12 November 2016

Africa: Poor Women's Voices Still Missing From UN Climate Talks

Photo: Andrew Maki/Flickr
File photo.

Rural women are hugely knowledgeable about climate change - but that expertise isn't making it into the negotiations

"You will never find a man in the bush," quipped Agnes Leina Ntikaampi, founder and head of Il'laramatak Community Concerns, a local group working with herder communities in northern Kenya. In her region, it is pastoralist women who are affected most by climate pressures, she explained.

When drought hits the rangelands, it is women who head out in search of "anything green" to feed the calves. It is they who nurture people and animals - and who are the "knowledge-holders", she said.

And yet the voices of rural women are "completely missing" at the U.N. climate change talks, she told a discussion on getting community voices heard in decision-making.

"We have to include women in adaptation" and equip them with the knowledge they need to adjust to climate extremes, she said on the sidelines of the latest round of talks in Marrakesh. "Knowledge is power."

Local women should also see some of the benefits of large-scale clean energy initiatives being rolled out in the region, such as the Lake Turkana wind power project. That has not happened so far, she said.

In northern Kenya, some efforts are underway to involve local people - including women - in deciding on projects to help communities cope better with climate impacts, through initiatives such as the County Climate Change Fund.

But in many places, it's still a struggle to amplify the experiences of farmers and pastoralists on the ground so they are heard at the national and international level, participants at the "Development and Climate Days" event heard.

CHANGING LOCAL LAWS

Constance Okollet, chairperson of the Osukuru United Women's Network in eastern Uganda, has had considerable success in mobilising her community of small-scale farmers to adapt to the droughts, heavy winds and other climate extremes that are making life complicated these days.

"There are so many bad things happening," she said. The changes have made it harder to put food on the table, and that has motivated women to act, she said.

Her network spreads the word about climate change and its impacts, strengthening women's rights in the process.

One of their big wins has been to get legislation passed at district level to stop deforestation - a measure Okollet described as "cut one, plant five" when it comes to trees. But she does not know how to reach out to parliamentarians at national level, she lamented.

Tracy C. Kajumba, a climate change and development advisor for sub-Saharan Africa with Irish Aid, said civil society organisations in Uganda are working hard to make sure women's voices are heard and bring them into national-level discussions.

But even when women are elected as lawmakers, they sometimes fail to represent the interests of their female constituents, Kajumba said. And while good legislation on gender and climate change is necessary - and is already in place in Uganda - that doesn't mean it will be implemented, she added.

When it come to international environmental treaties, there is disparity on support for women, said gender experts.

UN CLIMATE TALKS 'BUBBLE'

The Convention on Biological Diversity provides considerable space and funding for high-level participation by indigenous people and women, said Edna Kaptoyo of the International Alliance of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples of the Tropical Forests..

But that is not yet the case with the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process, many noted.

"We need to have the voices of women in the UNFCCC bubble," said Tara Shine, who advises the Mary Robinson Foundation - Climate Justice.

In the Paris climate change agreement which came into effect on Nov. 4, countries are urged to promote gender equality in climate action - but there is little guidance on how that should be put into practice, Kajumba said.

"At the global level, there is goodwill, but what is happening? All the right things are in place, but there are obstacles," she said.

Barriers include a lack of finance and information, low levels of literacy in poor communities, and weak consultation with both women and men on the ground, she added.

Men are also grappling with the negative consequences of climate change. "They don't know what to do... and that can lead to problems like them becoming violent," she said.

To solve the climate change problem, "we need to bring the men on board," she said, arguing the focus should not be limited to women. "How do we work together? Men are part of the solution."

Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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