'Climate change is the defining issue of our time and the fundamental challenge of the 21st century. Moreover, it is not just an environmental challenge or scientific thesis; it is first and foremost a human issue. It is already adversely impacting individuals around the planet, due to alterations in ecosystems, and increased incidence of natural disasters. These impacts have been observed to be intensifying in frequency and magnitude.' (Edward Cameron)
A United Nations Development Program Report of 2008 states that 83% of people who die due to impacts brought about by climate change disasters are women. Women and men are affected in different ways because of the different socio-cultural structure of their roles. They each have differing responsibilities at the household level, at community level and also in the employment sector as well. This proves that their attitudes and approaches towards environmental protection are not similar due to the different ways that they interact with the environment. This is reason enough to make environmental policies that have a gender perspective in order to cater equally for women and men.
The 2009 State of Uganda Population Report focusing on 'addressing the effects of climate change on migration patterns and women' recognized that women in developing countries like Uganda produce 60% to 80% of food, and are also responsible for collecting firewood and water. This links women primarily to natural resources and if these resources like water are affected due to climate change then women are most likely to suffer. The Report states that 70% of the world's poor are women with most of them becoming the victims of climate change impacts.
In a documentary showcasing the 'faces of climate change-the gender perspective' launched by the Ministry of Water and Environment/Climate Change Unit various women who were interviewed from Bududa, Nebbi, Katakwi, and Tororo faced challenges of walking long distances to look for water due to droughts and also searching for firewood to prepare family meals. Women are essential for developing sustainable adaptation options due to their knowledge, multiple and simultaneous responsibilities and their role in productive areas such as agriculture. It is no wonder that in Uganda 55.5% females are economically active in agriculture out of the total economically active population according to the Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industry and Fisheries. Therefore women play a key role in adaptation efforts, environmental sustainability and food security. They should be provided with information on climate change, its effect on crops and how to adapt to climate change impacts.
Gender mainstreaming ensures that women's views and opinions are valued during the decision making process so that equal opportunity is accorded to both women and men when setting up strategies to deal with issues like climate change. It involves affirmative action measures being put in place for instances where women are at a disadvantage compared to men, alternatives and gender specific interventions are used to address these disadvantages to avoid discrimination tendencies.
A gender perspective that considers men and women equally should be integrated into all disaster risk management policies, risk assessment, early warning and other plans.
Principle 20 of The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development 1992 of which Uganda is a signatory provides that women have a vital role to play in environmental management and development, unless women are included in environmental decision making processes and environment protection policy making and participation, then sustainable development will not be achieved.
Climate change should not be limited to only reduction of Green House Gas emissions or seeking for greener technologies, it is about human lives and how they are being affected by these impacts, people's rights and how people survive or live with climate change impacts. With our climate change policy in the formulation process it is hopeful that the gender perspective will be integrated in this policy and thereby implemented.
Amumpiire Anna is a researcher with Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment