By Mercy Wanjiku Kamonjo
Today, we are facing some of the greatest challenges in human history. The global population is growing, industrial pollution is increasing, and natural resource degradation is accelerating. Amidst all this, climate change remains one of the greatest problems of our time. Its impacts vary among age, gender, class, income groups, generations and regions. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change , people who are already most vulnerable and marginalized, often girls and women, experience the greatest impacts of climate change.
Low income communities living in rural areas and in the arid and semiarid regions primarily in developing countries, which are dry climate sub-type regions, are disproportionately affected. Consequently, they are in the greatest need of adaptation strategies when it comes to keeping the impacts of climate variability and change at bay.
The impact of climate change on gender is far from equal. Girls and women are more vulnerable than men because they represent the majority of the world's poor and are proportionally more dependent on threatened natural resources, such water and land. On a global scale, women have less access than men to resources such as land, credit, agricultural inputs, decision-making structures, technology, training and extension services that would enhance their capacity to adapt to climate change.
Reasons For Greater Vulnerability In Kenyan Women and Girls' Education
Women in Kenya represent a high percentage of poor communities that are highly dependent on local natural resources for their livelihood, particularly in rural areas where they are responsibile for household water supply, food security and energy for cooking and heating.
Women contribute up to 50% of the agricultural workforce, according to the World Bank. They are mainly responsible for the more time-consuming and labor-intensive tasks that are carried out manually or with the use of simple tools.Women are mainly engaged in subsistence farming, particularly horticulture, poultry and raising small livestock for home consumption.
Women have limited access to and control of environmental goods and services. They have negligible participation in decision-making, and are not involved in the distribution of environmental management benefits. Consequently, women are less able to confront climate change.
During extreme weather such as droughts and floods, women and girls tend to work more to secure household livelihoods. In many societies, socio-cultural norms and childcare responsibilities prevent women from migrating, seeking refuge in other places or working when a disaster hits. Daughters are also included in helping with the nurturing of their siblings more than sons. Girls and women are disproportionately tasked with traveling longer to get drinking water and wood for fuel. This will leave less time for women and girls to access training and girl's education, develop skills or earn income.
Women, in many developing countries suffer gender inequalities with respect to human rights, political and economic status, education, health, land ownership, housing conditions, exposure to violence. Climate change will be an added stressor that will aggravate women and girls vulnerability.
Way Forward: Improving Women's and Girls' Adaptation to Climate Change
Despite their vulnerability and being most affected by climate change, women and girls are active and effective agents and promoters of adaptation and mitigation.
Throughout generations, women have historically developed knowledge and skills related to water harvesting and storage, food preservation and rationing, and natural resource management. In Africa, for example, older women represent wisdom pools with their inherited knowledge and expertise related to early warnings and mitigating the impacts of disasters. This knowledge and experience when passed from one generation to another will effectively contribute to enhancing local adaptive capacity and sustaining a community's livelihood. For this to be achieved, and in order to improve the adaptive capacity of women worldwide particularly in developing countries, the following recommendations need to be considered:
Climate adaptation initiatives should identify and address gender-specific impacts of climate change particularly in areas related to energy, water, health, agriculture, food security, conflict and disaster management. Gender issues associated with climate change adaptation should be considered, such as resource access inequalities, including but not limited to credit, extension and training services, information and technology.
Development planning and funding decisions need to be made with women’s priorities in mind. Women should be included at the decision making tables at national and local levels regarding allocation of resources for climate change initiatives.
Funding organizations and donors should also take into account women-specific circumstances when developing and introducing technologies related to climate change adaptation and try their best to remove the economic, social and cultural barriers that could potentially constraint women from benefiting and making use of them. Women must be included in the development of new technologies, this would ensure that they are adaptive, appropriate and sustainable. Mainstreaming gender perspective into national policies and strategies, as well as related sustainable development and climate change plans and interventions.
What You Can do to Impact Climate Change
While it may feel like most of us do not impact major climate decisions every day, we all play a vital role in climate advocacy. We can impact decisions by calling on our local and national governments to make climate action a priority. I urge you to hold your government representatives accountable for taking concrete climate steps that include gender provisions to combat the global climate crisis.
We can also amplify in our communities and social media the idea that girls’ education is profoundly connected to our ability to address climate change - and can literally save lives. And I encourage you to learn more about the Future Rising Program that I am part of as a Future Rising Fellow.
About the author
Mercy Wanjiku Kamonjo is a Kenyan environmentalist and food security activist. She is also the founder of the Kuza Generation Initiative, a youth-led nonprofit organization that empowers rural communities struggling with impacts of climate change. Mercy is a final year student at Kenyatta University, pursuing a bachelors in environmental studies.