Women climate activists dismiss Nairobi Declaration as 'false solutions'

A nun takes part in a climate march during the Africa Climate Summit in Nairobi on September 4, 2023, to raise awareness of the urgent need to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

Photo credit: Evans Habil I Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The activists said the declaration left out the 'core agents who drive adaptation and mitigation solutions'.
  • Gender mainstreaming in climate actions is a principle entrenched in the Conference of the Parties (COP28) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Last week’s inaugural Africa Climate Summit, which took place ahead of this year’s United Climate Change conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, ended with African leaders making a bold statement.

The event, through The African Leaders Nairobi Declaration on Climate Change and Call to Action, committed to 18 actions and 16 others to world leaders and development partners, aimed at driving green growth.

But women climate activists have poured cold water on the declaration, saying it left out the “core agents who drive adaptation and mitigation solutions”. They dismissed as false interventions the solutions presented, terming them blind to women’s needs.

Mainstreaming women in climate actions is a principle entrenched in the Conference of the Parties (COP28) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Under the Lima work programme on gender, adopted in 2014 during COP20 and reviewed at COP25 and COP27, countries are reminded that implementing gender-responsive strategies promotes not just gender equality but also a just transition of workforce.

“The idea of having an African Climate Summit where Africans meet and deliberate on the issue and come up with a position was a start. But, sadly, it was captured because the agenda was not set by us; rather, we saw a lot of interference by powers from outside the conference,” decried African Women’s Development and Communication Network (Femnet) executive director Memory Kachambwa.

Femnet is part of the global Generation Equality Feminist Action for Climate Justice Action Coalition, which puts pressure on government leaders and the development and humanitarian sector to centre gender responsiveness in climate actions.

Call to action

Before the summit, the activists converged at a Nairobi hotel to identify areas of concern for women and provide solutions. This culminated in an eight-point call to action.

“African women's voices should never be an afterthought,” Dr Melania Chiponda, a climate justice and energy expert from Zimbabwe read out the communiqué.

“We refuse to be tokenised, brought in to adorn panels, or utilised to fulfil inclusivity quotas. African women constitute the majority of the people on this continent; therefore, climate debates, discussions, decisions, and actions must be led by us, for us, and with us, not dictated by corporations or so-called developed imperialist partners and their agencies.”

Aisha Jumwa, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Public Service, Gender and Affirmative Action, promised to ensure women’s voices are included in the summit’s outcome document. “Please, count on my support and the Kenya government’s support and commitment to this journey,” she said.

But the outcome document says otherwise. Ms Kachambwa pointed out the disappointment, saying it “did not meet our expectations”.

“Carbon credits was tabled as a solution; from our perspective, it is a false solution because the polluters will continue polluting while we plant trees. That is not the only solution to solve the climate crisis,” she said.

“As women, we are expected to plant trees on land that we don't have titles to and watering the trees with water that we either have to buy or walk distances to collect. In terms of energy poverty, we agree to stop using charcoal and harmful fossil fuels, but the alternative clean energy is not affordable.

“We acknowledge that the declaration demanded accountability for the $100 billion; however, we need more on what Africa was going to do collectively to get that funding, because it's been years and just talk but there is no flow of finance to Africa and African women and frontline African Climate defenders. The biggest thing is that gender is missing in the declaration.”

Missing links

A similar view was held by Akina Mama wa Afrika executive director Eunice Musiime. “The Nairobi Declaration generally makes attempts to capture African priorities on the whole, except for the false solution on carbon credits and nature-based solutions,” she said.

“Specific commitments on gender are missing.”

Gender advocates and ecofeminists explored how women’s energy needs were being met by just transition interventions fronted during the three-day summit.

In pursuit of a just transition, which refers to achieving climate goals by ensuring society as a whole is brought along in the pivot to a net-zero future, Yamida Ganet, the director for Climate Justice at Open Society Foundations, noted that women have been relegated to mere consumers of knowledge and solutions from the Global North that do not address their needs.

“There are about 1.2 billion African women still using biomass for cooking. How are they supposed to transition to clean cooking equipment, which was presented as a solution but is still unaffordable to these women?” Ms Ganet asked.

“It is actually violence that the supposed solutions do not speak to the realities of African women. This is not a just transition because the solution being presented does not even honour home-grown solutions.”

Professor Attiya Waris, a United Nations independent expert on foreign debt and human rights, also raised the financial feasibility of the e-cooking equipment. “Some women will have to take on loans to buy clean cooking equipment. I think those debts should either be waived or be interest-free. Governments should finance such initiatives through the national and county level to ensure women are able to put food on their tables with as little expenditure as possible,” Prof Waris suggested.

Force for change

At the summit, women delegates launched the African Women and Gender Constituency Chapter to be used as a powerful force for change, and to amplify the voices of African women and gender-focused organisations in climate action. Women in Africa continue to bear the greatest burden of climate-related disasters and displacements.

According to the UN, about 80 per cent of people displaced by the climate crisis in Africa are women.

Ms Jumwa, who presided over the launch recognised the multi-faceted roles that African women play in their communities, noting the invaluable role it plays in the efforts to combat climate change.

“We celebrate the multi-faceted roles that African women play in their communities. We acknowledge that their resilience, knowledge, and leadership is not just invaluable but indispensable in our efforts to combat climate change," she said.

Lorraine Chiponda from Don’t Gas Africa noted that women have been affected and pained by climate disasters, hence the need for urgent action.

“Africa, therefore, does not have the luxury to adopt false solutions such as climate markets and climate-off settings. We need solutions now,” said Ms Chiponda.

Pan-African feminist and journalist Mildred Ngesa said: “African women know where the shoe pinches. Women have suffered the loss and damage from the climate crisis and their perspectives must never be left behind.”