Dr Rebecca Monson
ANU College of Law, Australian National University
Existing literature on climate change and displacement in the southwest Pacific often emphasises that climate change will exacerbate pre-existing vulnerabilities associated with inequalities of place, class and gender. Thus women, ethnic minorities and migrants are amongst those most likely to be exposed to livelihood stress as a result of environmental change and natural hazards; to face the most urgent need to relocate; and to experience the greatest difficulty in moving. Scholars and practitioners have often emphasised concepts of human rights, citizenship, and “secure” property rights in formulating their response to these problems. The Gilbertese people of Gizo in Solomon Islands have been seen as a quintessential case of both vulnerability and community relocation in the face of extreme weather events. In 2007, these communities bore the brunt of the Western Province tsunami. Survivors fled into the hills, where they established makeshift settlements on government-owned land. By 2016, many had returned to the coast; however many remained in the hills, despite threats of eviction by the state. While outside agencies have sometimes traced the vulnerability of the Gilbertese to unclear property rights, I suggest that it is the simultaneous power of the idea of the liberal state, as well as the inability of the Solomon Islands’ state to deliver on all it promises, that has enabled the Gilbertese to manoeuvre to address their needs for themselves.
Dr Rebecca Monson is a highly interdisciplinary scholar with a particular interest in law, colonialism and development in the southwest Pacific. Her work draws on feminist legal theory, political ecology and legal anthropology to explore themes of regulatory pluralism, transformations in systems of governance, and social inequality. She has conducted fieldwork in Fiji, Vanuatu and Solomon Islands, and regularly provides advice to government agencies, donors, and non-government organisations. Prior to joining the ANU, Rebecca worked as a legal practitioner specialising in disaster and emergency law. She has also worked at the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, the RMIT Centre for Risk and Community Safety, and the Van Vollenhoven Institute at Leiden University. Rebecca recently completed an ARC Discovery Project on Rising Sea Levels and Local Relocations in the Solomon Islands with Daniel Fitzpatrick.