Focus on Environment

It seems just yesterday that we were analyzing the outcomes of climate change talks in Cancun, December 2010. Later this month, South Africa will be hosting the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This will see representatives of the world’s governments, international and local organizations and civil society coming together to advance the progress made with the Cancun Agreements and the Kyoto Protocol.

In Africa, women do 90% of the work of gathering water and food: girls in Zimbabwe carrying water for home and school use.
In Africa, women do 90% of the work of gathering water and food: girls in Zimbabwe carrying water for home and school use.

Incoming president for COP17, Minister Maite Nkoana Mashabane recently spoke on the issue of ‘women and climate change’. In her speech, Minister Mashabane reiterated that global warming will have devastating consequences for millions of people around the world. As climate change will inevitably continue to affect humanity, a key priority is safeguarding the human rights of people whose lives are most adversely affected, particularly women in developing countries.

Although the UNFCCC does not address gender equality directly, there are numerous global commitments and agreements that make the link between gender equality and climate change and highlight the pivotal role women play in sustainable development.

So, what is at stake for women in Africa and other developing countries if we talk about climate change? With all the destruction that it brings, we as women are literally, as in the case of all the wars in Africa, on the frontline of picking up the pieces and as the carriers of development, ensuring the survival of our communities.

In flood prone regions, it is women who have to deal with the impact. In drought prone areas, it is women who have to fend for their families ensuring that the children are fed, and that the sick and the indigent are taken care of.

Greater risk

Women, as caretakers, are at greater risk in times of extreme weather. In Africa, women do 90% of the work of gathering water and food, and children, in particular girls, often share these responsibilities. Women in rural areas are highly dependent on local natural resources for their livelihoods and with seasons becoming hotter and drier each year they are having to walk further each year to find safe water for drinking and cooking, spending up to eight hours a day on the road.

They will have to labour harder and longer to ensure their families have food, fuel, and water. In addition, women face historical disadvantages, which include limited access to decision-making and economic assets that compound the challenges of climate change. We cannot solve the challenges of climate change without empowering and educating women, and we cannot solve our other global challenges without addressing climate change.

Delayed effect

For Africa, climate change did not begin ‘yesterday’, women have been dealing with the effects for decades. We need to recognize that climate change has a delayed effect. The impacts we are experiencing today were caused by emissions a long time ago.

Today’s emissions will still be having impact 30 to 40 years from now. We as humans are only motivated to act once things have become critical. In this case we will be leaving future generations to face the consequences of our action or inactions. Hence the slogan for the Durban climate change conference is: Working Together, Saving Tomorrow!

For Africa, the key issue is adaptation, where women are at the forefront. Africa is one of the most vulnerable continents because of the range of projected impacts and the low adaptive capacity of the region. Africa’s priorities are to implement climate change programmes and projects to attain development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals.

Similarly, we must ensure that technological developments related to climate change take into account women’s specific priorities, needs and roles, and make full use of their knowledge and expertise, including indigenous knowledge and traditional practices. We all know that women can make substantive contributions through their knowledge and experience on issues related to the management of natural resources.

The participation of women in climate change initiatives must be ensured, and the role of women’s groups and networks strengthened. Currently, women are underrepresented in the decision-making process on environmental governance. They should be equally represented in decision-making structures to allow them to contribute their unique and valuable perspectives and expertise on climate change.

Post published in: Environment
  1. Jane Cretidden

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