How women can help save our oceans
“I am involved in resource management due to my desire to protect the marine resources for my children and our future generation. I want them to also see, and enjoy, the kind of richness we have in our current marine environment.”
So declared Rindah Suharto Melsen, President of the Nusatuva Women’s Savings Club1 in the Solomon Islands, in a talk on “The Importance of Women and Community Engagement in Marine Conservation,” which she delivered at the first ever United Nations Ocean Conference last June 5-9 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. Melsen was a featured speaker at a Coral Triangle side event organised by WWF and partners.
The event, held June 6, was titled “World’s Epicenter of Marine Biodiversity,” and carried the theme “Coral Triangle Partnerships to Achieve SDG14 in the World’s Epicentre of Marine Life.” It was meant as a venue for a renewal of commitment to the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries, and Food Security (CTI-CFF), as well as to establish new partnerships towards creating an Ocean Business Leadership Alliance for the region. The event also emphasized the role of the CTI-CFF and its partners in helping achieve the targets of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14, which is to “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.”
Other than Melsen, speakers at the Coral Triangle event included Honourable Milner Tozaka, MP, Minister of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and External Trade, Solomon Islands; Dr. Suseno Sukoyono, Special Adviser to the Indonesian Minister of Marine Affairs and Fisheries on Inter-agency and Stakeholder Affairs; Gina Green, Senior Associate Tt, Project Manager, ECOFISH Programme; Luigi Cabrini, Chair, Global Sustainable Tourism Council; and Paul Holthus, CEO, World Ocean Council.
Achieving gender balance came out as a strong issue in the UN Ocean Conference. In an earlier side event called “Healers of the ocean: Asia-Pacific Women Leading Ocean Action on SDG 14,” Melson was also one of the speakers and was able to highlight the role that women play in ocean resource use, ocean science, and ocean management.
GoalsThe first-ever UN Ocean Conference, co-hosted by the governments of Sweden and Fiji, was created with several goals:
- to identify ways and means to support implementation of SGD 14
- to build on existing partnerships and stimulate new ones to advance this goal; and
- to involve all relevant stakeholders—governments, the United Nations system, intergovernmental organizations, financial institutions, non-government organizations, civil society, the academe, the scientific community, the private sector, philanthropic organizations, and other actors—to assess challenges and opportunities relating to, as well as actions taken towards, the implementation of Goal 14.
“Resource management, traditionally, is not a new concept in our community,” Melsen said during her talk. “It has been practiced in the past by our forefathers, where an open and closure system was a common management tool.”
Women in Melanesian communities, such as the one Melsen belongs to, play a major role in resource management, she noted. “Sometimes, this is not even realized by most women, due to Solomon Islands' culture, where women are often considered weaker than men, and men are recognized as the main decision makers.”
Working togetherStill, it is the women who glean, clean, cook, and sell what the family catches at the market. “This gives me the drive to be directly involved in decision making with regards to management of our resources,” she said. “I want the leaders of our community to realize the importance of involving women in coastal fisheries management. Women in my community can work together more than men.”
Nusatuva depends greatly on fisheries as a source of food, and as “a large part of our well-being and living,” Melsen said. “But the growing population pressure on marine resources and their habitats is resulting in over-exploitation, food insecurity, and even health problems.”
Thus, as a woman leader who described herself as “so passionate about management of marine resources,” Melsen encouraged women and girls to explore other livelihood options to help reduce fishing pressure on the reefs.
The Savings Club was established to help women and girls set aside their income.
“Through a series of trainings, which include good leadership and good governance, we have been able to build our resource management capacity,” reported Melsen. “For example, the benefits gained from selling fish can be supported by other livelihood activities such as fabric painting, sewing, and small-scale bakery projects.”
The empowerment has apparently borne fruit: “Today in a typical Solomon Islands family, women are seen as the better home managers,” Melsen declared. Her leadership has also led to Melsen’s appointment as the Secretary of the community-based organisation, the Nusatuva Environment, Conservation, and Development Association (NECDA), where she is now “in a better position to make important decisions relating to marine resource management within a male-dominant committee. And that is also why I am here today in this international ocean conference!”
Melsen’s story proves that women can truly pull their weight in marine resource management, contributing much-needed muscle to an urgent global effort. “It is now well understood that the ocean is in dire need of restorative action, and that this action is also crucial for the well-being of billions of people through the turbulent decades ahead,” wrote John Tanzer, Leader of the Global Oceans Practice of WWF International, in a blog entry last June 6. “…It feels like we have finally reached the point where the ocean will no longer be an afterthought, or even worse, the part of the planet assumed to be without limits. We should reflect on the great efforts of the women and men who have shown real leadership over the last few years to get us to where we are in New York this week.”
1 WWF, with support from the Australian government and John West, has worked with local communities in the expansion of women’s savings clubs across the Western Province of Solomon Islands.