Tropical Cyclone Winston, one of the strongest storms recorded in the Southern Hemisphere, passed through Tonga twice and later made landfall in Fiji on the 20th of February. We stand in solidarity with our friends and allies in these countries as they carry out relief work in the aftermath of the disaster and ensure that human rights of all people, including of women girls, are upheld in this critical time.
The main damage caused in Tonga has been to the agriculture sector with current estimates suggesting that more than half the island nation’s food crops have been damaged. In Fiji, almost 350,000 people living in the cyclone’s path have been affected, with 43 fatalities. According to the latest estimate by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) of the United Nations, 170,000 of those affected are women. Given that women and girls often face disproportionate impacts of natural disasters, it is imperative that their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) are prioritised during relief efforts.
Mortality rates during natural disasters are higher among women than men. During natural disasters, access to basic obstetric care, contraceptive services and reproductive health services becomes severely limited, hence putting women at a greater health risk. Women and girls also face a heightened risk of sexual and gender-based violence during these times. Following disasters, women and girls are also often overlooked in relief efforts, or may be not be able to reach places where relief efforts are made due to social norms that limit their mobility.
A few weeks before the cyclone made landfall, Fiji became the first country in the world to ratify the Paris Agreement, a global agreement among 195 countries on the reduction of climate change. Climate change has shown to aggravate damage caused by cyclones and other storms, with rising sea levels making island nations, especially in the South Pacific, more vulnerable to the impact of these disasters. This, among other reasons, has made tackling climate change a major priority governments of Pacific Small Island Developing States (PSIDS) and we urge them to recognise and respond to the impact of climate change on the health and rights of women and girls.
We highlight below relief efforts being carried out by our friends and allies and how contributions can be made to support this important work.
FWRM is calling for donations to put together and distribute dignity packs for survivors. Basic hygiene supplies, diapers, sanitary pads and toiletries can be dropped off at their office at Level 2, 76 Gordon St, Suva, Fiji and those who want to support in other ways or need more information can contact Menka Goundan on +679 9408611 or [email protected]
FemLINKPACIFIC is a feminist media and policy network committed to empowering women, including those from rural and vulnerability communities and women with disabilities. They have partnered with ActionAid Australia to bring accountability to communities by broadcasting live from disaster affected communities and highlighting women’s demands on humanitarian actors and sharing information about relief distributions and vital lifesaving messages.
Donations to support this work (#WomensWeatherWatch) can be made at https://support.actionaid.org.au/cyclonewinston_gen
DIVA for Equality provides diverse opportunities and safe spaces for lesbian, bisexual, trans and other marginalised women to fully participate in all areas of life and community in Fiji. Follow DIVA on Facebook as they continue to report from disaster affected areas and share information on various opportunities for fundraising and volunteering.
Lifeline Fiji is an organisation placing emphasise on the emotional needs of those affected by TC Winston, in particular those who have lost their homes, farms and loved ones. Lifeline Fiji’s National Toll Free Crisis Intervention Line (132454) helps connect people to services through the NGO Coordination Information Centre. Follow them on Facebook to learn more about volunteering opportunities.