Gender and Climate Adaptation
We are living in a world of high speed change. Climate change is one element of the change, but there are other powerful changes taking place as well, in the global political landscape, in global demographics, in technology and in the social media landscape. The penetration of personal ICT devices, even in Africa, is unprecedented. Technology provides new options, new solutions, and shows the perpetual ingenuity of humans. Last week I watched a video of a house being 3D printed!
But despite all this progress, some problems remain intractable. While much has been done in reducing the percentage of the world’s population living in poverty over the past decades, the number of people living in extreme poverty globally remains unacceptably high and we are unlikely to reach the target of ending extreme poverty by 2030.
The challenge we are facing in Africa is huge. Half of the world’s extreme poor live in Sub-Saharan Africa and the region has been the weakest in reducing poverty. The sad fact is that most of the global poor live in rural areas and are poorly educated, mostly employed in the agricultural sector, while many others live in informal settlements and peri-urban areas. Over half are under 18 years of age. These are the people that are going to be hardest hit by climate change, and, indeed, are already being hit by climate change.
According to the IPCC, Africa is the continent most vulnerable to climate change, partly due to poor institutional capacity, partly because it will experience higher temperature increases than other parts of the world. According to the Climate Change Vulnerability Index for 2015, seven of the ten countries most at risk from climate change are in Africa. In a continent already prone to droughts and floods, climate change will bring more intense floods and droughts, affecting water availability, food security, and health.
Women are the most vulnerable. One of the challenges in climate change adaptation is that climate change has different implications for women and men and our responses need to be able to deal with these different needs and issues. Women and girls in low income countries are generally at greater risk from natural hazards than men because of cultural practices and inequitable access to resources and power.
This vulnerability arises from a number of factors, including, but by no means limited to:
- Women make up most of the world’s poor and are more dependent than men on natural resources for their livelihoods and survival. When these natural resources are affected by drought, floods or extreme temperatures, women have less recourse to savings to get them through the hard times;
- In times of food scarcity, women often give food to their husbands first, leaving themselves hungry instead;
- Women have less access to education and the information that might allow them to adapt to climate-related risks;
- In times of drought, women and girls spend more time collecting water and fuel from distant sources, sometimes resulting in girls dropping out of school to help their mothers with these tasks, continuing the cycle of poverty and inequality and
- Women often have limited control over family finances and assets and little representation in community decision-making systems where adaptation strategies may be decided.
On the positive side, however, many women have a great deal of traditional and environmental knowledge arising from their role in collecting and managing natural resources, and, perhaps more importantly, research has shown that women may be more likely than their male counterparts to adopt new strategies in response to new information. When women are empowered, they can be extremely effective agents of adaptation to climate change. For example, in Davié Tékpo village in southern Togo, women, who are the main farmers in the village, were trained by an AFHON technical team, with the support of Institut de Conseil et d’Appui Technique, in the production and provision of certified seeds, and agricultural diversification options. As a result, the living standards of participants’ households improved, most women agreed to adopt innovative farming techniques, each family has increased its cropland area by 2 or 3 hectares, and the output per unit of land has improved.
In addressing the gendered nature of climate change, our responses need to be equally gendered. Climate change adaptation strategies at all levels, regional, national or local, must consciously address the issue of gender and the different impacts and response abilities of women and men.