Climate change and its impacts are affecting all members of society – women, men, girls and boys – but not always in the same way. In the widely-dispersed Pacific islands with their varying geographical conditions, cultures and socials structures, these differences are magnified. Pauline Pogi a hydrologist in the Water Resource Division of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment in Samoa stated, “Women, especially women who care for children or the elderly, are among the groups that are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Therefore, their opinions matter in addressing the issues faced within these thematic areas.” In line with this, Samoa Deputy Prime Minister and High-Chief, the Honorable Fiame Naomi Mata'afa urged female scientists in the Pacific to be examples for the young girls in school and to take strength from each other by forming a network of Pacific Island women.
The CREWS (Climate Risk and Warning System) Initiative includes a gender dimension in project implementation in recognition of the fact that different genders access and react to warnings in different ways. This allows national early warning systems that WMO supports to be gender-responsive. Culture, social and religious structures, and institutional systems are the main influencers of gender roles in families and the broader community. Gender roles being different, the communication of early warning of risks, as well as the risk themselves, may differ. The CREWS Pacific Small-Islands Developing States (SIDS) Project has offered leadership training to women in the National Meteorological and Hydrological Services to enable and empower them to include gender dimension in their work, to be confident in encouraging girls to choose scientific careers and to build a strong Pacific Island network of women leaders.
To mark International Women's Day, 8 March 2020, WMO has conducted interviews with Pacific Island women who are leading this initiative.
Principal Officer, Water Resource Division, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, (MNRE), Samoa
On her career in Hydrology
I have always been interested in water resource management as I believe that water is one of the most important natural resources for sustenance of life on earth. Samoa is blessed to have an abundance of water resources and we are striving to maintain this in light of a growing population. It is very important to ensure there is sufficient water resources available for future generations, but there is a challenge to try to change the mindset of people who see water as “free,” to convince them to use it more wisely and sparingly. We aim to educate our communities on the importance of water resource management. This is done through community engagement programmes and ensuring the involvement of the people in the development of water resource management tools as well as creating a sense of ownership amongst our people to look after our water resources. Our approach has been very successful so far – we aim to build on it moving forward.
Women and climate change
Women, especially women who care for children or the elderly, are among the groups that are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Therefore, their opinions matter in addressing the issues faced within these thematic areas.
Women in science
Scientific careers and those in technical fields are often labelled as a “man’s job” and this mentality needs to change. The courses which coincide with these scientific careers are also usually seen to be more suited for men. Often times, women self-doubt when it comes to what kind of careers they can excel in and whether or not a scientific career is one of them.
Women need to empower each other and be great role models for younger women. Those who are already in the scientific field need to rise up and be influential to empower young women to push the boundaries and excel in a very male-dominated field.
The qualities that I aspire to have and would also love to see in strong female leaders are confidence, empathy, honesty, motivation, and to be approachable.
Director, Niue Meteorology Service
On her career in climate
In school I opted for science subjects as I enjoy learning the physical dynamics of why things are the way they are. I then applied for a scholarship as an Assistant Forecaster, and from thereon I was able to build a career in weather, which has since expanded into climate, and climate change.
On striving for success
I always recall my dad’s story about how life was hard during his younger days, walking a long distance to school and making use of the daylight to do his homework as there was no electricity in his home. When he landed a job and his kids were born, he worked hard to put food on the table for all of us. This pushed me even harder to make use of opportunities that came about in order to become successful.
It was a great challenge when I was appointed Acting Director for two years and then officially got the role. I now aim to build my officers into great future leaders. Being in a leadership position for the first time, I realize there is a big responsibility on my shoulders.
Being a strong women leader means being courageous and having a sense of self-worth. Not believing in themselves is something that may hold women back from a scientific career. Once they take a leap of faith and change their belief system, they will be amazed at the outcomes.
We need to establish a regional women’s science forum to raise and discuss issues, and implement solutions for a way forward. Women have the ability to lead for the resilience of vulnerable people and communities.
