By Joyce Mukucha
The impacts of climate disasters have continued to make headlines around the world and this has seen cases of gender-based violence, including sexual harassment, domestic violence and sexual exploitation increasing amongst rural based girls and women.
Research and statistics indicate that floods, wildfires, and droughts are decimating communities across the globe. Already, rural girls are disproportionally killed or displaced by natural disasters, and climate change is expected to intensify weather patterns. Natural disasters lower women’s life expectancy more than men’s, and in some disasters women and girls have made up more than 90 percent of those killed.
The impacts of climate change, including on access to productive and natural resources, amplify existing gender inequalities in rural areas. Climate change affects women’s assets and well-being differently in terms of agricultural production, food security, health, water and energy resources, climate-induced migration and conflict, and climate-related natural disasters.
For agriculture, according to statistics, it is estimated that on average, women comprise 43 percent of the agricultural labor force in developing countries and 50-60 percent in parts of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa thus women are impacted by any strains on agricultural production.
Speaking during the 2019 International Women’s Day, the United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres reiterated that rural women represent the backbone of many communities, but they continue to face obstacles that prevent them from realizing their potential. The devastating impacts of climate change add to their hardship.
As a way of conquering these challenges and to prove that women and girls are not simply victims of climate change, community leaders have taken a leading role of imparting knowledge to girls and young women pertaining their community and environment.
This is being done through formation of clubs aimed at ensuring that girls have the ability to participate in decision making, access resources and opportunities that they need, or learn practical skills which then enable them to contribute adequately to climate change adaptation.
Spiked Online Media contacted the Hurungwe Women’s Kubatana Club leader Mrs Kudzai Manombo to have an insight on how women are responding to climate change. Kubatana is a cooperative which is taking an active role in responding to women’s rights upholding in rural communities through implementation of various initiatives centered on addressing effects of poverty, saving lives, building a resilient community against climate shock and imparting skills and techniques vital to improve livelihoods.
She said educating girls has many impacts that collectively improve climate resilience. Community leaders, she added, were vital in considering the gendered impacts of climate change, and inequalities that increase due to weather changes.
“First and foremost, I cannot deny that climate change is adversely affecting our young women and girls here in Hurungwe. It’s not easy being a rural girl. As the least empowered members of their communities, they are also the most affected by changes in the natural world. Therefore, as a club, our aim is to ensure that young girls as the victims are empowered through education to reduce climate change. Being on the front lines of climate change, girls have the experience and the opportunity to best identify solutions.
“Our aim is to ensure that women are imparted with knowledge which assist them to make significant contributions to agricultural production, food security and nutrition, land and natural resource management, and building climate resilience,” she said.
Manombo highlighted that must be empowered with education and a voice in their communities. Only by supporting the human rights of rural girls will the global community benefit from their talents and ambitions.
Stella Mukwetsi one of the girls residing in the rural area of Hurungwe said community leaders recognized young girls as vital agents of change so that their needs and contributions will be a part of the solution. Extending education to girls is one of the most impactful climate change solutions because it increases humanity’s capacity for innovation.
She added that before the formation of the club, women experienced barriers social, political, and economic that restrict their ability to take an active seat at the table in climate change negotiations and policy planning, further limiting their opportunities when it comes to mitigating, adapting, and coping with the effects of climate change.
“In our village, people have recognized the burdens environmental challenges impose on women and a club was formed for us to play a key role when it comes to climate change mitigation and adaptation. As young girls who reside in urban-distant communities, we are affected more by climate change. Rural economies are based around natural resources, yet we are often the backbone of farming families; we are largely the ones spending hours carrying water, seeking firewood, and caring for family members. We are affected more by climate change as we spend more hours travelling long distances to fetch water. We are also the first to be removed from school if firewood must be collected, walking farther distances and carrying extremely heavy loads when deforestation occurs. The step taken is vital as rural communities are beginning to realise the importance of including rural girls and young women when it comes to climate change mitigation,” another girl said.
During periods of drought and erratic rainfall, girls and women are the ones expected to work hard to ensure that there is food security, water, and cooking fuel for families; exerting added pressure on them and they may be forced to drop out of school to help their mothers manage the heavier burden.
Globally, girls and women spend up to 200 million hours per day collecting water. These tasks undermine productivity and fuel a cycle of poverty that limits the economic and social capital that could be generated to combat climate change.
According to the 2013 study by the Institute of Environmental Studies in conjunction with UNICEF on the vulnerabilities of children to the impacts of climate change and variability, it was found out that children living in Agro-ecological Regions IV and V were seriously affected with direct impacts of droughts causing hunger, malnutrition and poverty.
Other member of the club, Fiona Mtembwe appreciated the pivotal role that is being played by the club in supporting young women and girls to improve their livelihoods. She said the club engages women and girls in its community-based, people driven and people-led social development activities, which are mostly responding to strengthening families and communities.
“During long-term weather events, such as drought, girls often bear the impact of negative coping strategies. Early marriage rates increase during times of environmental crisis, and girls are often the first to be withdrawn from school when family resources dwindle. These decisions will permanently reduce our decision-making power and can have disastrous impacts on our but with this club, we are learning a lot on how we are supposed to capacitate ourselves despite climate change impacts,” she said.
In India, Mozambique, Congo, Zambia, Malawi, Belize and South Africa women are working with Humana People to People members through village based clubs were they learn about sexual reproductive health, climate smart agriculture, internal savings and lending schemes, entrepreneurship skills and how to avoid sexual relationships with older men.
The initiatives are supporting women and girls in improving the livelihoods of rural women and providing them with the knowledge and tools, which enable them to make firm decisions and become equal participants in formulation of household decisions and development agenda of their communities.
Education is thus, integrated in all the initiatives as it plays a key role in improving literacy as the reading and numeracy skills support effective adoption of government services and general increase on gender equality awareness.
Key researchers suggest that there is a strong positive association between the average amount of education girls receive and their country’s resilience to natural disasters. Quality education allows girls to exit poverty, delay marriage, increase agricultural productivity, and importantly for future carbon reductions and to access family planning information.