Women, girls key to climate change action

Woman tree planting

A woman shows tree seedlings ready for planting. Women and girls are immensely vulnerable to the fallout from climate change.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Today is the International Women’s Day, whose celebration this year focus on how to empower women and girls to tackle climate change. The ensuing discussions will extend to the 66th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW66), scheduled for March 14-25.

Women and girls are immensely vulnerable to the falling-out from climate change. From Baringo, in Kenya, where Lake Baringo has swollen and displaced households, to devastating floods in Bihar, India, the effects on women and girls are similar.

Most familiar are the images of women and girls rescuing goats, even when radical cultural order in their communities prohibits them from selling livestock to rebuild their lives. Worse, in some areas, it is abominable for a woman to slaughter a goat to feed her family as livestock belong to the man.

Yet, in the face of these unequal power relations within family setups, women’s voices in climate talks are also, to a large extent, muted. In last year’s talks in Glasgow, Scotland, men constituted 51 per cent of party delegations, according to United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) report. Men also accounted for 63 per cent of the total speaking time in plenaries.

More inclusion of women

Ironically, then, UN Women and the Scottish government launched a call to action seeking more inclusion of women in tackling the climate crisis.

More efforts are needed to have women’s voices heard in crucial global talks that result in legally binding resolutions like the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Women are the main target of climate adaptation and mitigation interventions—the outcomes of such talks, like transition from high carbon charcoal and firewood to low carbon liquefied petroleum or briquettes, embracing solar power, planting trees and adopting drought-resistant crops.

No public data

Sadly, Kenya has no public data on government efforts at women to build their resilience against climatic shocks. The government admits it in its submission to the UNFCC in 2018, even recommending that the KNBS provide synchronised data.

Efforts to mainstream gender and climate change issues in the government are hampered by lack of funding. The Agriculture ministry, for instance, has a gender unit but a 2020 UNDP report shows it did not have a budget. The same at the Energy ministry.

It is worse at the Water ministry. UNDP reports that, even with the relevant committees, there is a low understanding of gender mainstreaming and climate change, attributing it to inadequate funds.

Kenya targets a 32 per cent greenhouse gas emission reduction by 2030. But the agriculture sector, where women constitute 75 per cent of the labour force, emits 62.8 per cent of that. In energy, where they are the primary providers of household fuel, emits 31.2 per cent of the planet-warming gases.

As we mark the day with a reminder to #Breakthebias, it is time society, the government and development partners acted on barriers to women’s adaptation to and mitigation of climate change.

Ms Obiria is a gender writer at Nation Media Group. [email protected].