Senior Forecaster, Tonga Meteorology Service (MEIDECC)
The challenges of balancing family and career
Throughout my years in school, math and science were always my favourite subjects. The biggest challenges I faced while studying were finance and family. I struggled to look after my mother, younger siblings and my 9-year-old son. My greatest achievement is my role in the workforce, leading the climate department, while still pursuing higher education.
What holds back women is in the mind of the individual. Mother’s should raise their children in a positive manner, teaching them the importance of equality from a young age. As young children, they should be taught to understand that you can do anything in school and that everyone has equal opportunity anywhere.
Women in the climate change agenda
Climate change and weather are very prominent topics. Women make for strong role models for all, especially when it comes to taking the lead on initiatives for change.
Qualities required in a strong leader
I believe a strong female leader should be courageous, fearless, and have lots of confidence and trust in God.
We all have a role
Encourage your female colleagues in the workplace. Use school visits to Meteorological offices as a good time to promote the importance of Science to students. Be a role model, be strong, creative, supportive, help each other and most importantly, have lots of faith and confidence.
Director, National Weather Service - Pago Pago, U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
On her career at the Weather Service
I started my career in the National Weather Service Office (WSO) in American Samoa in 2005 as a meteorological technician. When I was part of the WSO Pago Pago team, I realized that the best way for me to use my business management degree was to become a meteorologist. In 2008, I decided to pursue a four-year degree in meteorology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa (UH), which I completed in two years. Upon graduating, I started an internship at the U.S National Weather Office in Honolulu, which became a full-time position soon after. In 2012, I completed a Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree, and a year later I moved back to American Samoa as a general forecaster at WSO Pago Pago as it was important for me to provide service to my community. In 2017, I was promoted to the Meteorologist-In-Charge.
I faced many challenges along the journey to become a meteorologist; however, I was taught to always look at them as life’s lessons from which I could learn and grow. Having the perspective that challenges are meant to arm me with tools for my journey forward in life has made the individual that I am today. I will continue to pass these lessons down to my children, who are my greatest accomplishments.
It is a great honour and blessing for me to be a Meteorologist-In-Charge. My staff are my family, and as their leader, finding new ways to better serve them is always a humbling experience. Having the ability to support the needs of my staff allows us to provide the services our people deserve. Furthermore, it enables us to provide our local emergency managers and leaders with information they need to make the hard decisions for our communities.
Throughout my journey I have met so many people, some briefly, and some that remain. Every single person has taught me something and contributed to the person I am now, and for that I am thankful. I give all the glory and honor to God, my family for their support and patience, and my Samoan people and culture.
Women in Meteorology
Women have always been nurturers. They have a calm way of relating any impending danger to their families and communities. In a region where women are the treasures within the communities and families, where their patience and skills of teaching are valued, women leaders within the Pacific can join the voices of existing and past Pacific leaders in preparing our island communities for any impending natural disaster so our islands may continue to be resilient.
I am blessed to live in a Country with endless opportunities, and more blessed to be employed by the federal government that has policies in place to protect any individual from discrimination. Opportunities are numerous, and may be attainable with hard work and passion. I find scientific careers difficult to pursue, but the difficulties may be overcome by perseverance and the ability to utilize available resources and ask for guidance from those who have already succeeded in these fields.
Every woman has her own journey through life. In the Pacific Island culture, we are raised to learn from those who came before us, to ask questions, listen, and serve in order to lead. Women are key in any family, village or community structure. To recognize the strengths they bring to complete any tasks, regardless of how small or big, is to recognize the various leaders that do exist within our communities. In the field of science, there are few women in leadership. It is why the acknowledgement of each and the role they continue to play in the success of their mission and service is important. Furthermore, the idea of a mentorship program that may inspire future women leaders in our region may also pave a path for an increase in women leaders in science.
Strong women leader are inspiring, flexible in the way they teach and encourage others. They recognize the strengths of individuals they lead, and are great listeners. They are humble but are also fearless to stand up for what is right to greatly benefit their community and country. They are selfless and have a heart of service, passionate and hard working.