Africa: Climate Crisis is a Chance to Build a More Just and Equitable World #AfricaClimateHope

Kigali, Rwanda — The climate crisis is a global challenge, but it is also an opportunity to build a more just and equitable world.

Gender inequalities are further worsened by the climate emergency. In a time of crisisit is women and girls who bear the brunt of its effects, as it exacerbates the existing gender disparities and creates exceptional risks to their livelihoods, security, health, and welfare.

According to the UN, “women have been shown to be more vulnerable to climate change impacts than men due to a variety of social, economic, and cultural factors. Gender norms, cultural barriers, and lack of education leave women behind further than men.”

Women play a significant role in agriculture, particularly in developing countries, where they often comprise the majority of the agricultural labour force. However, they face several challenges that make them more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and exacerbate existing inequalities. Women have a greater burden of responsibility for collecting water, gathering firewood, and preparing food for their families – often with less access to natural resources. This work can be time-consuming and labour-intensive, and it can limit women’s opportunities to participate in other activities, such as education and employment.

They also face distinct challenges, such as adverse health effects due to limited access to clean water and sanitation, increased risks of malnutrition and food insecurity, and the burden of collecting water during droughts. UN Women reports that girls who leave school to help their mothers manage the increased burden of caring for the family are face a higher risk of violence and exploitation.

Women are more likely to lack access to basic human rights, such as the right to move freely and acquire land. According to reports, women make up almost half of the world’s smallholder farmers and are responsible for producing 70% of Africa’s food. Yet, less than 20% of the land is owned by women. In Sub-Saharan Africa, women play a vital role in food production, but they often lack land rights. They typically gain access to land through male relatives.

Climate change is a threat multiplier for women and girls.

Tanzanian Environmentalist Fights for Women’s Participation in Climate Change Talks

Mwanahamisi Singano is a women’s environmental development leader from Tanzania who is working to ensure that women have a seat at the table in climate change talks.

Singano is a member of the Women and Gender constituency, which tracks women’s participation in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) processes. She believes that women’s participation is essential to finding solutions to the climate crisis.

“Women have been disproportionately affected by climate change,” said Singano. “They are more likely to live in poverty, have less access to resources, and be responsible for caring for the family. They need to be involved in the decision-making process to ensure that their needs are met.”

The current structures of governance have not been designed to support women’s participation, said Singano. They have erected walls and glass ceilings that prevent women from taking leadership roles.

Singano’s work has been to dismantle these structures and create spaces for women’s leadership to be amplified. She has seen firsthand the impact that women’s leadership can have. When women are involved in decision-making, they bring a different perspective that is essential to finding solutions to the climate crisis. They are also more likely to focus on the well-being of both people and the planet.

Singano believes that a feminist world is possible and that it is a world that is equal, sustainable, and healthy for both people and the planet. “We need to create a world where women are not only able to participate in climate change talks but where they are leading the way,” said Singano. “We need to build a world where women’s voices are heard and their needs are met.”

Young Activist Fights for the Rights of Marginalised Girls

Zainab Sunmisola Yunusa is a feminist activist from Nigeria who is passionate about advocating for the rights of young women and girls to challenge injustice and build a more just world. She is a member of the Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) & Climate Justice Coalition, the UNFPA Joint Youth Working Group on SRHR and Climate Change, and a Global Ambassador for the UNICEF U-Report citizen engagement platform.

Yunusa is a powerful speaker and an inspiration to many. She has shared her story at conferences and events around the world, and she has written extensively about the challenges that young women and girls in marginalised communities face.

“I listed my intersecting identities as a young woman and African because I want you to understand that these identities place me at a higher risk of discrimination. However, I also acknowledge that it is a privilege to be here, speaking about the challenges faced by vulnerable youth in marginalised communities,” she said. “It happens to be that unfortunately those voices are excluded from stages such as these main stages.”

On the panel, Yunusa shared three stories to illustrate the challenges that these young women and girls face. The first story is about a young woman in Ethiopia who had to travel 200 kilometres to get a C-section. The second is about a young girl in Kenya who is worried that she will be married off because her family cannot afford to care for her, and the third is about young girls in Mozambique who have had to use leaves to absorb blood during their menstrual periods because of the limited water supply.

Yunusa asked how the voices of these young women and girls can be amplified and empowered. She suggested that we need to create more inclusive spaces, build solidarity, and co-create solutions. She also noted that we need to put our words into action and challenge injustice, ensure access and inclusion, and give young people a platform to share their experiences and solutions.

Climate Change is Threatening the Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights of Women and Girls

A key component of Women Deliver is the intersectional feminist focus of addressing women and girls’ compounding issues. With sexual and reproductive health and rights at its core, the conference brought together grassroots advocates, multilateral governments, the private sector, philanthropies, and youth from around the world to collectively identify and act on evidence-based solutions.

Climate change is having a negative impact on the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) of women and girls around the world. This is according to Sivananthi Thanenthiran, the Executive Director of ARROW, an international non-profit organisation that works to advance the rights of women and girls.

In Nepal, climate-induced disasters are forcing families to take their daughters out of school, which prevents them from accessing comprehensive sex education. This lack of education can lead to early marriage and unwanted pregnancies, which can have serious health consequences. In the Maldives, women who live on small islands are not able to access gynecologists or other SRHR services when they are pregnant or need reproductive health care. This can lead to pregnancy complications, lack of contraceptive use, and an increase in sexual and reproductive-related cancers.

Climate change is a global problem, but it is having a disproportionate impact on women and girls in the Global South. These women and girls are already facing many challenges, such as poverty, discrimination, and violence. Climate change is adding to these challenges and making it even harder for them to access the SRHR services they need.

“Climate change is a form of violence against women and girls,” said Thanenthiran. “It is denying them their right to health, their right to education, and their right to make decisions about their own bodies.”

We need to take action now to address the impact of climate change on the SRHR of women and girls. We need to invest in climate-resilient SRHR services, and we need to challenge the idea that climate change is a problem for future generations. The health and well-being of women and girls are essential to the health and well-being of our planet. We must act now to protect them from the impacts of climate change.

The Need for Inclusive Decision-Making

Mwanahamisi Singano talks about the importance of building collective power and avoiding replicating the same systems of obstruction and collusion that exist in the outside world. She says that their organisation, Women and Gender Constituency (WGC), is intentional about building horizontal movement, which means connecting different movements, such as climate justice and gender, so that women’s issues are not siloed. They also work to connect movements vertically, at the regional and global levels.

“We have been doing this work. And we know it’s not easy. We don’t have a perfect system. But I can share three main recipes that have worked for us. One is really respecting diversity, and knowing diversity is a gift and not a challenge. We are who we are because we are different. So embracing the differences within us make our movements stronger than many of you agree with.”

Yunusa addressed the issue of perceptions changing with regard to engaging youth, women, and other vulnerable groups in climate decision-making.”Yes, things are changing. We are making positive changes, but they are happening very slowly. We could move faster,” she said.

Yunusa added that “there are nine constituencies of civil society in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that try to influence decision-making. One of these is the Women and Gender constituency, of which I am a proud member. I also started off in the Youth constituency, which is now called Youngo. Youngo is the formal coordinating body of youth NGOs and individuals from across the world. It is made up of over 10,000 individuals and over 1,000 youth NGOs.” She added that “the strategies that I have seen work are how Youngo has been able to influence direct policymaking at the international level. We have seen young people being recognised in consultation, influencing decision-making, drafting statements, and demanding certain outcomes from negotiations. We have also seen young people clamoring for awareness, capacity building, and the opportunity to be part of official delegations. We are seeing that these voices are being heard, even if it is slowly.

“For example, at COP27 in Egypt, there was a youth pavilion that was created specifically for young people. This space was not just created for young people, but it was co-created by young people. They demanded the space and they co-created every event and activity that happened there. So, the pavilion was owned by young people and it was co-created. I believe that engagement is one part of the solution, but we need to move forward from just engaging to co-designing and co-creating. Young people are catching on in this space, and I think that is what would actually make us move faster.”

How Can We Achieve Climate Justice and Gender Justice?

Mary Robinson, Chair of The Elders and former president of Ireland spoke about the intersection of reproductive health and rights, gender equality, and climate justice at the session. She said that climate change affects the poorest countries, communities, and indigenous peoples the hardest, even though they are not responsible for it. Women and girls are also disproportionately affected by climate change.

“We are on the cusp of a clean energy, safe climate world, but we are also heading for catastrophe,” said Robinson. “This is because the pledges and promises that governments, corporations, and investors have made are not enough to prevent us from reaching 2.4 degrees Celsius of warming this century. This level of warming would be catastrophic, as it would lead to more extreme weather events, rising sea levels, and mass extinctions.”

“The reason we are in this situation is because the fossil fuel industry is spending billions of dollars on a communications campaign to promote their products. This campaign has been very successful in convincing people that climate change is not a serious problem,” she added.

“The Feminist Earth Shot is a communications campaign that aims to counter the fossil fuel industry’s propaganda,” said Robinson. “The symbol of the Feminist Earth Shot is the dandelion, which is a flower that is found on all seven continents. It is a symbol of resilience and hope, and it represents the power of women to lead the way in the fight against climate change.”