Climate change is increasingly placing a burden on women, from sexual violence to extra farm work and great risks of the corona virus pandemic. They shoulder a huge chunk of burden from worsening extreme weather conditions and other climate pressures, resulting in poverty.
Women are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change than men, primarily as they constitute the majority of the world’s poor and are more dependent for their livelihood on natural resources that are threatened by climate change. Furthermore, they face social, economic and political barriers that limit their coping capacity.
“Kunzima bakithi. Asazi ukuthi senzenjani lokuthi siphumule lapha ngoba hayi, kunzima. Lapha eSilobela abantu besifazi siyazama sibili ukuthi sithole okokudla kodwa kunzima. Nomasingasebenza njan akukho lula. Siyazama ukhulima kodwa izulu kalikho (We are facing a crisis here. Though we try to do farming, there is nothing that comes out of it. We have tried our best but still we struggle to make ends meet),” said Makhumalo as she is affectionately known at Silobela township.
Climate change has pushed the Silobela community to the edges of hunger. Women bear much of the burden as they try to take care of their families. The covid-19 induced lockdown added to the already existing burden and the situation got even tougher. Some like Ann Sambo have decided to venture in the mining sector to try and fend for her two children.
“The situation in Silobela is difficult to absorb. As women we tried doing gardens but unfortunately the rains were not sufficient this time around and the rivers dried quickly. I have decided to engage in mining in order to acquire some money since I am a single mother. However, this work is a bit difficult considering the environment that we work in. We are exposed to chemicals such as cyanide and mercury which can harm us. But with the current economic situation in the country we just have to do it to survive,” said Sambo.
Climate Reality Leader who is also the Director of Climate Justice Zimbabe (CJZ), Perseverance Javangwe said that there is need to include rural women in disaster management who are affected the most by effects of the climate crisis.
“There is need to accelerate the region’s preparedness for natural disasters. This is because we never know when the next disaster will strike. Being female often automatically means that personal susceptibility to sexual and domestic violence, rape and assault in emergency situations is significantly heightened. Women experience additional difficulties because they are typically responsible for sourcing water and preparing food; caring for children, the injured, sick and elderly and maintaining family and community cohesion.
“Women in rural areas of Zimbabwe are especially vulnerable when they are highly dependent on local natural resources for their livelihood. Those charged with the responsibility to secure water, food and fuel for cooking and heating face the greatest challenges.
“When coupled with unequal access to resources and to decision-making processes, limited mobility places women in rural areas in a position where they are disproportionately affected by climate change. It is thus important to identify gender-sensitive strategies to respond to the environmental and humanitarian crises caused by climate change,” he said.
Women have limited access to and control of environmental goods and services, they have negligible participation in decision-making, and they are not involved in the distribution of environment management benefits. Consequently, women are less able to confront climate change. This is despite the fact that Sustainable Development Goal number 13 mandates us to take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.
Javangwe added that women’s rights should be respected in order to achieve adaptation with regards to climate change, without discrimination to accessing resources.
“Women are not only vulnerable to climate change but they are also effective actors or agents of change in relation to both mitigation and adaptation. Women often have a strong body of knowledge and expertise that can be used in climate change mitigation, disaster reduction and adaptation strategies. Furthermore, women’s responsibilities in households and communities, as stewards of natural and household resources, positions them well to contribute to livelihood strategies adapted to changing environmental realities.
“Furthermore, women are often excluded from decision-making on access to and the use of land and resources critical to their livelihoods. It is important that the rights of rural women are ensured in regards to food security, non-discriminatory access to resources, and equitable participation in decision-making processes,” said Javangwe.
Climate change is one of the greatest global challenges of the twenty-first century. Its impacts vary among regions, generations, age, classes, income groups, and gender. According to the Panel for Climate Change (IPCC), it is evident that people who are already most vulnerable and marginalised will also experience the greatest impacts.
As the world struggles to grapple with rapid onset disasters as well as respond to slower degradation caused by climate change, it is critical to ensure that the plight of women is firmly on the agenda of concerns, and that women from different backgrounds are able to lead in negotiations and participate in the design and implementation of programs