As the stewards of our natural resources in Africa, women disproportionately shoulder the burdens of climate change. They are most vulnerable to its adverse impacts on human welfare; the agricultural cycle; food production and food security.
Yet women’s potential to increase resilience against climate disasters remains untapped due to existing gender biases; restricted land rights, limited access to training, financial resources, technology and policy making. A staggering 70% of women live in poverty, and with reduced access to their basic human rights, means they are 14 times more likely to die in climate-related disasters than men. They often do not receive adequate warnings ahead of a crisis and are left to take care of the children and elderly. In our efforts to tackle climate change, leaders at family, community, national and global levels need to listen to the voices of women and invest in their futures.
The first step towards tackling the challenges of climate change is to empower women to safeguard the environment. Given their traditional roles in agricultural production and as the procurers of water, cooking fuel, and other household resources, women are not only well suited to finding solutions to prevent further degradation and to adapt to the changing climate; they have a vested interest in doing so.
If given the opportunity, women can increase household and community resilience to mitigate our changing climate. Through community-based associations, they can exchange ideas in a self-organised network and strengthen their positions within the farming community. Community-based action creates ownership and stimulates innovation, so it is more sustainable and strategic.
In Kenya, women own less than 1% of the land and make up 75% of farming labourers. Until recently, they used hand-watering systems to grow vegetables for their families. To improve productivity, the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute introduced female farmers to drip irrigation technologies. These kits helped to deliver water to crops effectively with less effort and at a minimal cost. The use of the drip-kit is spreading rapidly across Kenya and is an example of a successful initiative that has already increased profits and put women on the map.
Investment in these types of technologies and initiatives will enhance sustainable food production. It is also important to reflect women’s knowledge, needs and roles while incorporating indigenous expertise and traditional practices. We can then develop policies that deliver gender-sensitive impacts, giving women access to resources and providing them with opportunities to participate in climate action.
By including women in the creation of policies and strategies around environmental protection we can improve disaster response, secure land & inheritance rights, all the while, replenishing our food resources. Characteristically, women bring empathy and inclusiveness to their networks. They understand what is needed to adapt and often find practical solutions, enhancing their efficiency as sustainability leaders.
Our TreeKenya programme has been designed to ensure women’s equal access to full participation in power structures and decision-making. Starting with advocacy, we raise awareness on the importance of gender complementarity through embracing the unique contribution and perspective of each gender to foster communal success. What’s more with strategic and clear communication, we build on prevailing customs to embrace gender inclusivity for the success of communities.
In summary, a more balanced power structure with equal measures of masculine and feminine qualities is a critical first step for a functioning society. Without such actions, the devastation created by climate change will continue to accelerate with women being the hardest hit.
Rosanna Pycraft, Journalist
Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown