3 August 2012

Africa: Climate Conversations - Helping Women Gain a Voice On Climate Change

What are the gender dimensions of climate change? As a starting point, we know that women and men do not experience climate change equally.

In many developing countries economic constraints and cultural norms that restrict women's access to employment mean that their livelihoods are particularly dependent on climate-sensitive sectors, such as subsistence agriculture or water collection.

Yet gender inequalities in the distribution of assets and opportunities mean that their choices are severely constrained in the face of climate change.

BRIDGE, a research programme that works on gender and development issues, has recently finished a two year Gender and Climate Change Programme, in collaboration with partners based in Paraguay, Nigeria, Kenya, India, Colombia and Germany, and with a global community of practice.

The key result, a Cutting Edge Pack - which includes a report and supporting materials - advocates addressing climate change by focusing more on people-centred, gender-aware approaches, policies and processes.

The pack maps the key gender dimensions of climate change and provides insights into how responses can be transformative for women and communities at local, national and international level.

It also shows that there is much to learn from innovative, gender-aware approaches to climate change that are already happening at the local level, led by non-governmental organisations, communities and individuals. In some cases, these are leading to transformations in gender and social inequalities.

The Community Awareness Centre (CAC) in India and FUNDAEXPRESI'N in Colombia have both been able to raise awareness, empower women and create sustainable, gender aware, locally-owned and relevant solutions to climate change.


CAC in Bheerpani, a small organisation working in the remote central Indian Himalayas, contributed to shifts in gender roles and attitudes through its approach to developing local sustainable livelihoods solutions.

Participatory exercises run by CAC helped local women to realise that protecting the forest to promote climate change mitigation and environmental sustainability was the responsibility of all people in the locality.

Women also realised how little decision-making power they had in public matters and began to question this inequality. For one woman - a farmer and housewife in her late fifties called Parvati Nyal - this was a defining moment.

Participating in workshops run by CAC on leadership, advocacy, empowerment, sustainable development and food security gave her the confidence to stand for - and win - the leadership of the local forest panchayat (local government committee), becoming its first female head.

Her leadership has led to greater participation of women in forest panchayats , a demand for financial transparency and the implementation of rules and regulations which include fines for cutting even small branches from forest trees.


In the rural region of Santander, Colombia, climate change forms part of and exacerbates a set of broader issues affecting its inhabitants. Mono-cropping of coffee and pineapple, deforestation, poor road infrastructure, and water pollution all compound the effects of increasingly unpredictable weather patterns.

Through creating networks, women's associations have formed strong alliances with organisations, including FUNDAEXPRESI'N (a non governmental organisation that supports agro-ecology, food sovereignty and gender equality) and the agro-ecological Peasant School, to share approaches on change adaptation and mitigation and promote alternative forms of living.

These community networks give local people, and especially women, a great sense of belonging, self-determination and dignity to overcome challenges.

For example at the age of 20 and encouraged by her youth organisation, Laura Velasco Bermúdez joined the agro-ecological Peasant School. The school is a community network of organisations that provides a cost-free, flexible way of learning and exchanging information on agricultural practices. Students meet every one or two months at different farms.

Inspired by what she had learned, Veasco Bermúdez became a key member of the Community Network of Forest Reserves, an association dedicated to working sustainably and conserving forests - an important aspect of tackling climate change.

She also motivated her family to begin agro-forestry farming practices on their 122-acre property, which has extensive Andean forest cover, and encouraged her community to think about mitigating the impacts of climate change and creating greater food autonomy.

These examples show that, by empowering women, practical and sustainable climate change solutions can be found while contributing to the transformation of gender inequalities.

Georgina Aboud (@Georgie_Aboud ) is a gender convenor for BRIDGE based in the knowledge services team at the London-based Institute of Development Studies. She has worked on a range of issues, including gender and climate change, migration and governance.

 - Read more at AlertNet Climate, the Thomson Reuters Foundation's daily news website on the human impacts of climate change.

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