CLIMATE CHANGE AND ITS IMPACTS ON AFRICAN WOMEN
Your Excellency, the question on our minds is-why this Conference on Climate Change and its impacts on African Women? This Conference is important because women and all of us depend on climate sensitive resources which are under stress due to climate change. The need to mitigate the challenges of food and water stress, among others, is becoming imminent. The post industrial revolution anthropogenic climatic changes have posed variety of challenges. These include increased frequency of extreme weather events, flooding, storms, drought, desertification, increased sea temperatures, heat and cold waves. Consequently, these changes have significant ecological, social, economic and political impacts on human race, including effects on food production, water availability, intensification of wildfires, changes in epidemic vectors and security in general. 2. I am pleased to be associated with this distinguished audience and organizers who are lending their voices to the advocacy on climate change. It is therefore my pleasure to address this unique audience on the impacts of climate change on women and children particularly in Africa. 3. The resolution at this Conference will form part of your input under African Union for consideration at the 16th COP in Mexico in November. Distinguished Personages, I will briefly delve into the impacts of climate change generally before zeroing on the impacts on women. Although climate change affects everyone regardless of race, caste, ethnicity, sex and level of income, its impacts are more heavily felt by poor nations and communities. Of course, climate change magnifies existing inequalities and poverty level in these poor nations and communities. They tend to have more limited adaptive capacities, and are more dependent on climate sensitive resources such as local water and food supplies. 4. The 2007-2008 Human Development Report, ‘Fighting Climate Change: Human Solidarity in a Divided World’ concludes that climate change threatens progress towards development itself. It will not only undermine progress towards the UN Millennium Development Goals but also limit the raising of the Human Development Index in many countries. This perspective has therefore moved climate change away from a purely technical subject and brings it to the centre of development policies and strategies, where the livelihoods of numerous communities are threatened and their security is at stake. Herein lies the inter-relationship between climate change and women, children, bio-diversity, sustainable development, desertification and so on. 5. The nature and extent of climatic changes, manifested in the increase of extreme weather conditions has been recognized as a global priority issue. Changes in climate do not only hinder human development and environmental conservation, but also forms a major threat to human security at national and livelihood levels. 6. The effects of climate change will vary among regions, and between different generations, income groups and occupations as well as between women and men. Developing countries in general and African continent are much more vulnerable due to their lower adaptive capacities and high level of poverty. 7. In general, many of the implications of natural disasters on women and men have been documented (Some of them include lowering of life-expectancy, widening of gender gap in life expectancy and increase in domestic and sexual violence). In many societies, including ours, vulnerability to natural disasters differs for women and men. The Pan American Health Organization concludes that women are often much more vulnerable to disasters than men through their socially constructed roles and responsibilities, and because they are poorer. 8. Distinguished participants, in the very recent times, arm struggles have been very frequent in African continent. That climate change has been a major driver of such armed conflicts in Africa cannot be disputed. It is also observed that conflict was about 50 per cent more likely in unusually dry years and in times of food scarcity. Women are not only subjected to all various abuses but bear the brunt of social conflicts and arm struggles due to increased resource competition, as communities migrate to areas of higher abundance, threatening access to such resources by the existing populations. Inevitably, women have less access to resources that are essential in disaster preparedness, mitigation and rehabilitation. 9. Women form a disproportionately large share of the poor in countries all over the world especially in Africa. Women in rural areas in developing countries are highly dependent on local natural resources for their livelihood, because of their responsibility to secure water, food and energy for cooking and heating. 10. Women are charged with the responsibility of collecting water and firewood for household needs. The challenge of this responsibility is increasing especially in marginally dry areas of Africa Continent due to negative impact of climate change. With the negative impact of climate change, women and children travel long distances and spend hours in search of water and firewood. This has serious impact on the time that should be dedicated to other economic activities and education. In more extreme circumstances, women have dropped out of school, trying to assist in the home front by taking care of the sick and elderly people. 11. The negative impact of climate change affects agriculture and food production. The role of women in Agriculture cannot be over-emphasized. In Africa, women contribute about 80 percent in agricultural production. When they are hit by adverse impacts of climate change including drought resulting from decline in rainfall, they loose all their means of livelihood as well as their source of income. Added to this burden in some circumstances, women face historical disadvantages including limited access to decision-making and economic assets such as land. These compound the challenges of climate change and seriously impaired their coping capacities any time disasters strike. 12. Water, sanitation and health challenges put an extra burden on women, adding to the double burden of productive and reproductive labour when there is a disaster and a collapse of livelihood. In many societies, socio-cultural norms and care giving responsibilities prevent women from migrating to look for shelter and work when a disaster hits. Self-sacrifice even hampers women’s own rescue in any type of disaster since they care for the safety of their offspring. 13. Distinguished Personages, climate change has made women and children, especially in the rural areas, the world’s poorest people today. Climate change is making it even more difficult for them to realise their basic rights, and it is compounding inequalities since they are more vulnerable to its impacts than men. Moreover, many women lack access to new information about climate change and participation in important decision-making processes despite having unique skills and knowledge vital to effective adaptation in several activities including farming, sustainable water management, family health and community mobilisation. 14. The challenges of climate change are unlikely to be genderneutral, as it increases the risk to the most vulnerable and less empowered social groups. It is therefore imperative that a gender analysis be applied, in consultation with gender experts, on all actions on climate change issues as they affect women and to identify and address their specific needs and priorities. In the formulation of global and national approaches, as well as in the strategic responses to specific sectors, substantive analysis and inclusive engagement of women are fundamental. Distinguished Personages, I hope that this conference will proffer solutions to the numerous challenges women in Africa are facing today due to the negative impact of climate change. 15. However, some efforts are being made internationally to address the challenges posed by climate change on women. In 2002, the Commission on the Status of Women considered the issue of climate change at its 46th session. The agreed conclusions on “Environmental management and the mitigation of natural disasters” adopted by the Commission called for action to mainstream a gender perspective into ongoing research on the impacts and causes of climate change, and to encourage the application of results of this research in policies and programmes. 16. Again, at its 52nd Session in 2008, the same Commission considered climate change as an emerging issue and drew attention to the fact that climate change is not a gender-neutral phenomenon, stressing that it has a direct impact on women’s lives due to their domestic work and makes their everyday sustenance even more difficult. The Commission called for efforts on financing for gender equality and the empowerment of women, specifically referring to the impact of climate change on women and girls. 17. Furthermore, it calls on governments to integrate a gender perspective into the design, implementation, monitoring, evaluation and reporting of national environmental policies and development plans. In addition, it calls on government to provide adequate resources to ensure women’s full and equal participation in decision-making at all levels on environmental issues, particularly on strategies related to the impact of climate change on the lives of women and girls. 18. In line with these international calls for gender sensitivity, and in further realization that women are central to the food and livelihood security of their families especially in the rural areas, the present administration places a special emphasis on gender equality and women’s empowerment not necessarily to cope with environmental hazards but also to be part of policy making process. 19. The aims of the policy of government include empowering women to make positive environmental changes through integration of women into the decision-making process at all levels. 20. Furthermore distinguished Personages, Government is set to increase awareness of women’s perspectives on environmental issues in general and climate change in particular. Government realises the critical role of women in adaptation program to alleviate the impact of climate change. Hence the energy saving stoves, the woodlot program, the water harvesting projects, among others, are designed based on their critical needs. We will provide access to new information about climate change and participation in important decision-making processes utilizing women’s unique skills and knowledge. All these we believe, will ensure environmental justice for women. 21. Finally, I want to sincerely thank the organizers of this conference for their invitation and I thank you all for listening.