7 Mar 2024


At WWF, we believe that to deliver positive outcomes for nature, communities, and climate in our work in the Pacific region, it is essential for us to amplify Indigenous Peoples’ and Local Communities’ (IPLCs) voices. To do this we must listen to, respect and learn from their knowledge. By engaging and working with communities, we can understand their experiences and goals and, importantly, what they see as possible solutions. An inclusive approach goes one step further in ensuring that all members of the community - including the most vulnerable to marginalisation or exclusion - are drivers of solutions with full and equal opportunity to participate, contribute and benefit.

How did we arrive here?

With coastal fisheries under increasing pressure from climate change, unsustainable fishing practice, and habitat loss, WWF-Australia in partnership with the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP) and our corporate partner John West, have supported innovative, community-led approaches to sustainable fisheries management in Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Fiji for more than 10 years. This partnership has improved the livelihoods and food security of coastal communities in numerous ways. Through this work we’ve also seen that conservation and management systems that fail to account for the needs and perspectives of people (including women, youth, people with disabilities and other marginalised groups) are less effective and unsustainable.

From this, a Gender Equity, Disability and Social Inclusion (GEDSI) Program was developed with WWF-Pacific and local community partners in Solomon Islands, Fiji, and Papua New Guinea to mainstream inclusion and equity in conservation projects and support sustainable development.

WWF-Pacific staff Salome Topo and Henry Kaniki conducting a community workshop in Sairaghi, Gizo, Solomon Islands
WWF-Pacific staff Salome Topo and Henry Kaniki conducting a community workshop in Sairaghi, Gizo, Solomon Islands © WWF-Australia / Shalin Seebah

So, what is inclusion and why does it matter?

Marginalised groups such as women, youth, the elderly, ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, and SOGIESIC people (that is, diversity of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics) have vastly difference experiences and lived realities. Further, they are impacted differently by environmental challenges and proposed conservation initiatives. Gender, racial, and cultural norms, as well as discrimination, and bias, prevent or present obstacles to participation, meaning these groups can often be left out and excluded from decision-making and leadership roles.

This is why an inclusive process is so critical. Such an approach ensures that IPLCs have decision-making power over the plans and designs of projects, and that those projects respond to their needs and aspirations. IPLCs can provide Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) and participate, be engaged in, and can benefit from program outcomes. Ensuring these diverse perspectives are heard, and communities are engaged in creating solutions is critical in ensuring the success and impact of our work.

Addressing marginalisation does not happen overnight and it takes a coordinated effort. That is why the GEDSI Program focuses on improving inclusive practices at organisational, programming and community levels. This includes increasing WWF-Pacific staff and local communities’ capacity, and mainstreaming inclusive approaches in programs and in community engagement. Together, this seeks to strengthen the voice of vulnerable and marginalised people, including women, youth, and people with disabilities, so that they can participate in decision-making, and enhance their leadership opportunities across community-based conservation, climate change and marine and coastal resource management programs.

Spotlight on gender: Inspiring inclusion in sustainable fisheries management

Nerolyn, a community facilitator diving for sea grapes in Solomon Islands
Nerolyn, a community facilitator diving for sea grapes in Solomon Islands © WWF-Australia / Shalin Seebah

Strengthening and enhancing inclusion is critical for achieving gender equity. International Women’s Day (March 8) offers an opportunity to shine a light on women with this year’s theme of Count Her In: Invest in Women. Accelerate Progress. This calls for us to celebrate the contributions of women from all walks of life and advocate for pathways to greater economic inclusion.

Globally, women are vital contributors throughout the fisheries and aquaculture value chain, making up nearly half of the overall workforce. They play pivotal roles in pre-harvesting activities, small-scale processing, and subsistence tasks (FAO, 2022). Despite this, their contributions can be overlooked and an inequity in the distribution of benefits from coastal fisheries remains.

In the Western Province of Solomon Islands, women are the main harvesters of sea grapes - a type of seaweed that is rich in iron. In the face of increasing pressures on coastal fisheries, the inclusion of women engaged in fishing is crucial for ensuring the sustainability of this food source and to avoid overharvesting. In the village of Saeraghi, Community Facilitators like Nerolyn help bring women on board to develop and manage protected areas including establishing rules on how, when, and how many sea grapes can be harvested. Over this time Nerolyn has seen great benefits not only in the sustainable management of this food source, but for her family and community. In addition, the community has also set up a savings club with access to microloans. This enables families to reduce their reliance on catching fish, which in turn eases pressures on the heavily exploited reefs.

"Seaweed really helped my family for more than eight years. I am harvesting sea grapes to support my family. After harvesting I sold them at the market. The money I receive from the selling is used for supporting my family, church contribution and also paying school fees. After harvesting and selling of sea grapes, the money received is deposited at the women’s saving club which in return will help my family.”

Nerolyn, Community Facilitator, Solomon Islands

Knowledge sharing and inspiring connection

The inclusion of women also offers an invaluable opportunity for knowledge sharing and learning.

Through an exchange program last year in partnership with Australian Volunteers International (AVI) and the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP), communities in Solomon Islands welcomed four Indigenous Australian women working in conservation to share their Traditional Knowledge and experiences.

The exchange aimed to strengthen locally-led conservation in the Pacific, and for Indigenous Australian and Pacific Island women working in conservation to identify common challenges and opportunities to support one another. The volunteers noticed there were many shared experiences and challenges between their respective communities. This included gender inequity in the conservation sector; challenges associated with remote communities such as housing, food security and domestic violence; as well as having their voices heard and getting appropriate support.

As part of the exchange, the women joined another 30 participants, including women, youth leaders, elders, and chiefs from various islands in the Western Province for a two-day forum focusing on Women in Conservation and Coastal Fisheries. The event was hosted by WWF-Pacific in Solomon Islands and highlighted the critical role women play in conservation and fisheries management.

Forging these connections, sharing knowledge, and inspiring other women builds a sense of belonging and recognises the value and immersive contributions women have to offer. By breaking down barriers and normalising women’s role as decision-makers and leaders, and by celebrating diversity, we can build a more equitable and inclusive society for generations to come.