The UN led climate talks recently held in Madrid, Spain known as COP25, came at a very critical time as many people who are facing extreme weather conditions that puts both life, livelihood and futures at risk. Currently the East Africa region is experiencing unusual heavy rainfall with many areas predicted to experience flooding. We are deep in a climate crisis and science shows unless we limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, our futures remain uncertain. Many parts of the world are battling torrential floods, cyclones, storms, wildfires, heatwaves and other climate-related extreme events.

The latest United Nations emissions gap report shows that global emissions continue to rise and will need to be cut at a rate of 7.6 percent each year for the next decade to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, in line with the Paris Agreement.  But climate change is not some natural phenomenon affecting us all equally. Local communities and Indigenous Peoples, the poorest among us and many living in informal settlements in our cities are dealing with this climate emergency daily. Also climate change impact is not gender neutral.

Women and men experience climate change differently due to socio-cultural structures that have been built over time in largely patriarchal societies. Men’s access to and exercise of power means they have considerable control of resources over women. Due to the roles that still exist, where women are still very much looked as caretakers and food gatherers, this role comes with frequent interaction with the environment. Women in most of Africa are still responsible for fetching water, firewood and they still cultivate more than half of the food consumed, even as they have no much rights over the land on which the food is grown.

With this skewed power relations women’s vulnerability has worsened in face of climate change.

The inequality that exists and manifests affects the way communities and individuals are adapting to climate change. Society has built systems that make the difference noticeable and worse still created a big gap in access to spaces of decision making in regards to climate action.

We must global emissions cut at a rate of 7.6 percent each year for the next decade to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Photo via Pexel

Women’s access to  food to feed their families, safe water, energy sources become worse in scarcity times and this means setting aside more time for household work while compromising school for millions of young girls and time for economic activity for women. This is how climate change both pushes inequality and also expands the gender gaps we are already facing. 

In cases of drought, women and girls move longer distances to access safe water,  and even then women spend more time queuing for water. This has exposed many to increased risk of violence, in particular sexual violence on these journeys. During flooding, the level of exposure to water contaminants may be intensified and lead to health problems. Again women, spend most of the time carrying out care work for families when illness strikes. And in case of heavier floods, most of the times the burden of moving children to safe places is left for the women and many do not survive because survival skills like swimming are largely refused to girls.

Current moves to increase energy efficiency and to stem that impact of deforestation often do not see women beyond them being users of energy in the households. Women make decisions on how households use energy and any new initiatives must tap into their skills and knowledge. It is easy to find energy initiatives suddenly becoming a new trend that is male dominated ventures while women who have centuries of adaptation measures are left as simple end users.

Women already suffer disproportionately from unequal access to resources, with climate change impacts this will exacerbate the patriarchal violence, unless key measures are employed.

These systems have continued to make it difficult for women to even get access to spaces where decisions on climate financing, adaptation and mitigation are made.  We have to break the cultural and social norms which have been carried on from one generation to another, from local governments to UN climate talks. 

We need to tap into women’s indigenous knowledge of the environment, even as bring new approaches their experience should be at the center of the climate action. UNFCCC is trying to integrate gender across all thematic areas and a Gender Action Plan (GAP) was adopted. The Lima Work Program on Gender (LWPG)  to take into the gender related needs and the implementation of gender-related decisions in the UNFCCC process is in place. 

Both frameworks have been so essential in advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment. However there is no formal framework with timelines and indicators to guide the monitoring and keep track of progress of the activities in the Gender Action Plan. Even at the on-going climate negotiations, women still account for less than 50% of party delegations according to the latest composition report

Seven countries still had a delegation that consists of all-male at COP25 and we still have all-male panels that limits exposure of women’s expertise and concerns.

There’s still no framework designed to hold these parties accountable. The UNFCCC secretariat LISTS capacity building as one of the five priority areas of the GAP through webinars and workshops which are leaving out the grass-roots women’s movements and local indigenous groups that can not access the internet and computers or official languages. 

We hope that these groups are supported with the resources to fully engage in national climate policies, disaster reduction policies, in planning and all decisions that are concerning building resilience in communities. And for the on-going national consultations on the review and implementation of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, their opinions will be essential in informing sustainable actions. 

If we recognize the important contributions that women can play in society as decision makers, experts and people who experience nature in their day to day roles, it can lead to a long term solution to climate change. Saving the planet means defying patriarchy and making women, in all their diverse existence, free from oppression. We are in the state of emergence and the future generation is banking on the decisions that we are making today. 

It’s Time For Action. 

Joanita Babirye is a physical planner and Eco-feminist. She is a Co-founder of GirlsForClimate-Uganda. Find her on Twitter @JoanitaBabirye 

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