Rehema Aryema, a resident of Kanyangeya cell in Nyamwamba Division, Kasese District was displaced by May 2020. PHOTO/Joel Kaguta
By GILLIAN NANTUME
In the face of major climate disasters such as floods, drought and food insecurity, women suffer adverse consequences. Activists argue that mentoring women to adapt to climate change will help them to make informed decisions
In the 2020 flooding, Rehema Aryama’s four-bedroom house and her garden in Kanyangeya Cell, in Nyamwamba Division, Kasese Municipality, were destroyed. She, and other displaced people in her village, were relocated to Muhokya Transit Camp.
“There is no food here. We last received food in May 2020. Since then, the government and non-governmental organisations have abandoned us. Even the tarpaulins provided for our temporary housing have worn out. They leak. When it rains, it is really a challenge,” she says.
There are 218 people residing in Muhokya Transit Camp, although two years ago, the numbers were much higher. Some have since taken shelter with relatives in the town or have moved back to their villages to salvage what the floods left behind.
Aryama has five children and as a breadwinner, her situation is reflected across the camp. Seventy five percent of the residents are women and children. When the relief food stopped coming, many men moved to nearby trading centres to start a new life.
“Every morning, women go to nearby farms, to hire themselves out as labourers. At the end of the day, we are paid with a few clusters of matooke (green bananas) or an amount between Shs5,000 and Shs10,000 ($1.3 – $2.6). If you fail to secure employment on any particular day, your children starve. My older daughters dropped out of school because we must all work,” she says. In May 2020, River Nyamwamba burst its banks again. River Nyamwamba, which originates in the Rwenzori mountains, is the main source of water in the district for agriculture and domestic use. Since 2012, it has been flooding almost annually, but in recent years, flooding has intensified. Researchers now say the flooding is caused by a combination of climate change and human activities, such as copper and sand mining and changing the course of the river for irrigation purposes.
A few years ago, the Rwenzori region in western Uganda, much like the rest of the country, had two rainny seasons – one in March to June and the other in October to December. However, the seasons are changing and it is hard to predict the weather conditions. As a result, floods and landslides are becoming common.
The effects of climate change on women and girls have been well documented. A UN Climate Change report released in June this year, at the Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany, explains that women experience the impacts of climate change differently than men. In some African countries, for example, many men are migrating from rural to urban areas to find employment, a trend driven by extreme weather effects, leaving women in charge of land and the household, however, without legal or social authority.
Like Aryama, many rural women, who make up a huge part of the agricultural and informal workforce, primarily depend on natural resources and bear the burden of securing food, water and firewood for their households. This makes them more vulnerable to climate change, and the vicious circle goes on and on, as Richard Kimbowa, the chief executive officer of the Uganda Coalition for Sustainable Development (UCSD), says.
Women walk long distances in search for water. PHOTO/file
“Women are always in search of food and firewood to cook the next meal. But, the continued commercialisation of charcoal and firewood means women are left with decreasing spaces as sources due to environmental degradation. So, they have to walk long distances. But the linkage of this environmental degradation is important to underscore in that the more it happens, the more it fans dry seasons and enables harsh wet seasons due to unsustainable vegetation cover removal, and the more women face the effects of climate change,” he says.
Amplifying gender inequalities
Ann Kobia, the partnerships and outreach manager of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA), says the effects of climate change have amplified existing gender inequalities in the rural areas.
“Walking long distances for food and water, or to do manual work, exposes women to exploitation and sexual violence. A husband might not be understanding when his wife comes home late. That is when gender-based violence (GBV) interfaces with climate change. Teenage marriages have also been observed as a coping mechanism to climate disasters in some communities. For example, in Ethiopia and Kenya, teenage marriages are a way to secure funds and recover losses experienced due to droughts and floods,” Kobia says.
As a former counsellor in her village, besides looking for food for her family, Aryama faces an added burden. “Women come to me requesting for sanitary towels. They believe I have connections outside the camp that give me access to such things. But I do not. I can barely afford to buy menstrual pads for myself and my daughters. The few men in the camp are unemployed. We have had nine cases of miscarriages in this camp due to the stress women are going through,” she says.
Climate action through the gender lens
Efforts to combat climate change have left women behind in some countries. Yet, drawing women into the fight can accelerate climate progress and advance gender equity.
Government has set a foundation for women to contribute to building the country’s climate resilience with the National Climate Act 2021. The Act provides for the creation of district environmental and natural resources committees; responsible for climate change matters in the districts and the creation of lower local government climate change committees. Implementation of these policies is lacking.
Eliphaz Muhindi, the Local Council IV chairperson of Kasese District, where Muhokya Transit Camp is located, says women are not given priority during planning meetings for communities.
“Apart from the non-governmental organisations, you will not see district officials involving the women of the Camp in any plans. Women issues are not yet our priority. The challenges of Muhokya Camp are beyond our capacity as a district. The district was allocated Shs150 million (USD 39,000) to procure land and resettle those women. But that money is not enough,” he says.
