Sunday, 28 September 2014

Women: The Untapped Powerhouse For Climate Action

Lozi Ndondi in the flood plain in western Zambia. 
By Lubasi Wachata

Climate change is one of the key challenges of our times. Globally, climate change has been recognized as a serious phenomenon with harsh repercussions for human development. Expert assessments by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predict that global warming will have its worst impacts in developing countries particularly in Africa, South and West Asia. As a developing country, Zambia is experiencing the impacts of climate change with an increase in extreme weather events such as droughts, floods and increases in temperature. The country has also witnessed delayed onset of the rainfall and earlier cessation, resulting in shorter rainy seasons with more intense rainfall. The effects of climate change are already widespread and consequential to the country’s key sectors namely agriculture and food security, energy and water, human health, natural resources and wildlife. Due to Zambia’s over reliance on rain-fed agriculture and natural resource exploitation, such climate problems are expected to continue to manifest in future thereby calling for climate action to abate the situation.

While a vast literature exists about the vulnerability of women to climate change impacts, little has been written about how women can play an active role in climate action. Women have generally been perceived merely as victims of climate change and natural disasters.  However, women’s vulnerability has also made them keenly aware of their environments and the devastating impacts of climate change. As a result, women are well positioned to be agents of change in all actions intended to respond to the climate challenge both through adaptation and mitigation.

In the context of adaptation, a number of areas exist for climate action in which women are already actively involved namely the agriculture sector. Statistics show that at least about 80 percent of Zambia’s rural population depends on agricultural related activities. Further, studies show that rural women make up the larger share of the agricultural workforce of about 70 percent. Women therefore bear the primary responsibility for household food security, nutrition and health for families. Despite this fact, it is sad to note that women in agriculture are disadvantaged by their lack of equal access with their male counterparts to essential resources such as land and decision making power. While current laws in Zambia do not discriminate against women to own land, women still lack access to land. The 1995 Lands Act guarantees women the possibility of being land owners with security tenure of 99 years. However the Land Act also allows Customary Laws which mainly confer land ownership on men to apply to the administration of customary land. As a result, women do not have security to tenure as this is reliant on their husband or male relatives.

With respect to mitigation, Zambia’s contribution to the regional greenhouse gas emission level is relatively small. However, emissions from land use change are on an increase due to deforestation and land conversion. Halting deforestation is therefore the country’s primary mitigation action. There is potential for Zambia to reduce or store greenhouse gases particularly in the energy sector where women are already active.  While the energy sector consists of electricity, fossil fuel and renewable energy, wood is the most significant energy source accounting for about 80 percent of domestic energy in the country. Provision of energy for domestic use is typically a woman’s job in Zambia. Women often resort to the energy-inefficient open burning of biomass such as charcoal or firewood. They continue to spend enormous time procuring the biomass and they need larger amounts as they burn it inefficiently. Not only does this give them less time to pursue other income generating activities, the practice also exacerbates deforestation. Studies show that between 1990 and 2000, Zambia had the highest deforestation rate of about 851 000 ha in Southern Africa. This made Zambia account for almost half the deforestation in the Southern Africa Development Community region. Thus, mitigation actions such as the use of efficient energy systems at the household level can not only reduce both deforestation and unhealthy emissions, but also harness the potential of women as actors for mitigation measures. 

Climate change policy that does not address gender fails to utilize women’s potential in climate action. While the need for gender mainstreaming into climate change policy has generally been accepted at the international level, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol lack specific language related to gender. However, numerous other international legal instruments mandate the incorporation of the gender perspective which also applies to the existing climate change framework. Agenda 21, the Millennium Declaration, the Convention on Biological Diversity and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification among others are gender-aware initiatives that may affect climate change policy. As political will for a new and meaningful universal agreement at the climate negotiations in Paris in 2015 is being mobilized, it is important that differentiated responsibilities of women and men be taken into account. Integrating gender into mitigative and adaptive policies will better deal with the repercussions of climate change. Empowering women and realizing gender equality are essential goals in themselves, but are in addition vital components of managing climate change and creating a more sustainable future.

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