Women suffer from false climate change solutions
06 March 2011, NewsDay
Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai once said: "In a few decades, the relationship between the environment, resources and conflict may seem almost as obvious as the connection we see today between human rights, democracy and peace."
Today, Africa, like the world, stands at an important crossroads. In one direction, the road leads us along a path of development that produces wealth today, but leaves nothing but deforestation and degradation for our children. In the other direction, instead we have an opportunity to harvest and nurture the environments that feed and clothe the people of Africa not only today, but those that will also do so in the future.
During the International Year of Biodiversity last year, the world was given a stark warning. Global Biodiversity Outlook 3, the flagship report of the Convention on Biological Diversity, drawing on the expertise of scientists from around the world, and mobilising the best information from national reports, warned that our way of doing business would lead to tipping points beyond which the rich ecosystems that sustain us would collapse, leaving us all poorer.
The time for choice is now, said executive secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity Ahmed Djoghlaf on the occasion of Africa Environment Day last week. The actions that we take in the next decade will determine the fate of biodiversity for hundreds, if not, thousands, of years to come. And when the weather turns bad, it's the women that suffer most. That, in essence, is the message of a new campaign on the occasion of International Women's Day tomorrow. As women from diverse parts of the world, living in diverse conditions and circumstances, they affirm that it is of utmost importance to safeguard the rights of women, including those enshrined in the UN Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw).
Climate change, one of most serious problems facing the world today, has disastrous consequences for everyone, and especially for women. What is most tragic is that women also suffer especially from the false solutions for climate change that are being negotiated internationally.
It has been witnessed that Zimbabwe is experiencing more hot days and fewer cold days, and the amount of precipitation it receives is deviating from the mean more frequently. In Zimbabwe, women constitute 52% of the population. Women produce most of the food in developing countries. As agricultural workers and family providers, they are responsible for up to 80% of household food production in sub-Saharan Africa and 65% in Asia. Because women tend to be poorer, and more immediately dependent on the natural environment for their livelihoods, they are more vulnerable to economic shocks and natural disasters.
Climate-related changes exacerbate existing inequalities. It's a timely reminder that we can't separate environmental concerns from the bigger economic and social picture. What is needed therefore is the implementation of projects that are women's rights-based, strengthen gender justice, and are people-centred. Zimbabwe should have a people-oriented programme aimed at ensuring compliance with Cedaw and other human rights instruments, including United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to halt deforestation and forest degradation, which is key to secure women’s livelihoods.
After the "feeble" response of the sixteenth Conference of the Parties last year, it is even more important for Zimbabwe to take a lead. A strong Zimbabwean climate law is not just about us playing our part, it is also about raising the bar for other countries.
A Research and Intellectual Expo at the University of Zimbabwe showed some interesting displays. One such display was at the university's Soil Science and Agriculture Engineering department where a lecturer, Emmanuel Manzungu, is developing a computer-based game that helps farmers and their advisors to make strategic decisions about responding to drought and climate change.
According to Brian Thomas, the game was demonstrated by a graduate agricultural engineer, Tinashe Nyabako, who is providing the technical expertise in the development of the game. The display at the research expo was the first for the game. For example, a farmer who grows a short-season crop variety that is drought-tolerant in a normal rainfall loses out on crop yield since the available genetic potential is not fully exploited. Conversely, a farmer who plants a long-season variety in a season where there is less than normal rainfall will incur low to zero yields.
This is made possible by the game's ability to run different scenarios through the use of rainfall and socio-economic data such as family size. Inspiration, according to Manzungu, came from the threat to food and economic security posed by drought and climate change that Zimbabwe and southern Africa faces. He added that the game makes use of widely available technologies and that gaming is part of people's everyday life. This is against a background of a new food assessment report that says close to 2 million Zimbabweans will still need food aid in the coming months despite “better economic conditions”.
This year, the United Nations Decade for Biodiversity begins. The decade is Africa's opportunity to integrate policies and practices into all aspects of our lives that can guarantee the conservation and sustainable use of the biodiversity of Africa, all the while ensuring the benefits from the use of genetic resources are shared with equity. Africa has a clear role in this, as a leader. In the context of African environment ministers' commitment, the peoples of this continent have the opportunity to create, update and implement national biodiversity strategies and action plans that mainstream the important role of biodiversity into all aspects of planning. Through these, Africa will embrace this new model that integrates economic and environmental planning.
2011 is the International Year of Forests. As repositories of 80% of the terrestrial biodiversity of the world, these are among the most important sources of ecosystem services.
Africa is home to over one-sixth of the global forests, including some of the most significant large tropical rain forests of the world. Further actions taken will ensure that these living areas will continue to provide the basis for African livelihoods into the future.
Wisdom Mdzungairi, Harare