Pacific women leadership progressing in disaster risk management

There are currently no female Fire Chiefs or Police Commissioners in the Pacific. In fact, women are under-represented throughout the disaster management sector in the Pacific, particularly in leadership roles.

In recent years, however, the Pacific has recognised this gap and the importance of supporting both women and men in all aspects of society by committing to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the 2012 Pacific Leaders Gender Equality Declaration, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Revised Pacific Platform for Action and national level gender policies.

Vasiti Soko is the first female Director of Fiji’s National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) and the winner of the inaugural Women’s International Network for Disaster Risk Reduction Leadership Award for Excellence in Disaster Risk Reduction in 2021.

Since her appointment in 2019, Ms Soko has led Fiji’s response to seven tropical cyclones and has played a leading role in the country’s management of the COVID-19 pandemic. Being one of only three female NDMO Directors in the Pacific, Ms Soko said, “Coming into a field that has been historically male-dominated, I want to set the tone for other women to get involved and to take up leadership roles in disaster risk reduction and disaster management.”

The Pacific Islands Emergency Management Alliance (PIEMA) project, Pacific’s coordinating mechanism that engages directly with Pacific countries to improve resilience, has taken up the challenge to engage leaders across the alliance’s agencies to promote gender equality, leadership, and support for greater effectiveness in disaster response.

Patrick Haines, Project Manager for the PIEMA project said, “With the recent appointment of Molly Nielson as Samoa’s Assistant CEO for the Disaster Management Office, this signals progresses, and we now have three female NDMO Directors in the Pacific region.”

PIEMA has developed two guiding documents to help push forward its ambitions on gender: the PIEMA Responding Together: Strategy for gender equality in disaster management in the Pacific outlines how the PIEMA project should engage the alliance’s agencies and their leaders to promote gender equality and support greater effectiveness in disaster response. In addition, the PIEMA Becoming a Leader: A Leadership Learning Pathway is a semi-structured framework designed to help PIEMA member agency staff strengthen and enhance their leadership skills. These tools also help individuals to develop and build upon existing leadership knowledge, skills, and practices and to increase their competencies, based on their individual learning needs that will ensure excellence in emergency management for safer Pacific Communities.

This learning pathway can assist emerging and current leaders in identifying their goals and charting a course for progress and achievement. The pathway allows learners to track their progress towards their learning goals. Coaching and mentoring, courses, seminars and workshops, support resources and tools, job rotation, and conferences/forums were identified as the top forms of learning for PIEMA member agencies.

The Pacific Islands Emergency Management Alliance (PIEMA) Project is jointly funded by the Australian and New Zealand Governments and implemented by the Pacific Community (SPC).

Please visit the PIEMA project website

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Geoscience, Energy and Maritime