Nakalawaca Village’s solar-boat voyage to improve gender equality

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A solar-powered boat project in Fiji’s Nakalawaca Village has improved the productivity of local fisherwomen while also changing villagers’ mindsets to realise many women are skilled boat operators.  

“The women of Nakalawaca village in Fiji used to spend up to five hours a day out at sea catching seafood for their families and to sell in the local markets to pay for basic household items,” Amelia Bola, Pacific Community's Maritime Greenhouse Gas Officer with the Pacific Maritime Technology Cooperation Centre (MTCC-Pacific). 

“Now, this takes half the time and costs almost nothing with their solar-powered boat,” said Amelia.  

The Pacific Community (SPC), through MTCC-Pacific, provided the Nakalawaca Women’s Group with a fibreglass boat, which is solar-powered with an outboard electric motor. The demonstration boat aims to support an increase in Pacific women’s social and economic maritime responsibilities. 

Outboard motors and bilibili (bamboo rafts) are the main mode of sea transportation for the women of Nakalawaca and for most maritime communities in Fiji and the Pacific, however, the cost of maintaining traditional motors can be high and the environmental impact they have on local communities can be detrimental. 

To mitigate the reliance on fossil fuels and support the transition towards a greener economy in the Pacific, solar-boat demonstration project was launched by SPC in March this year. 

“In addition to the solar-powered boat, the women were also provided the opportunity to undergo the Boat Master Licence training, ensuring that they can operate the vessel efficiently and freely,” said Amelia.  

“This also acknowledges their ownership of the boat and encourages the participation of women in the maritime sector, therefore closing the gender gap in the global maritime workforce,” she said. 

This initiative empowered the women of the community to maximise their economic opportunities without the barriers of an unsustainable fuel economy. This is one of the core functions of MTCC-Pacific in mitigating the reliance on fossil fuels and supporting the transition towards a greener economy in the Pacific.  

The boat and solar engine took the burden off the community to manage and maintain their coastal and maritime resources whilst ensuring safe use of their own ocean, which is critical for the future of the region.   

Amelia said a shift in social norms was also evident through the project. At the start, people in the village believed boat handling was a masculine task that was too laborious and strenuous for women. This changed by the end of the project with men specifically acknowledged that women were fully capable of operating the boat.  

“The change in mindset saw the village acknowledge that women can – and should – operate the Matanitokalau Princess solar-powered boat for economic fishing activities and contribute resourcefully to improving life in Nakalawaca village,” said Amelia.  

SPC is committed to improving gender equality, women’s empowerment and ending violence against women and girls. Violence against women and girls (VAWG) is both a cause and a consequence of gender inequality.  Programmes that work to improve gender equality and women’s empowerment contribute to ending gender-based violence.

Useful Links to learn more about this initiative:  

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Geoscience, Energy and Maritime (GEM) Division

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