Kobia says governments are not paying attention to the convergence between women and climate change. “One of the narratives is that everybody is being impacted by climate change, so why are you in the business of showcasing a narrative that one gender is being impacted more? But let us reason, when there are no meals on the table, a man is not impacted like you are,” Kobia says.
The UN Climate Change report states that women tend to be custodians of traditional knowledge, which is recognised as fundamental to planning and implementing climate policies that support both adaptation and mitigation efforts. As such, increasing the participation of these groups in decision-making would lead to more effective and long-lasting climate policies and should be promoted through innovative capacity-building and empowerment measures.
Lack of access to resources
Giant strides have been made in the agricultural sector with institutions such as the National Crop Resources Research Institute (NaCCRI) at the forefront of researching, breeding and distributing drought-resistant and flood-resistant seed varieties that are suitable to a changing climate.
Women like Aryama are responsible for 50-80 percent of the food production world over, but own less than 10 percent of this land. This means many rural women farmers often lack equitable access to these new tools, seeds and other resources, and as such, they are left out of many initiatives that have been developed to help farmers adapt to the effects of climate change.
For Teddy Awori, the chief executive officer of Critical Mass Kampala, in terms of policy and negotiations, it is important to have women as key actors because they have substantive and diverse experiences on how they are affected and how they have been able to cope.
“There are a number of references in history on how women developed knowledge and skills on water harvesting and storage, and food preservation and rationing. These may seem to have been borne out of the necessity of their gender roles at that time. Women have been a powerful innovation engine from way back. Today, names such as Wangari Mathaai, Vanessa Nakate, Greta Thunberg are household names when it comes to climate change conversations. I think the potential has moved from visibility to tangibility,” she says.
Opportunities for women
Although rural women have done little to contribute to the climate crisis, they are the most affected by it. Climate activists argue that mentoring women and girls to adapt to climate change would go a long way in helping them make informed decisions. “There should be favourable business loans from village saving Saccos or big banks that can enable women to acquire the new technologies needed for farming to survive the climate crisis or to start other small-scale businesses,” Awori says.
Kimbowa says the best option is for women to self-organise. Climate action needs women champions that are ready to sustain the struggle, not those who lose steam midway.
“Those champions should keep in touch with affected masses at all times, and most importantly, with other women world over for support. Women or gender-focused organisations and agencies can kickstart this for women to act, set and inform policy directions as equals at all levels, including budgets, policy making and international negotiations,” he says.
As the world goes into 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27) with the aim of reaching the central goals of the Paris Argument to limit global average temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, government should realise that in addressing the crisis of climate change, it is now urgent to acknowledge – and reflect in policy frameworks – the gender dimensions of its impact.
150 AFRICAN WOMEN, GIRLS LAUNCH DEMANDS AHEAD OF COP27
On October 18, a coalition of African feminist activists launched a set of 27 demands for meaningful accountability and action for climate change ahead of COP27. They called for increased action to meet climate change goals, while addressing the specific needs of African women and girls. Central to these demands are equity, representation and financing.
While Africa accounts for the smallest share of global greenhouse gas emissions, at just 3.8 percent, it remains one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change.
“It is time for leaders to prioritise the lives and needs of the people of Africa, especially women and girls, who are often hit hardest by climate impacts. The government delegates who are going into the climate negotiations need to understand that we are losing hope, and they need to restore that hope – not just for themselves, but for the next generation,” says Mwanahamisi Singano, the Senior Global Policy Lead for the Women’s Environment and development. Organisation. The demands cover six key areas of concern: women’s and youth leadership in climate processes, an equitable energy transition, climate finance, land rights, just technology, and intersectionality and interlinkages across development work streams.
“We want to see negotiations deliver a stand-alone financing facility for ‘loss and damage’–the negative effects of climate change that people cannot cope with or adapt to. In the last year alone, the African continent has seen major climate disasters, drought, floods and food insecurity. There is a historic and ongoing lack of support and compensation for the victims of climate change, who are disproportionately women,” says Sylvia Dorbor, a UNFCCC Negotiator for Liberia.
African climate advocates say the inadequate financing, and lack of support to fully address loss and damage and reparations for historical environmental injustices, continue to mark the principal ways the climate negotiations have failed to meet developing countries’ needs. Last year, the proposal for a dedicated funding mechanism for loss and damage was at the top of the political agenda but was blocked by wealthy countries like the United States and members of the European Union.
The coalition is also calling for an equitable energy transition that urgently shifts from a fossil fuel-based economy to investments in safe and clean energy.
“Across Africa, more than 597 million people do not have access to electricity and almost 60 percent of clinics lack access to a consistent flow of electricity. So, while a shift to renewables is prudent, building a future that ensures equitable access to and affordability of sustainable energy resources for all,” says Faith Lumonya, the Economic Justice and Climate Action Lead at Akina Mama wa Afrika, Uganda.
Despite challenges, African women, girls, and indigenous people are leading the work to care for the natural environment and fight climate change.
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