VP Temengil-Chilton on women, sport, and climate change

Women and girls in low-lying islands, atolls and coastal communities of the Pacific Islands region are more vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change due to existing cultural, economic, political and social inequalities, and participation in sport is both a vehicle for women’s empowerment and as a proxy indicator of their condition in an increasingly fragile environment.

Vice-President of the Oceania National Olympic Committees (ONOC) and Member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Sustainability Commission, Baklai Temengil-Chilton of Palau, speaking at the IWG World Conference on Women and Sport, and in comments shared prior said; “Partnerships and allies are important on the issue of women, sport and climate change as we have to engage with our partners to ensure sport can enable us to dialogue better and through peaceful ways to leverage mutual interests, objectives and outcomes.‍”

“When we have champions such as the Fiji Sevens women’s rugby team and New Zealand women’s rugby team, we already have champions that can build the network of this partnership to break barriers and challenges for women and girls in sports but also matters in our communities effecting everyone including the challenges of climate change – champions can raise the collective voices and concerns of everyone and be heard in global platforms.”

Temengil-Chilton continued; “With climate change exacerbating environmental impacts such as sea level rise, more frequent and intense typhoons and cyclones, heatwaves, saltwater inundation reducing agricultural land and island biodiversity, increased rain, flooding, and drought, ocean acidification, drought, and food insecurity, countries build more debt and this plays harshly on the lives of women and girls.”

“We are trying to increase the participation of women and girls in sport through physical activity, active participation in sport as athletes, sports administrators and leaders – as coaches and technical officials – but there are severe limitations such as access to facilities, lack of transport, limitations to games and lack of access to qualified coaches and technical officials.

“Climate change impacts deepen these issues because to begin with, women and girls already carried the burden of unpaid work in our societies, and this is now sharply increasing in terms of taking care of family farms, gathering food from the ocean, rivers and forests, domestic work, and care work for the elderly, infants, children and the sick in households.

“In this way, women’s participation in sport is a proxy indicator for the condition of women in society – the odds that women have to surmount in order to participate in sport is much greater than for men, and even in sport, challenges remain in gender parity and gender equality but significant gains have been made by the IOC, ONOC and in some National Olympic Committees (NOCs) and National Federations (NFs).”

Temengil-Chilton added, “The risk associated with climate change impacts is that all this work and advancement in the Olympic Movement can be slowed in the Pacific Islands as women bear the brunt of economic and social issues related to food security, coastal inundation, and loss of arable land – it is already known that women are likely to face increases in violence when our societies are under stress.”

“This will affect women adversely and the gains we are working hard to achieve and maintain can be reversed drastically.”

Touching on the challenges of women and women in sport in relation to climate change, Temengil-Chilton touched on how the rise of threats of zoonotic diseases such as COVID-19, the world’s most recent pandemic made visible women’s relation to care work and health of families.

Temengil-Chilton said; “In relation to health and the pandemic, women and girls took on the extra burden of care for the sick in homes, and as the larger percentage of healthcare workers employed in the health sector, requiring them to work long, hard hours, and placing them at the frontlines of a health crisis.”

“In the Pacific, we are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate changes because of our location and our size, but now also to the effects of a health pandemic such as COVID-19, and even before in 2019, right after the Samoa Pacific Games, with the measles outbreak.

“Both climate impact and health impact change the dynamics for the participation of women and girls in Pacific societies – we are much more vulnerable than ever because of the frequent events of both.

“For us in the Olympic Movement, our work must ensure capacity building and leadership skills for women and girls because it is crucial that they be empowered to negotiate their realities and needs from local community level to national and regional – and this work needs to be sustainable given the vulnerabilities and risks associated with climate change in our region.”

Temengil-Chilton said that ONOC is addressing climate change and gender issues through its Equity Commission, Sustainability Working Group, International Relations Commission, and its Athletes’ Commission.

Article adapted from the ONOC website.