The African Woman’s COP: Gender at COP22

Climate change has lead to unpredictable weather patterns and an increase in droughts and floods. Small-scale farmers in developing nations have had to deal with lower productivity yields, scarcity of water, damage to farms and loss of livestock. African women produce up to 80% of food in Africa and are most dependent on local natural resources; yet existing gender gaps prevent rural women from tapping into resources to mitigate climate change risks or to remedy damages.

Last year’s Convention of the Parties (COP21) resulted in the historic Paris Agreement, in which world leaders acknowledged the urgency of climate change and the need for each country to play its part in reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. The Paris Agreement also recognises the importance of gender in climate change policies in Articles 7 and 11, where it refers to gender-responsive adaptation actions and capacity building. As delegates reconvene this year for COP22 the aim is to build on the momentum created by the Paris Agreement and to agree on tangible action plans.

Last week, at the kick-off of the COP22 negotiations the host country Morocco called on world leaders to put the focus on devising concrete plans for aiding Africa’s small-scale farmers, referring to this year’s COP as the “African COP”. However, if we are to truly focus on Africa’s climate change victims, we should really be talking about the “African Woman’s COP”. African women play a central role in agricultural labour, from planting and harvesting to storage and processing. Their traditional duties in preparing food also extend to having primary responsibility for gathering wood for fuel and collecting water for their households. The FAO estimates that rural women and girls spend approximately one to four hours each day in gathering wood and carrying water. With the increasing scarcity of resources like water, women will need to spend more time collecting water, leaving less time for their education and other responsibilities.

As a consequence of gender constraints rural women are disproportionately impacted by climate change and take longer to recover from climate change disasters. Due to local inheritance laws and traditions women are significantly less likely to own the land they farm. Lower female literacy rates and gender-biased social and economic structures mean rural women have fewer opportunities to access available resources such as inputs, climate smart technology, credit and insurance. Of all agricultural extension services, such as trainings, female farmers are attributed only 5% globally.

These constraints are not only victimising rural women, they are also counter-productive to the wider efforts of climate change mitigation and adaptation. African women’s lack of political power and access to decision-making means that a significant proportion of Africa’s farmers is prevented both from informing practical climate change policies as well as from participating in championing and implementing sustainable farming practices. As a first step to addressing these gender constraints, a pre-COP22 workshop was organised in May 2016 with the objective of coming to a further understanding of the role of gender in climate change and the meaning of gender-responsiveness in climate change policies. The results of the workshop and the progress in gender responsiveness are currently being reviewed at COP22.

However, if world leaders are to effectively mitigate the disproportionate impacts of climate change on women, gender responsiveness cannot remain a theoretical exercise. Instead, it is crucial for COP22 delegates to take a holistic and practical approach to their action plans. One of the ways delegates should approach climate action is by supporting governments in implementing policies that provide an enabling environment for gender equity, an environment where climate change resources are equally accessible to men and women. The African women, and many other women globally, are counting on them to do so.

Sahra Ibrahim Malin is the Associate Director of the Centre for International Agricultural Law and Food Security at LCILP. Previously she worked for a Fortune 500 company supporting their agricultural Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives, particularly in Africa. Sahra holds a Master of Laws in International Law and a Bachelor of Laws in European Law from Maastricht University.

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