating floods in the second largest island to the north of Fiji, Vanua Levu. Months after the flood, femLINKpacific interviewed women who had experienced the weather event to find that they recounted the event like it had only just happened as it was the first time that they had been interviewed or even asked about what they had experienced.

Women’s Weather Watch was thus developed as a model for monitoring approaching storms and disaster management in their communities, providing real-time information with a local touch. It is designed to highlight the continually overlooked area of the involvement and consultation of women before, during and after natural disasters despite being first responders in their communities – as they are often the last to leave the home following everyone else after they have prepared the house and taken what they may need or what they have on the way to evacuation centres.

At the heart of the Women’s Weather Watch system is community radio, linking a network of women leaders and correspondents to real-time information via SMS alerts (mobile phone and bulk system) as well as a Viber group and Facebook page.

The system is two-way, enabling the network members to also provide real-time situation updates which are used for media and podcast productions. The system is coordinated from femLINK’s regional hub based at its Suva community media centre and activated in the disaster preparedness stage. It is also used as a disaster impact assessment tool that can be operated from a desktop or mobile device.

Women’s Weather Watch reports address the gaps in quantitative and qualitative data at the local level from the elderly, women and children in rural and remote communities and disabled and minority groups, so that disaster management systems are inclusive and take a stronger prevention approach to gender-based violence.

In 2014, WWW was activated to support its partners during the flash floods in the Solomon Islands and in 2015 produced from partners in Vanuatu to communicate key priorities in the immediate aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Pam.

Women’s Weather Watch campaigns for the inclusion of women in all aspects of disaster preparation, management and rehabilitation which requires equal participation of women. The service also demonstrates the vital role that community media, in particular community radio, plays in ensuring information on weather patterns and forecasts reaches communities away from main centres.

Because the women are often responsible for the management of their families, evacuation strategies must be gender inclusive to ensure the safety and protection of women, children, persons with disabilities and the elderly.

While women are acknowledged as frontline responders who play a vital role in ensuring the food security of families and communities, including during times of crisis, there is a need to support women-led humanitarian action. This need includes technical training, support for women’s engagement with local and national decision makers and strengthening evidence and data for women’s inclusion. With capacity built in these areas, women will be able to influence key decision-making processes and transform gender relations by demonstrating the power and potential of their leadership well beyond times of disaster and the impacts of climate change.

WWW is a platform for women to communicate their experiences and priorities in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. It documents the lived experiences of women in disaster affected communities and supports the leadership of women to ensure more gender-inclusive preparedness and humanitarian response during times of disasters (including storms, cyclones, droughts, floods and tsunamis) as well as  in the recovery stages post-disaster.

“Women’s Weather watch is very important. It warns us to be prepared. Through this information we are able to alert our friends, family and communities during power cuts and when the network is breaking down,” said Rev. Angela Prasad of the Association of Anglican Women in Labasa.

WWW also provides a feminist analysis of the gaps in responses to disasters, recognising that too often the needs of the elderly, women and children in rural and remote communities, as well as the disabled and sexual minority groups, are not reflected in the policies made or in the data collection stage of the disaster management process.The organisation uses information from its network in pushing forward its recommendations to policy makers at the national level.

“What I’ve seen is that after any natural disaster, women seem to be the first ones out. After TC Winston, they were the first ones to try and put things together, collect the pieces and try to rebuild, making sure that families, especially women and children, are safe and secure,” says Fane Boseiwaqa, femLINKpacific’s convenor for the Ba, Tavua and Rakiraki districts.

“When you talk about women, it’s not only women that are housewives, or women that are single mothers, but women in all diversities. They continue to mobilise their leadership skills in trying to come out and be part of this.”