By Nuru Ahmed

Climate emergency is currently one of the dreaded issues talked about globally.  Africa being the most vulnerable continent in the world to climate change impacts, suffer greatly.

African women and girls bare much burden of climate change effects considering their gender roles. Scientists caution if the world does not limit its global warming below two degrees Celsius, climate change would continue affecting this gender greatly.

These sentiments came from a-three day conference held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to reflect on climate change effects and its emergencies to East African Region.  The conference had experts drawn from Media, Scientists, Researchers, and Environmentalists among other relevant professionals from France and East African Region.

Ms Meseret Azage of Ethiopia, Ms Akot Scovia of Uganda and Ms Agnes Leina of Kenya took center stage during the three days conference in Ethiopia, to talk about how women and girls are being affected by climate change effects.

Three African participants vocal at climate change impact on women

Ms Agnes Leina, is a Founder/Chief Executive Director of Il’Laramatak Community Concerns organization in Kajiado County and pastoralist argued that women fetch water and firewood and cook for family as well as taking care of their children and the old.

“We trek long distances to water sources that consume time and energy. As a result, our girls of age between 14 and 16 risk being attacked by wild animals or sexual assaulted in the process,”Ms Leina lamented.

“The girls have no time for their homework and, for fear of being punished, miss school,” Ms. Leina added.

Ms Leina established the Il’Laramatak Community Concerns in 2011, an organization for women pastoralists with inadequate land rights to empower them.  This is because in her community women are excluded from community leadership and are often not involved in decision making, despite the responsibilities they shoulder.

She realizes that climate change also increases pressure for early marriages among girls. In pastoralist communities, livestock is a status symbol. Losing cattle due to drought is not acceptable so, fathers force young girls in marriage in exchange for more cows as a bride price.

“It is regrettable that some girls may escape to urban or towns to settle with a well-off man for marriage because of this culture,” Ms Leina.

“Similarly, a gender socio-cultural norm in my tribe does not encourage girls to learn skills such as swimming and tree climbing that help people to survive during floods,” Ms Scovia Akot from uganda said.

She also notes that women tend to possess fewer assets and depend more on natural resources for their livelihoods.

Ms Meseret Azage the Founder and Executive Director of Meseret Humanitarian Organization of Ethiopia also echoed same sentiments that climate change promotes early marriages in her region.

Young girls are forced by their parents into marriages without their consent at early stage compromising girls’ education, she said.

Climate change affects African women in many other ways. Though they make regular use of natural resources, they have few if any ownership rights. For instance, in Mali, where over 50% of women are involved in agriculture, just 5% are titled landholders, according to a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The visible impacts of climate change in Africa are deforestation, flooding, drought, soil erosion, coastal storms among other changing weather patterns that affect women directly.

Women walk for miles in search of drinking and domestic water in dry seasons yet again forced to migrate during floods. For example, parts of Kenya such as Samburu, Turkana, Garisa, Isiolo, Wajir, Mandera and other semi-arid and arid counties experience it.

Women are disproportionately vulnerable to these effects of climate change compared to men hence exacerbating existing gender disparities. 

Generally, in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly the dry lands and the Sahel region, where climate change is aggravating poverty, women are disproportionately affected because of their close connections to the environment. In addition to their involvement in agriculture, rural women are responsible for household chores, particularly fetching of water and energy sources, including charcoal and firewood for cooking and heating at homes.

Experts say that climate change most affects those who depend mainly on natural resources and whose livelihoods are climate sensitive especially poor farming women. According to a 2015 report by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), about two-thirds of the female workforce in developing countries, is involved in agricultural labor and that number is higher in Africa’s rural areas.

In Kenya, for example, snowcaps on Mount Kenya are almost disappearing, this means less water for farming and other agricultural uses, as well as for downstream cities and urban areas. As a result, women are forced to walk long distances in such for the commodity.

In Tanzania, residents living around Mount Kilimanjaro are faced with similar challenges. Across Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan and the autonomous region of Somaliland, 10.7 million people are facing severe hunger. These are some of the consequences of human activities causing climate change.