Africa: Women on the Frontlines Show Solutions to the Climate Emergency #AfricaClimateHope

Sharm el-Sheikh — As the world warms, the effects of climate change will not be felt equally by all

Women bear the brunt of the the climate emergency by carrying the burden of environmental, economic, and social shocks, yet are excluded from decision-making due to pervasive and entrenched gender inequality.

In the wake of extreme weather and other climate crisis disruptions, women have been shown to be more vulnerable to impacts than men due to a variety of social, economic, and cultural factors. As the climate emergency intensifies, women face higher rates of violence, displacement, and poverty. They are more likely to live in poverty, have less access to basic human rights like the ability to freely move and acquire land, and face systematic violence that escalates during periods of instability.

Now, women, are reflecting on what is happening in their own spaces when it comes to climate change. They’re making sure that as decisions are made around the climate crisis, they are part of those decisions. Recently at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, women brought forward 27 demands – one for each of the past climate meetings – and are looking to develop sustainable solutions to the crisis.

“By harnessing local expertise, situational nuance, and capitalising on the existing, yet often hidden, skills that women have, women’s empowerment in disaster risk reduction improves resilience overall. While every disaster context is different, there are great examples yielding tangible results,” says the UN. Climate change is already impacting communities across the globe, and the work and leadership of women are more essential than ever to help vulnerable communities adapt.

Amid a worsening climate crisis and looming food shortage, the role of women in agriculture is more critical than ever. Women and girls are the first to use new farming techniques, respond to disasters, and decide how to use energy at home. In order for climate action to be successful or sustainable, women must be involved.

Every day, we see forest fires burning all over the world, massive flooding, extreme droughts, and people losing their livelihoods and lives, we are in an emergency. And yet we know that climate solutions exist, and that we can mitigate the worst impacts of the climate crisis and that women, feminists and gender diverse organisers are leading the way, says Osprey Orielle Lake the Founder and Executive Director of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) International. According to Lake, studies show that a one-unit increase in a country’s score on the women’s political empowerment index is associated with an 11.51% decrease in the country’s carbon emissions. That’s huge. Women should be in all of these conversations leading every conversation here.”

She added that other research has shown that involving women in management and decision-making, about local forests, water, and disaster planning and research leads to more successful programs and projects. It’s code red for humanity. And we are drawing a red line to say no more sacrifice people, and no more sacrifice zones or countries, we need to move forward with a climate justice framework … we are calling on governments and financial institutions at COP27 and beyond, to stick to the below 1.5 degrees rise in global temperatures. It is an urgent call for our very survival.”

New ActionAid research in Kenya, Rwanda, Zambia, and Nigeria has found that climate change is also increasing gender-based violence and damaging women’s mental health. As a warming planet leads to a rise in humanitarian emergencies and displacement, women and girls must not be left to pay the steepest price.

The Congo Basin is one of the largest and most important forests in the world, only second to the Amazon in terms of size. Damaged land is being reforested, lands that due to extractive industries and agricultural businesses have been completely turned into deserts. The forest which has an array of wildlife from forest elephants to mountain gorillas, is in trouble from logging and mining activities. But initiatives by indigenous communities could reverse the damage. Conservationists said that the role of the Congo Basin as a “carbon sink” is being underestimated, reports Reuters.

Neema Namadamu the founder of Hero Women Rising, an organisation that advocates for women and girls in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said that “we are rising … you see the woman planting trees. You see the woman going with babies on the back looking for wood to cook. First of all, the system that we are living in is a mess … we are in this crisis, we are together and we are looking for how to get to solutions.”

She went on to explain how women are planting trees to reduce deforestation and save the world’s second-largest rainforest. She said that frontline women in DRC are planting trees and trying their best to protect the forest because without trees “there’s no life, without trees we can’t cook, we can’t have a light. I invite you to come to invest in planting trees.”

Namadamu founded Synergy of Congolese Women’s Associations (SAFECO) in 2012 to give women-led NGOs the benefits of a synergistic relationship; to provide the mutual support needed to strengthen each other’s capacity to carry out a development agenda that empowers Congolese women through their collaborative leadership; a development agenda that demonstrates the capacity, collaborative nature, and generational thinking of women; an agenda that develops Congo societally and economically while prioritising women’s rights, the rights of the indigenous people, and our land.

Anne SongoleClimate Justice Coordinator of the African Women’s Development and Communications Network (FEMNET) Kenya said that the emancipation of women will lead to cleaner and safer environments, and the emancipation from an extractive ecological model. She talked about Climate Justice Programme where they bring women from communities from civil society organisations, from community-based organisations from 25 countries across Africa to talk on African feminist climate justice.

“Here we questioned our rules, our rules in this new colonial model and purpose to raise our consciousness and reflect this in our work, our homes, our relationships, and our lives. In August 2022, we went to Zimbabwe where we had stories of women affected by cyclone Idai. And here Pan African eco feminists from Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Senegal, South Africa, Uganda, and Zimbabwe co-created the first draft of Pan African eco-feminist demands and an eco-feminist movement-building strategy. A number of other women from other countries added their voices to our demands and these were from Nigeria, Uganda, Botswana, Namibia, Cameroon, Mauritius, Tunisia, and Senegal.”

“And so here we are at COP27, with a number of things that we’ve done, a number of issues that were raised, and a number of demands and initiatives that are already up our sleeve. we are standing in solidarity with frontline defenders and local communities across the continent. And we’re calling on African governments to demand their fair share of climate action from developed nations … We’re also saying that we should foster meaningful engagement we foster meaningful and equitable representation of women and girls in all negotiations, and decision-making, including frontline community women leaders, and facilitate meaningful engagement of civil society pre-COP, as well as post-COP to enhance accountability.”

“We are thirsty for climate justice. Our fight is to decolonise our struggle, our struggles, and our dreams are valid. There is so much hope for the African women when we stand together united, Aluta continua, said Songole.

This story was produced as part of the 2022 Climate Change Media Partnership, a journalism fellowship organised by Internews’ Earth Journalism Network and the Stanley Center for Peace and Security