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Sea of Women: A WWF Special

Together with WWF, we’re putting women back into the stories of oceans. The people of the Solomon Islands, and especially women, are facing a threat to their main livelihood: fishing. Therefore, the Women’s Saving Club encourages the islands’ women to venture into other livelihood options, creating new opportunities and helping to reduce the pressure on the reefs in the Coral Triangle.

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25 September 2019 | Solomon Islands

This Ocean Witness story is created by WWF, read the original version here.

In the Solomon Islands, where 90% of men and half of all rural women are engaged in fisheries work, fish is naturally a primary source of nutrition. For most families, nearly 60% of all animal-based protein in their diet comes from the oceans.

Hardly surprising, of course, when you consider that the Solomon Islands lie in the warm and productive seas of the Coral Triangle, where nutrient rich currents feed diverse coral reefs, which in turn supports over one-third of the world’s reef fish species.

Alarmingly, however, it is predicted there would not be enough fish in the market to feed domestic demand by 2030, due to climate change, overfishing and waste pollution including marine plastic and agriculture run-off, among a myriad other threats.

Factor in rural poverty and a growing population, and the fall-out is increased food insecurity and poverty rates. Women are more likely to become vulnerable to these consequences, as they are already economically disadvantaged and often socially excluded.

“We women are usually the primary users of the marine resources. We clean, we cook and even sell whatever the family produces or catches at the market to bring in the money, whether they be fish, seaweed, or shells,” said Rindah Melsen, 51-year-old mother of three, and President of the Nusatuva Women’s Savings Club, an initiative piloted and supported by WWF in the Solomon Islands.

By 2030 fisheries production may not be able to supply domestic demand in the Solomon Islands.

The future may seem bleak with such predictions. But not for Rindah and many women of the Solomon Islands, who are taking the lead to develop household savings, and diversify their families’ livelihood and protein options.

“This is why I have encouraged and led the women and girls in my community to venture into other livelihood options, as a way to help reduce the fishing pressure on our reefs,” added Rindah, who has travelled as far as New York to represent the people of Solomon Islands at the UN Oceans Conference in 2017, where she spoke about the need to see women as leaders and equal managers of ocean resources.

Through Women’s Savings Clubs, women are empowered with microfinance training, where they learn how to save, budget and to establish small businesses. Some have started small poultry farms and piggeries to sell meat at the local markets, while others are venturing into silk printing, woven crafts and home stays.

Embedded within community-organised Conservation Development Associations with established executive committees, the women’s savings clubs also empower women to engage in discussions on the governance of marine resources as well as other community meetings.

Gladys Fationa is the President of Gizo Environmental Livelihood Conservation Association (GELCA) in the Solomon Island’s Western Province, and is passionate about helping women of her community to save money, budget for their household needs, and even set up small businesses to earn an income.

“I’m very proud of my community, and I won’t let my age stop me,” Gladys tells us.

“I want to pass on the knowledge that I have gained to help other women benefit because I learned money is important and we need it to help our families, communities, schools and meet other social obligations,” she added.

GLADYS AND RINDAH ARE NOT ALONE. Over 1000 women are now part of 13 Women’s Savings Clubs since they first began in 2013 in the Solomon Islands.

Over 1000 women are now part of 13 Women’s Savings Clubs since they first began in 2013 in the Solomon Islands. To date, the women have collectively saved over US$45,000 – an amazing feat for a country where the average per capita income is less than US$300. Based on trust and community relations, these savings clubs have also given out over 200 loans that have helped women to start-up 145 business initiatives.

In Papua New Guinea’s Madang Province, a similar scheme has led to the establishment of 45 savings groups, now boasting over 800 members. Beyond supporting household needs and their families, the women are in fact building community resilience and contributing to ocean health, by creation of alternative sources of livelihood which hopefully will reduce pressure on inshore fisheries.

South east of the Solomon Islands, the idyllic coasts of the Fiji archipelago attracted over 80,000 tourists in 2018 alone. Tourism is a key pillar of the Fiji economy and can help to fuel sustainable development among rural communities.

Lavenia Drau, who chairs a four-woman committee in the Tikina Nacula area of the Yasawa islands, is proud of their achievements after just a year of running their village homestay.

“It’s been an interesting journey for the women of Naisisili village. Initially when we started, we had faced hardships but as we pushed on, the community began to notice the changes that income from the homestay has brought to each of the families,” Lavenia said.

“With the income and savings, we plan to support the upgrade of the community hall, ensure homes have solar installation and perhaps in the near future purchase a boat that can transfer tourists,” she added.

With visitors from around the globe flocking to their little cottage by the sea, Drau says the interest in visiting Naisisili village and being immersed in their unique way of life is what tourists come for.

“They want to live the true Naisisili experience of waking up in our village, participating in community chores, fishing and eating roti vakalolo or learning how to make it,” Lavenia added.

“Some of our guests stay for an average of 3 to 4 nights and sometimes up to a week. Last year a family stayed for 12 nights they spent about a $1000 FJD experiencing the Naisisili lifestyle,” she said, beaming with pride as she showed us around the bungalows.

A year on, Lavenia and her committee are now looking at expanding the authentic Naisisili experience, after participating in a workshop on the importance of mangroves organised by WWF-Pacific.

“I had an idea that one of our projects that can help restore the health of our fishing grounds could be the setting up of a mangrove nursery, where tourists visiting the Naisisili homestay can also take part in our mangrove replanting programme,” Lavania shared, her eyes lighting up with new ideas.

Supported by WWF-Pacific’s Great Sea Reef Programme, such initiatives promoting community-based ecotourism are helping to elevate the status of women in their communities, which in turn fulfils community aspirations for sustainable development and help to build resilience in their ability to manage community resources.

Footnote: WWF-Australia is very pleased to be working with the Australian Government and John West to support this project. Cover image © Arlene Bax / WWF-Australia

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Sea of Women: III

Solomon Islands

Together with WWF, we’re putting women back into the stories of oceans. The people of the Solomon Islands, and especially women, are facing a threat to their main livelihood: fishing. Therefore, the Women's Saving Club encourages the islands' women to venture into other livelihood options, creating new opportunities and helping to reduce the pressure on the reefs in the Coral Triangle.