24 Oct 2013

Marshall Islands women bear climate change burden

5:29 pm on 24 October 2013

A young woman from the Marshall Islands has told a gathering of Pacific women how women are bearing the brunt of the social impact of climate change.

The Marshall Islands was struck by severe drought earlier this year and Yoshiko Yamaguchi says the biggest problem for women was the threat to their livelihoods.

She says there needs to be a stronger link between the women's movement and climate change issues and sharing personal stories is the way to bring things home. Sally Round spoke to her.

YOSHIKO YAMAGUCHI: A lot of these women were brought up living off the land on unsustainable income-generating methods, such as making handicrafts out of the crops to support their families. And with recent effects such as the drought disaster declared earlier this year, women found that... If they were making handicrafts all the crops had died, so they were not able to get any products off these crops, so therefore they were not able to make any handicrafts to sell to support their family.

SALLY ROUND: And you have some personal stories to relate.

YY: Yes. As you can see I'm wearing a beautiful handicraft belt that my auntie made. And my auntie lives in one of the northern atolls that was severely affected by this disaster. And this year she mentioned that they only received around four to five gallons of water a day and this is for a family of four or five. And this is drinking water. This does not... If you really think about it, they do their other chores with water from the wells and the water lenses. Because of the islands not having rained for six months the waters were salinised so they weren't able to use that water, as well.

SR: You talked about other social issues as a result. Can you expand on that?

YY: Well, because the stress level is already here and now new issues factor in, as well, so for several of the women I know, because their role in the household is defined by what they do such as their chores, and when they were not able to do this because of lack of water it caused identity issues. So, for example, in my neighbourhood there was a lot of cases of substance and violence because most often women and men believe that if women are not able to do these chores in the households then the men have the right to discipline them. There was an increase in the disease because of the warmer temperatures, there was a peak in the reported cases of diarrhoea and dehydration. So this then fell on the mother's responsibility as a caretaker and also caused issues with relationships, as well.

Yoshiko Yamaguchi who spoke to delegates at the 12th Triennial Conference of Pacific Women.