In Fiji, women have made significant progress in creating safe spaces and disability inclusive communications – so everyone can access vital information in times of crisis.
Lanieta Tuimabu who leads the Fiji Disabled People’s Organisation (FDPO), says that during the COVID-19 pandemic and other natural disasters like cyclone Yasa, her organisation works to inform people with disabilities about how to prepare for disasters and health crises, while feeding this information back to an emergency operation centre.
“This is to communicate with persons with disabilities and share information that is accessible,” she says.
During the pandemic, they also put together a COVID-19 Disability Emergency Committee, which has advocated for people with disabilities during crises. They are communicating with frontline workers to educate them on how they can provide targeted support to members of their communities that have a disability.
“What is really critical in this space is women with disabilities leading this type of crisis [response]. Because we have the lived experiences of being a person with a disability, we are best to provide advice around disability inclusion,” says Lanieta.
The FDPO has worked with the StPC to improve their programs. “We have really seen that, even with our collaboration with the Shifting the Power Coalition, this has also strengthened our work in terms of women and leadership,” Lanieta says. “Whilst they are implementing on the ground, they also have to make sure that their programming, their implementation, is also accessed by women and young women with disabilities in their various communities.”
Since Cyclone Pam in 2015, ActionAid Vanuatu has worked tirelessly to coordinate disaster communications and build the leadership capacity of Ni-Vanuatu women to lead in times of crisis.
This has included developing the Women I Tok Tok Tugeta (WITTT) network, which brings together 4,000 women from across the islands to learn disaster response and community leadership skills. When Cyclone Harold hit in April 2020, WITTT women coordinated the first local women-led humanitarian response, providing emergency support to their communities..
“When we responded we used a [communication] platform, which is Women Wetem Weta,” says Flora Vano, country manager of ActionAid Vanuatu. “Through this network, we were able to reach our communities down South…local women have learnt how they can respond, get ready and prepare [for natural disasters].”
“[Women] are the ones who manage the household, therefore, they are the ones who actually make sure that their families are safe. Therefore, Women Wetem Weta network has enabled us to make sure that we reach all of them… and the women have come out very thankful.”
ActionAid Vanuatu’s collaboration with the StPC has allowed them to develop a more intersectional approach to disaster response. Now they can respond to the diverse needs of the women in their community, particularly women with a disability.
“Through our actions, we are supporting women to claim their rights and have a voice at the table, and ensuring no one gets left behind. Working with the coalition helped us to have a stronger voice,” says Flora.
Papua New Guinea
Women leaders in Papua New Guinea (PNG) are creating more opportunities for women’s leadership and developing inclusive spaces for open communication when responding to issues in their community.
In 2020, a training session on women’s leadership and disability inclusion in humanitarian action was held locally in Port Moresby for the first time. This brought together 15 women from YWCA Papua New Guinea and the PNG Assembly of Disabled Persons to learn about the StPC and discuss collective strategies to address national priorities.
They have also had the opportunity to connect with and learn from young women in other Pacific Island countries through the Young Women and Climate Change project. This has allowed them to learn about technologies that they can use to prepare for a crisis.
Women in PNG have just launched new strategic hubs in Port Moresby and Bougainville, which will allow them to better coordinate information between different humanitarian organisations.
“[This will] support greater inclusion of women and support women leadership in the PNG COVID-19 response plan,” says Helena Seneka, YWCA Papua New Guinea. Through this initiative, they have taken inspiration from their StPC partners, including Women’s Weather Watch in Fiji and Women Wetem Weta in Vanuatu.
These hubs will provide a platform for women to voice their views and opinions and it will be a safe space for women to openly discuss the impact of these crises on their lives.
“This is part of a bottom-up process that will ensure diverse women’s needs are represented and women are able to collectively influence for inclusion of their priorities,” says Helena.
The Shifting the Power Coalition is an initiative that supports women to lead emergency response in their communities, aiming to ensure humanitarian efforts address women’s needs. ActionAid Australia works with the coalition to achieve these goals, putting power back in the hands of local women.