Climate change amplifies a society’s existing inequalities and poses unique threats to the livelihoods, health, and safety of women, children, and other marginalized groups. For example, during prolonged droughts, women and girls often need to travel greater distances to get water and firewood for their families, increasing their risks of being physically and sexually violated. In fact, reports have shown that incidences of attacks, abuse, sexual harassment, and violence on young girls, children, women, people with disabilities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and, intersex people double during and after a natural disaster.
In countries like Fiji, climate change-induced droughts, floods, and natural disasters like tropical cyclones can damage food crops, in turn forcing women who grow food to work harder to secure income and resources to meet their families’ needs. When this occurs, there is an added pressure on girls to leave school to help their mothers make ends meet.
For these reasons and more, gender equity and social inclusion (GESI) is critical for resilient and sustainable development. The Fiji Development Bank recognizes this and is changing how it does business to improve access to finance for everyone.
With support from the USAID Climate Ready project, award-winning Fiji Development Bank was the first development bank in the South Pacific to be accredited to the Green Climate Fund, the world’s largest climate fund. In 2017, it became a Direct Access Entity, meaning it can submit funding proposals to the Green Climate Fund and oversee the funded projects. Such accreditation is a pathway for countries to gain access to funds that can enable them to act on their own climate change priorities.
For Setaita Tamanikaiyaroi, who manages the bank’s Climate and Eco Finance Division, the partnership is invaluable. “The partnership with USAID Climate Ready has been quite a successful one and a journey about collaboration—that’s the beauty of this relationship we’ve had so far. They really assisted us with our accreditation. Some of the policies we didn’t have so we had to find development partners and USAID Climate Ready was one of the partners that came through,” said Tamanikaiyaroi.
In 2019, USAID Climate Ready and Fiji Development Bank partnered again, this time to develop the bank’s GESI policy, a condition of Green Climate Fund accreditation. The GESI policy is based on strong global evidence that climate change adaptation and disaster risk management initiatives are more sustainable, equitable, and effective when gender and social inclusion factors are fully mainstreamed into project design, implementation, and monitoring. It recognizes that climate change and disasters affect women, men, children, elderly people, people with disabilities, and people living in isolated and under-serviced areas in different ways. However, having a policy and actually being able to use that policy are different things. That’s why the Fiji Development Bank requested USAID Climate Ready continue to work closely with the bank to roll out the policy across its operations.
Tamanikaiyaroi says GESI is now part and parcel of development finance, and that the bank is working on mainstreaming GESI throughout its work.
“What we are doing right now is making sure when we are assessing a loan we look at how it is affecting a young person, people with disabilities, people that are singularly heading a family. It’s looking at it from economics as well as social, and that for us is what development financing is about. That’s what we are doing with the support of USAID Climate Ready and we do acknowledge the expertise brought in by the USAID Climate Ready team through Colleen, who’s been with us since we did our GESI policy,” she remarks.
Fiji Development Bank now offers a greater range of services and loan products to women, allowing them to improve the resilience of their families and reduce their vulnerability to natural disasters and the effects of climate change.
As a result of the bank’s commitment to being gender responsive and socially inclusive, CEO Saud Minam said there’s been an upward trend in the number of women customers accessing the bank’s services.
“Our development mandate says, ‘grow and support the agriculture sector.’ It doesn’t say ‘agriculture male sector’ or ‘agriculture female sector,’ but historically these types of businesses–agriculture segments–are male dominated. We did a study last year and only about 15 or 16 percent of our customer base was women-led businesses which to me personally is not right. We need to make sure that there’s a lot of opportunities out there. So, we came up with a programme and committed last year in our GESI workshop that we would make sure that we get to 25 to 30 percent. I’m happy to say that as of today about 24 percent of our customer base is led by women businesses and owners,” said Minam.
In Pacific Island countries like Fiji that are extremely vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change, Minam believes the private sector has a critical role to play.
“It’s very important for organizations like Fiji Development Bank or any other organization to ensure that whatever they do they understand and highlight the importance of climate change.”
This post was originally published on the USAID Climatelinks blog.