Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa
Conseil pour le développement de la recherche en sciences sociales en Afrique
Conselho para o Desenvolvimento da Pesquisa em Ciências Sociais em África
مجلس تنمية البحوث الإجتماعية في أفريقيا

Gender and Climate Change in Africa

26th - 28th November, 2012, Cairo, Egypt

Number of visits: 4564

Climate change has become an issue of great concern in recent times, both locally and globally, and addressing it requires a collective response. However, attempts at mitigating this scourge to safeguard the future of humanity have not yielded much result. Serious difficulties are encountered in the process of developing and implementing consensus-based intervention policies and strategies towards reducing the negative impact of climate change (Rio Framework Convention, Kyoto Protocol, Copenhagen Conference, Durban Conference). These difficulties have resulted from the failure to question the current development model, which generates not only inequality and vulnerability, but also risks related to climate change, given its impact on ecosystems, its social consequences and the ethical problems it poses, as highlighted by UNESCO. In addition, negotiations that led to the different protocols have only reflected primarily the perspectives, priorities and interests of the North.

A reflection on Gender and Climate Change in Africa derives its legitimacy from two undeniable facts:

1. Climate change not only causes danger, vulnerability and risk to life and property, it also contributes in particular to increasing the gap between the rich and the poor. Although it affects all countries, the poorest are paradoxically the most affected, despite the fact that they contribute the least to greenhouse gas emissions. For instance, while Africa contributes only 4% to greenhouse gas emissions, the continent is one of the most vulnerable to climate change, with a negative impact on its agriculture (95% of its agriculture is rain-fed agriculture), food security, economy and the health of its populations. The population living at 100 kilometres from the coast is exposed to the risk of coastal flooding associated with sea level rise. The cost of climate change is evaluated at 5 to 10% of the continent’s GDP.

2. Climate change causes different impacts on men and women, with the latter being more adversely affected. It has an impact on the relationship that people have with their environment, their endogenous knowledge in relation to their environment, their social and economic positions and the power relationships between men and women in society. Today, the most vulnerable and marginalized individuals are the most affected by the impacts of climate change. Due to the feminization of poverty and the dominance of patriarchal values in Africa, women have the least capacity and opportunities to cope with the impacts of climate change or to participate in negotiations on issues relating to their mitigation. The questions now are: a) How do we decrypt the phenomenon in households and the socio-economic sphere, in terms of education and employment, housing and health, food security and quality of life?: b) How can we make climate change sensitive to gender inequalities, towards reducing magnitude of the problems of women suffering from its adverse effects?; and, c) How does the impact of climate change undermine the achievement of the MDGs?

In terms of forestry and agricultural economy, women play a central role, particularly with regard to the management of biodiversity and food security. In fact, African women are involved in over 70% of agricultural activities. However, these activities are largely dependent on rainfall and other climatic factors; and women, who generally have very limited financial resources, usually have access to only less fertile and smaller lands. In other words, climate change has greatly made it difficult for them to perform their productive role. Furthermore, climatic disasters, such as floods and landslides, in addition to separating families, actually contribute to exposing women to human trafficking, thereby making them even more vulnerable. Hence, to consider the gender dimension in climate change, one should not be limited to the strictly environmental aspect, but also address the socio-economic dimension.

To question climate change and understand its complexity, it is also necessary to design and promote adaptation strategies among African populations facing multiple constraints and having low adaptive capacity. It is a fact that the major impacts of climate change are experienced by the most vulnerable and most marginalized populations. These are therefore the ones that need strategies for adaptation to climate change most. Yet, such adaptation strategies must take into account the gender dimension, which reflects power relations between men and women in society. The patriarchal nature of African societies and the status that is conferred upon men have enabled them to have access to critical information on strategies for climate change adaptation and mitigation. The relegation of women to the domestic sphere and their low level of empowerment explain their relative lack of information and opportunities to enhance their knowledge in climate change adaptation strategies. The application of a gender approach to deliberations and decision-making processes, to make the responses for climate change adaptation and mitigation effective, is also important. Such considerations also raise the question of how international bodies, very active in all issues relating to climate change, ensure a fair gender representation in order to adequately take care of the needs and concerns of both men and women.

In addition, in the field of natural resource governance, the role of the state in Africa has greatly diminished. What should be the role of the state towards ensuring equal access of men and women to water, food and energy resources that are increasingly becoming rare? Women are not represented in the decision-making processes on climate change, and the debates on climate change have failed to address the marginalization of women and their integration into environmental policies. Instead, such debates are perpetuating the underestimation and misunderstanding of the contributions of women to environmental management. How then can we ensure that the interests of women are effectively defended at various levels of governance, the national and international institutions such as the IMF or the World Bank? How can we make the new economic trade units, such as the one on carbon dioxide emission, integrate the gender dimension, to incorporate the all-important role of women? These and other similar questions would definitely help in adequately addressing a number of issues that can be summarized under the following sub-themes:

- 1. Climate Change, Social Inequality and Gender ;
- 2. Interventions by Women and for Women on Climate Change;
- 3. Gender, Strategies for Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation;
- 4. Climate Change, Health and Gender;
- 5. Gender, Agriculture and Climate Change;
- 6. Gender, Climate Change and Water Use;
- 7. Impacts of Climate Change on Wage Labour and Non-wage Labour;
- 8. Women in the Face of Disasters Caused by Climate Change;
- 9. Gender and Conflicts over Natural Resources;
- 10. Gender, Climate Change and the Role of African Regional Organizations;
- 11. Gender, Climate Change and the Role of the State.

September 21 2012