Inclusion of loss and damage into COP27 Agenda excites gender climate justice activists

(Last Updated On: 13 November 2022)

Experiences from the grassroots communities tell of harrowing experiences women and girls pass through as a result of losses due to climate change. 

By Ann Kobia

Egypt, November 13, 2022: The inclusion of loss and damage in the main agenda for the 27th Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27) momentarily excited gender climate activists in Africa. 

The excitement could have been informed by the fact that its loss and damage was one of the original four key demands the civil society organization in Africa had listed as the core for a successful COP.

These included financing of adaptation, recognition of Africa as special needs and circumstances region, and honoring the climate finance pledge that was made in 2015.

Seychelles President Wavel Ramkalawan aptly caught the spirit and mood around Africa with the news of the inclusion of loss and damage in the COP agenda. 

“The idea that rich countries should financially support poorer states at the front lines of climate change effects, known as loss and damage, has been a central priority for island nations for the past 30 years,” president Ramkalawan is quoted by various press houses.   

Gender climate activists around the continent believe that “the climate crisis is not “gender neutral” – chiefly because they constitute most of the world’s poor and are more dependent for their livelihood on natural resources that are threatened by climate change. 

The reality is that while climate change impacts affect all, cases of the impacts of drought, floods, and climate-related conflicts around Africa however show women emerging more than men as victims. 

Experiences from the grassroots communities tell of harrowing experiences women and girls pass through as a result of losses due to climate change. 

Early in the year, a meeting organized by the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance in Malawi heard of horrifying experiences women pass through in the event of natural disasters due to climate change. 

At the most basic level, mortality rates for women and men are often different in natural disasters. In Malawi, as noted that more women lost their lives from Cyclone Idai confirming a 2006 study of 141 natural disasters by the London School of Economics which found that when economic and social rights are fulfilled for both sexes, the same number of women and men die in disasters. 

Going into COP, the message from the gender climate activists had grown in crescendo, “We can’t have climate justice without gender equality”. This is partly informed by the fact that in every climate-related calamity, women and girls tend to be the most affected. 

When a landslide occurs, a woman losses the ability to farm and is hence incapacitated to ensure food security for her family. When roads get damaged, a woman fails to have her produce to reach the market hence her inability to get money to buy stationery for her children in school talkless takes her children to a healthcare facility in the event sickness hits the family.

At the same time, when women do not enjoy economic and social rights equal to men, more women than men die in disasters.   

The vulnerability of women to disasters is increased for some reasons. Post-disaster, women are usually at higher risk of being placed in unsafe, overcrowded shelters, due to a lack of assets, such as savings, property, or land.

In the context of cyclones, floods, and other disasters that require mobility, cultural constraints on women’s movements may hinder their timely escape, access to shelter, or access to health care. 

Exacerbating this effect, women often avoid using shelters out of fear of domestic and sexual violence, and become even less mobile as primary family caregivers. 

Poor women and those in countries of higher gender inequality appear to be at the highest risk: a direct correlation has been observed between women’s status in society and their likelihood of receiving adequate health care in times of disaster and environmental stress.

The UN has identified environmental degradation as a key threat to human security. All post-conflict countries face serious environmental issues that could undermine the peace-building processes if left unaddressed, and specifically affect women who are faced with a combination of hardships.

It is thus important to identify gender-sensitive strategies for responding to loss and damage caused by climate change. 

These efforts should focus on: reducing women’s vulnerability, in tandem with men’s susceptibilities; promoting gender-sensitive emergency responses; and enlisting women as key environmental actors in natural disaster management decision-making processes, alongside men, tapping on women’s skills, resourcefulness, and leadership in mitigation and adaptation efforts.

In addition, women are likely to be the poorest among all other demographics partly due to the social, economic, and political barriers brought about by cultural practices that to some extent limit their coping capacity in the face of the challenges from the climate crisis. 

According to the UN, it is important to identify gender-sensitive strategies to respond to the environmental and humanitarian crises caused by climate change.

The UN statistics show that Climate change has serious ramifications in four dimensions of food security: food availability, food accessibility, food utilization, and food systems stability.

Among the pastoralist communities in the East and Horn of Africa, while livestock herds are owned by men, it is women and children however who take care of them and therefore the loss of an animal touches a woman more than men.

“Women farmers currently account for 45-80 percent of all food production in developing countries depending on the region. About two-thirds of the female labor force in developing countries, and more than 90 percent in many African countries,” says a UN Report.

The Climate crisis has notably been seen to have significant impacts on freshwater sources, affecting the availability of water used for domestic and productive tasks. The consequences of the increased frequency of floods and droughts are far-reaching.

While the world is witnessing losses of water sources due to climate change, all over the developing world, the UN Women showcases women and girls as the ones who bear the burden of fetching water for their families and spend significant amounts of time daily hauling water from distant sources. 

“The water from distant sources is rarely enough to meet the needs of the household and is often contaminated, such that women and girls also pay the heaviest price for poor sanitation,” notes the UN Women.

The writer is the head of human resources and partnerships at the Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *