I could not agree more with Arun Agrawal in his paper on the Social Dimensions of Climate Change, prepared for the Social Development Department, The World Bank, Washington DC, March 5-6, 2008 in which he stated “Climate change will be pivotal in redefining development in the twenty-first century. How nations, societies, communities, and households respond to the impacts of climate changes and variability to which the world has already been committed will in many instances determine their prospects for growth, equity, and sustainability”.
People’s (poor) response to emergencies and situations in general vary and this is more so when it is around issues of poverty and livelihoods. In Africa for example, it is a daily struggle for women and girls to address food security and livelihood issues. Women largely depend on natural resources such as land and water bodies for their survival and they have adopted different coping strategies and utilized varied networking systems to survive on these resources (which are depleting at a fast rate) and yet they have little or no control over these resources.
Today, the world is confronted by another huge challenge; the impacts of climate change and unfortunately this is not receiving the attention it deserves. The international community has failed to seriously and fully address the causes and consequences of climate change, which now poses a major threat to lives and livelihoods of people living in poverty, the majority of whom are women. It is indeed incredible and unacceptable to see, hear and read daily about the damage of climate change.
Climate change is environmental change, which is also driven by humans – it is fundamentally a human problem. The impacts of climate change are expected to seriously (and disproportionately) affect the livelihoods, health, and educational opportunities of people living in poverty. Those with special burdens and/or vulnerabilities such as women, ethnic minorities, and people living with HIV/AIDS are feeling yet another pressure in global warming – one that is fundamentally unjust.
It is time for institutions, governments and individuals and indeed each and every one of us to collectively and individually work at addressing or reducing the impact of climate change on people living in poverty who mostly have not contributed to the problem.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted at the 1992 UN Summit for Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro. This agreement established the “Conference of the Parties” (COP) and the “UNFCC Secretariat” as the institutional frameworks to support an international process to promote and develop relevant strategies on climate change negotiations to ensure that participating countries commit to a universal objective of reducing emissions .Similar to other international processes however, these discussions have not sufficiently articulated the gender issue as critical for mitigating climate change. This is inspite of the increasing visibility of women’s agency in critical arenas at all levels and sectors of society. Even though some gender analyses have been done, especially around Clean Development Mechanisms (CDMs), the tendency has been to focus exclusively on women in developing countries . A huge gap therefore needs to be filled.
I will therefore like to recommend the following;
• A paradigm shift in the conception of economic growth and development for Africa. Dependence on western models should be transformed into context specific analysis of the real needs of different groups of women and men that builds on local knowledge and resources to promote the wellbeing and security of women and men. .
• Women’s experience and knowledge of climate change processes is critical. Their different relationships with men on natural resource issues must be acknowledged, harnessed and utilised in mitigation and adaptation measures. As well, their specific vulnerabilities must be well articulated so that appropriate responses and interventions can be made to enhance their well-being. In this regard, women’s own coping strategies in times of crises should be identified as sources of strength that could serve the basis for evolving innovative policies to strengthen their security in areas such as food, water, health, land capital and technology.
• The UN has mandated countries to promote gender equality and women’s rights in all processes of development. It is therefore important for the women’s movement in Africa to take full responsibility and ownership of the gender and climate change discourse to ensure the full implementation of UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol (KP) measures take women’s specific concerns into account. This requires that greater knowledge and awareness is crated around gender and climate change issues at all levels.
• While more work needs to be done around gender and climate change in industrialized countries, it is equally important to deepen analyses around gender equality issues and climate change in developing countries, especially Africa. This will create greater understanding about its implications for human security and promote alliance building for articulating critical priorities for women in local national, regional and international decision-making.
Capacity Building Officer
P.S: This post is AWDF's contribution to Blog Action Day's focus on Climate Change