Ruth Butaumocho African Agenda
Floods, landslides and droughts have become a regular threat in Africa and beyond as the world battles with the effects of climate change.
Apart from keeping scientists and other like-minded professionals on their toes, climate change is increasingly becoming one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century outside wars and diseases.
The impact of climate change, though varying with regions, has negatively impacted generations, age, classes, income groups and gender.
Many will remember with sadness how Cylcone Idai hit several countries in Southern Africa in 2019 resulting in the death of more than 1 000 people and leaving a trail of destruction in the region.
The region was disproportionately affected, leaving three million people in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe severely affected.
While the affected nations battled to salvage what remained following a trail of destruction, East Africa was also battling to contain the torrential rains that pounded that region.
Africa’s last devastating brush with the natural disaster of such magnitude taught the continent many lessons that leaders need to constantly introspect on, knowing fully well that natural disasters are increasingly becoming endemic, owing to climate change.
It remains important to prepare by constantly reviewing the disaster preparedness strategies in place to deal with unpredictable weather patterns, which is a clear indication of the intensifying effects of climate change.
With indications that the effects of climate change could worsen as countries fail to come up with mitigation measures to slow down the depletion of the ozone layer, it has become imperative to include women and the youth in the climate discourse to ensure that they are not left behind in planning and implementation on issues that affect them.
The decision to include women should not be regarded as mere rhetoric, but it has become an important narrative that needs to be addressed after it emerged that women were more likely than men to be affected by climate change.
The United Nations reports that 80 percent of people displaced by climate change are women.
The assertion can be proven because women are likely to live in poverty than men, have less access to basic human rights like the ability to freely move and also access means of production such as land.
Sometimes, women also face systematic forms of violence that often escalates during periods of instability such as floods and natural disasters.
A few days after most facilities collapsed owing to torrential rains that hit some parts of Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique, women and girls had to walk for long distances to fetch water, while the Government and other partners were busy restoring services and other facilities.
In the event of strong torrential rains, men are likely to be able to swim and women often lose precious evacuation time trying to look after children and other relatives.
Women’s roles as primary caregivers and providers of food and fuel make them more vulnerable when flooding and droughts occur.
Beyond providing for their families, when droughts and temperatures dry up sources of water, women have to travel longer distances to fetch water for household use.
Faced with a daunting future owing to the environmental challenges, women have become important actors in determining the kind of future they want and the processes they want to be part of.
This calls for their involvement in climate change issues, at all levels so that when policies and decisions are made, their aspirations are also captured.
Although they might not hold powerful leadership positions in their communities or in government, women have historically developed knowledge and skills related to food preservation, natural resources management and even water harvesting methods.
Their ability to use home remedies as medication and preparing meals from various plants and trees is unquestionable.
This knowledge and experience which has been passed from one generation to another is a crucial component, which can contribute to the adaptive capacity of member countries in the event of a serious natural disasters, such as Cyclone Idai, which riveted the Southern African region in 2019.
The experiences and knowledge systems that women have in their respective communities, will go a long way in mitigating some of the effects of climate change, and that alone is an important resource that cannot be ignored.
Realising the potential women have in providing solutions in dealing with effects of climate change, several countries are now coming up with programmes that specifically target women as major contributors in problem solving.
South Africa has started working on a number of projects to build supportive ecosystems for gender equity in Africa’s energy sector, through the establishment of a non-profit company, the African Women in Energy Power (AWEaP).
The company is premised in the conviction that women should be part of the process to eradicate energy poverty, through their involvement in energy projects, as groups, communities or individuals based on their ability to deliver.
Speaking during the International Women’s Day commemorations in Johannesburg, South Africa on Tuesday, the Founding President of AWEaP, Ms Bertha Dhlamini, called on African countries to include women in energy products as part of the broader climate change mitigation initiatives on the continent.
“It is our expectation that women be represented as policy makers within national and regional governments, as executives of private sector companies, as managers within power sector utilities, as employees of generation plants, transmission, distribution and as entrepreneurs within nascent energy enterprises,” she said.
Such involvement, said Ms Dhlamini, will go a along way in problem solving in the energy sector, through harnessing knowledge and experiences that women have and are willing to share.
Rwanda, has also adopted a similar concept, where women are given a stake in the energy sector, and have their submission considered in policy making.
Speaking on the same occasion, representative from South African President’s Cyril Ramaphosa’s office, Ms Namhla Mniki, called on governments to have gender responsive budgets to ensure that women are included in climate mitigation strategies.
“We need to assist women to build resilience in light of the emerging and perennial natural disasters. Women and youth are key engines of changing the narrative and actions in climate change mitigation measures,” she said.
Judging from the efforts being made by several countries, gender equality has become necessary for sustainable development.
In recent natural disasters, that have taken place across the world , women have been the worst affected, so their contribution in this discourse cannot be obliterated.
If anything, countries would need to put more systems in place to ensure that women and youths are part of the processes.
This will include regular consultation with women and youth, as well as their holistic participation on issues around climate change.
Despite its devastating effects, huge opportunities are also emerging across, including the energy sector, as a result of climate change and the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Admittedly, there is still limited knowledge on the nexus between gender and climate change, African countries should begin investing in participatory multi-stakeholder, multi-sectoral climate change Gender Action Plan to assist develop comprehensive action that integrates gender concerns, while building on women’s unique knowledge and perspectives.
A lot can be achieved if both men and women make a deliberate effort to work together towards mitigating the effects of climate change.