Post COP17: African Women and Climate Change. What do they want?
Prior to and during the recently concluded COP17, I attended many meetings on women, gender and climate change. Following climate change debates and getting a handle on all the players and issues involved in this complex topic is quite daunting. One of the issues still debated is a conceptual one; whether discussions should focus on women and climate change or gender and climate change. Both would take their place in climate change discussions, but they would require different approaches.
One of the meetings I attended in preparation for COP17 was a consultative dialogue meeting on women and climate change. The theme for the meeting was “Women unite, towards a fair, transparent, equitable and inclusive COP17 and beyond” and was based on the outcomes of consultations with women from 24 African countries about what they wanted to get out of COP17. From this meeting and from meetings which took place during the COP17 I gleaned the following to these important questions:
Where do women and Africa fit in the climate change debate? To put it into context, Africa is one of the most vulnerable continents to climate change and is already under pressure from climate stresses. Over 43% of the land in Africa is either dry or very dry, and over 330 million people depend on it for their survival. The links between gender, the environment, and climate change are complex and there exists a myriad of factors which affect each of these elements. Women and men experience climate change differently and are likely to adopt different coping mechanisms. Discrimination against women limits their access to resources, limits their role in decision-making processes and continuously makes them more vulnerable than men to the effects of climate change.
So, what is in their favour? Africa has the largest number of Women Ministers and Deputy Ministers in charge of the environment in the world, including in South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and 10 other African countries. In addition there are also a number of women ministers and deputies that are in charge of sectoral ministries such as water, forests, sanitation or agriculture.
What had they achieved so far? Women in Africa have recorded some significant milestones in their involvement in the climate change. In 2008 and 2009 they pushed for the recognition of the heightened vulnerability of women and children to impacts of climate change in the 12th session of African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN). In 2009 and 2010, in collaboration with UNEP, African women ministers supported the integration of gender issues in the development of sub-regional frameworks in East, Central and North Africa. Thus far, Africa Women Ministers continue to be the strongest voice in international conferences on climate change.
So, what do they really want? From the consultative dialogue meeting on women and climate change, Africa women prepared a communiqué to be declared during the COP17, which made reference to existing commitments such as the Convention on Elimination of Discrimination of Against Women (CEDAW), and the African Union’s Gender Policy. The document reflected the African women’s wishes; empowerment through greater involvement in the planning, decision-making and implementation stages of measures to address climate change. Only through this empowerment of women will the unequal impacts of climate change on women be redressed.