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Short on Finance, Long on Hope: Why Investing in Pacific Women and Girls Is Important for Climate Action

November 3, 2021

This blog was co-authored by Leisa Gibson, Senior GEDSI Adviser, Abt Global; Kate Morioka, Independent consultant & industry fellow at Griffith University Climate Action Beacon, and; Arthi Patel, Independent consultant and partnership broker

Our call to action at COP26

In a coastal village on the outskirts of Madang, a port town on the northeastern coast of Papua New Guinea (PNG), members of the local women’s cooperative gather together on weaved mats to discuss important business - money.

These women are searching for ways to improve their village’s access to credit and savings. “I am baking donuts to sell at the Madang market to help cut down on the problem of poor [agricultural] harvest,” one woman explains. “I am working and saving money to maintain and protect the house from heavy rainfall and strong winds,” another woman says with determination.

Like millions of people around the world who live on low-lying islands and deltas, this village faces the daily threat of sea-level rise and coastal erosion, a situation compounded by limited land availability and population growth. The women in the village have taken the issue of climate change into their own hands by pooling finances and contributing to joint saving schemes to fund activities that help their village adapt to the impacts.

After decades of research and results, we know that financial independence can transform lives and lift people out of poverty. Targeting women for economic empowerment as a means of addressing wider socio-economic disadvantage is an approach that’s been adopted around the world, including the United States. So why hasn’t this strategy been applied to climate finance? Why are international climate investments not being channelled directly to women who are at the forefront of climate action?

Finance flows for women: the slow trickle

The “Big 4” international climate finance mechanisms - the Adaptation Fund, Climate Investment Funds (CIF), Green Climate Fund (GCF), and Global Environment Facility (GEF) – have all taken considerable steps toward mainstreaming gender and social inclusion. For example, the Adaptation Fund’s Gender Policy and Gender Action Plan integrates gender equality and women’s empowerment as a cross-cutting theme. The GCF’s Gender Policy also promotes gender equality within the GCF Secretariat, across its investment criteria, and as part of the integrated measure of the social dividends of its overall portfolio. [1]

For those of us who work at the nexus of climate change and equity, we know that equity policies often fall well short of their goals in actual practice. It’s estimated that between 1 percent to 3 percent of climate funding goes directly to women-led action globally, and the vast majority of climate projects do not take gender into account. For Pacific women’s organisations, they receive less than 1 percent of grant funding that is available in the region. More climate funding needs to respond directly to the needs of women and girls at the forefront of climate change and be channelled straight to women’s movements organisations and businesses.

So how do we make climate finance architecture more inclusive and responsive to the needs of Pacific women and girls, where they face an increasing existential threat?

The case for targeting women in climate action in the Pacific

In the Pacific, women continue to have primary responsibility for household food, water, and sanitation. They are the front line in the face of sudden-onset cyclones and floods. Yet they must fight to have their voices heard in national and international climate policy decision making, despite the Big 4 funds’ shiny equity policies. 

“This is not just about a seat at the table but about redesigning the table – weaving our own mats,” says Sharon Bhagwan Rolls from the Pacific feminist humanitarian Shifting the Power Coalition. “This shift in thinking and shift in power is the heart of the solution. This means giving up power and creating space – for those of us from donor worlds, from urban centres, from dominant cultures and genders. And for those of us who are used to being excluded, this is about finding the courage and confidence to take up power.”

Powering the “How”: Solutions From Melanesia and in Fisheries and Agriculture

Shifting funding power to feminist funds means that the conditions of funding and the collective leverage of feminist organisations will have a greater impact on the presence of women’s voices in climate change, moreso than disparate individual opportunities under bigger funds. The Women’s Fund (Fiji), for example, is managed by Pacific people to support diverse women’s livelihoods, tackle violence, and build movements for change.  Importantly, the Fund takes on the challenge of managing donor expectations and requirements so that grassroots women’s groups can get on with building resilience without worrying about dissent among stakeholders.

In the agricultural sector, there are examples where climate finance has been successfully targeted to women to ensure the benefits of livelihoods supports reached the family as a whole. In climate programming, the default is to work with male heads of household and male leaders on agriculture and fisheries. The roles of all family members need to be valued, and women and girls need to be at the centre of the table - designing agriculture, fisheries, and marine resource adaptation work alongside men. The Pacific Community’s work on fisheries and agriculture and the Family Farm teams approach developed in PNG are strong models to scale and support.

Through the Australia-PNG Bougainville Partnership, Abt Global and Care International have supported women and men as they improve cocoa farming practices and increase gender equity within small-holder households.[2] In a context where nearly 60 percent of households derive their income from cocoa and copra, this support – targeted particularly to female farmers – is helping Bougainville farmers increase their resilience to climate-induced hazards.

Unquestionably, there is significant benefit in better targeting women’s movements, feminist funds, and women-led businesses and households through multilateral climate funds. And this type of work needs to drive the core strategy for the Big 4, because investing in women and girls is the best investment we can make now to achieve a resilient future for everyone.


[1] Gender integration is also at the centre of CIF’s Gender Policy to ensure gender mainstreaming of CIF governance, operations and investments, and GEF’s Policy on Gender Equality echoes the ‘gender agenda’ of other climate finance mechanisms, noting that the progress to increase the share of GEF projects thus far has been modest (source: findings of the Evaluation of Gender Mainstreaming in the GEF conducted by GEF Independent Evaluation Office in 2017. GEF/ME/C.52/Inf.09 Available at:

[2] This is through the Model Family Farming initiative, under the BECOMES project.

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