Climate change is a universal problem that burdens all people and their communities, but this is unfortunately not proportional around the world. The effects of climate change cripple underdeveloped parts of the world the most, with Africa taking the lead. Nonetheless, most of the leaders in this continent do not treat climate change as a catastrophe that requires immediate action from them. Ignorance is the major driver of this as leaders elected care more about their own gain as opposed to doing the greater good. Africa’s contribution to greenhouse gas emission is only 4 % (UNFCCC 2018) yet it is one of the most vulnerable continents and least prepared as well. Apart from Africa, the other most vulnerable category is women who are the world’s most poor and are encumbered disproportionately. 

Women that come from war-torn countries from political and economic turmoils are made even more vulnerable to climate change and the impacts of climate change as they often have to flee their home with their children in search of peace and security. “As the world struggles to grapple with rapid onset disasters as well as respond to slower degradation caused by climate change, it is critical to ensure that the plight of women is firmly on the agenda of concerns and that women – from different backgrounds – are able to lead in negotiations and participate in the design and implementation of programs.” (Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, 2015)

With a baby on her back and another toddler on her side, Monica, a Kenyan mother walks for over 6 km twice a day in search for water for her family due to the drought that has hit her region
(World Vision, 2016)

Gender inequalities are further exaggerated by climate-related hazards and they result in higher workloads for women e.g. travelling long distances to fetch water, occupational hazards, psychological and emotional stress and higher mortality compared to men. (IPCC Report 2016).  “Gender inequality limits women’s capacity and potential to be advocates and active agents of climate action.” (Global Citizen, 2020). The gender inequality paradox has made women not to be active agents of change to environmental-related issues. 

Detrimental effects of climate change on Women 

There are some research studies have shown that there is a direct relation between gender and the environment. To be specific, these research have shown that gender influences how both men and women utilize natural resources including forests. Men and women are involved at different levels in the production and consumption of wood and timber products although this varies from community to community. Notably, these discrepancies are noted to be higher in regions of Africa, Latin America and Asia. 

In the African context, there are different roles allocated to men and women regarding natural resource utilization e.g. men mostly hunt and fish for food to feed their dependents while women and girls are responsible for collecting firewood, plants from the forests, fodder for animals and fruits. The fruits collected by the women can be used to supplement the diets of their families while the firewood can be used for heating and cooking with some even selling in local markets for that extra income to sustain their households. To add to this, women have indigenous knowledge and are very smart in identifying different types of trees, plants, biodiversity and conservation practices likewise. 

Regrettably, the role of women in the environment is often underrepresented and taken advantage of. For example, in Kenya, there was once a legal wood collection programme in Nyandarua that was supposed to benefit women, as they are the main agents of wood collection, but once the men in the community learnt about this,  they took over and started keeping the money to themselves.  Gender interests are not monolithic, because gender intersects not only with age but also with ethnicity, religion, wealth, and education level to produce different outcomes for men and women (Anti-Corruption Resource Center, 2015).

Women collecting firewood from the Mau Forest
(Pinterest 2020) 

Deforestation and the clearance of land for other land uses are some of the greatest contributors to climate change as the essential role of trees in carbon sequestration is cut-off and the reverse happens where carbon gets released to the atmosphere resulting in the green-house effect. Rademaekers et al. (2010) estimate that, “In Africa, 20 million hectares of forests were converted to other land uses in the 1990s and, between 2000 and 2005 another 4 million hectares of forest was cleared.”  Since it is clear that deforestation and land degradation has a direct effect on climate change, solving these two should be the first step taken for resilient ecosystems. “The imperatives for global climate change mitigation are motivating a new round of policy initiatives and projects aimed at carbon forestry: conserving and enhancing forest carbon stocks and trading these values in emerging carbon markets.” (Leach and Scoones 2013). 

Deforestation of the Mau Forest (The largest Montane Forest in East Africa
(Third Eye Blogs 2018)

In relation to illegal deforestation, women and girls are often the perpetrators behind this as they have to look for food and biomass fuels from forests. This often happens in reserves and protected areas that do not give permits to local communities to have access to them and even if they were to be given such benefits, the cost is just too high for them to afford. This leaves them with no other option but to cut through the fences further increasing their vulnerability to electrocution, injuries from barbed wires, exposure to predators and arrests by the forest wardens. 

However, there is a project that is working to find alternative economic activities of communities from the harvest and usage of natural resources to other sustainable ones which is the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) that provides economic incentives to people who depend on forests and its resources by investing in projects such as agriculture and animal rearing.  This economic incentive, however, should match the total carbon that is stored or sequestered by the trees in that area so that the community members are not exploited. If such a system is implemented in an effective way, communities will gradually shift from depending on presets for their sustainability thus reducing the deforestation rates and degraded lands can be restored effectively.

Even if these women are successful in collecting the firewood from logs, trunks and branches of trees, most of them are not allowed to sell the excess of these after domestic necessities such as cooking and heating have been catered to. In most African traditional households, it is believed that any finances are to be handled by the eldest/ most mature male figure which could be the father, brother or uncle. Therefore, even if most of the cumbersome duties of getting access to and collecting firewood is done by the women, it is perceived that they are not smart enough to engage in the finances of selling them. This leaves them totally dependent, financially, on men to purchase basic essentials such as food, clothing and healthcare.

Men unloading firewood from a donkey in preparation for sale.

To add to this, climate change has made it even harder to perform some basic house chores such as taking care of children, cleaning and gathering biomass fuels for heating and cooking most especially in rural communities due to heavy rains, famine and hot waves. UN figures indicate that 80% of people displaced by climate change are women according to BBC news 2018 and the mental toll of climate change hits women 60% more than men (OZY, 2019).  

Women NEED to have a voice in Climate Action because…..

Women have the knowledge and understanding of what is needed to adapt to changing environmental conditions and come up with practical solutions (IUCN 2019). For very long, it is indigenous women who; have known herbal medicines that cure specific illnesses, plant trees when a child is born and sustainably cut trees at their branches or stems for later usage. However, their representation in mitigation measures is undersized, yet their role is prodigious. In most cases, women are the first respondents to natural disasters caused by climate change by having mitigation measures way before the disaster happens e.g. creating clean cooking stoves, stocking up jars of water when they predict drought or storing sacks of cereals in silos in preparation for famine. 

Traditional Grain Silos in Africa
(Third Eye Blogs 2019)

“Women’s participation in climate action has been identified as a priority in the 2030 Agenda as Sustainable Development Goal 13 calls for urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts” and significantly focuses on the need to elevate the voices of women, youth, and local and marginalized communities.” (IUCN 2019). The Paris Agreement has made tremendous efforts in representing women in climate action measures, highlighting the different roles they play and giving accolades to exceptional women impacting their communities in the fight against climate change. It takes combined efforts from both men and women to make positive strides in the climate action field and it is only when women are given equal voices and participation that tangible differences will be experienced. Their voices shall be heard!! 


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