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What women want from Doha

27 November 2012, Outreach

Dr. Lindiwe Majele Sibanda, CEO of Food Agriculture Natural Resources Policy Advocacy Network and spokesperson for global agriculture coalition Farming First

Women are the fountain of life. They are mothers, innovators, educators, farmers and custodians of the environment, particularly rural women.

In Africa, 70% of the population – of which a significant portion are women – live in rural areas and are fully dependent on land and other natural resources for their livelihood. Women in Africa, as in other parts of the world, are masters of many trades and because they are charged with the responsibility of securing water, food and fuel for cooking and heating, they are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

The 2009 International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Gender and Climate Change Manual shows that the proportion of smallholder women farmers affected by climate-related crop changes in Africa ranges from 48% in Burkina Faso, to 73% in the Congo. Annually, women in Southern Africa struggle to cope with variability of maize, sorghum, millet and groundnut yields associated with the El Niño Southern Oscillation. Crop productivity in extreme El Niño years is expected to drop a further 20–50% in southern Africa.

Furthermore, climate change has significant impacts on freshwater sources, affecting the availability of water used for domestic and productive tasks. The consequences of the increased frequency in floods and droughts are far reaching, particularly for rural women who in countries like Mozambique already travel a distance of 30 to 40 km to fetch water for the entire household. Currently only 58% of sub-Saharan Africans live within 30 minutes walking-distance of safe water and only 16% have a household connection. 

Their situation is exacerbated by unequal access to key livelihood resources, services and information. There are insufficient numbers of women at the tables where major decisions about climate change and the environment are made. In UNFCCC negotiations over the past decade, women accounted for only 30% of registered country delegates and 10% of heads of delegations.

As Parties and delegates prepare to engage in climate change discussions at the COP18, Doha, it is important to remember that women are not only vulnerable to climate change but can be the solution as champions of change in climate adaptation and mitigation. Women’s responsibilities in households and communities, as custodians of natural and household resources, positions them well to contribute to creating livelihood strategies which are adapted to changing environmental realities.

Women should rise up and demand to be equal partners in policy and decision-making processes on climate change issues.  African Governments, and the international community, must empower women with the knowledge to help facilitate solutions to climate change. The UNFCCC should review progress in mainstreaming gender in all parts of the Convention. This is important because women in Africa are responsible for the production over 70% of the food and should have a voice. COP18 leaders should recognise the unique role of agriculture in the global climate change response, as agriculture constitutes a crucial sector in Africa accounting for 30-40% of Africa's total GDP, and supports the livelihoods of millions globally. A work programme on agriculture should be established to facilitate increased cooperation and knowledge sharing, to help address current knowledge gaps and help deploy effective solutions.

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