BY DR JOHN CHUMO
In the heart of Kenya’s agricultural landscape, the earth is parched, and the skies withhold their blessings.
Drought, a consequence of our changing climate, has woven a complex tapestry of challenges that reverberate through the lives of the nation’s women and girls. In this arid environment, the agricultural industry has long stood as a beacon of hope, providing not just sustenance but also the foundation of livelihoods for millions.
A report from the USAID Agriculture and Food Security says Kenya’s agricultural sector accounts for an estimated 75% of informal employment and is the primary source of rural income. It’s a cornerstone of the nation’s prosperity.
Yet, it’s the women of Kenya who hold the threads of this agricultural tapestry, contributing significantly to its cultivation and sustenance. As the World Bank,2014 report notes, women make up between 42% and 65% of the agricultural labour force in Kenya. They are the unsung heroines who till the soil, plant the seeds, and reap the harvest that feeds the nation. But they are also the ones standing on the front lines of climate change, bearing the brunt of its impacts.
The story of Kenyan women and climate change extends far beyond the fields. It weaves into the intricate fabric of societal challenges such as child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM). UNICEF’s comprehensive analysis reveals deeply concerning trends in a nation where drought-induced vulnerabilities have exacerbated these harmful practices.
In 14 out of 23 drought-affected counties, FGM has become alarmingly prevalent, with rates soaring as high as 98 percent. This harsh reality thrusts girls into the shadows of early marriages, often exchanged for livestock (dowry) due to the looming drought, and subjects them to the harrowing ordeal of FGM at increasingly younger ages.
Beyond these deeply entrenched issues, the daily lives of Kenyan women and girls have been drastically altered. Climate change forces them to traverse treacherous paths, often spanning over 30km, in pursuit of one of life’s most basic necessities – water. In the process, they face heightened risks of sexual violence and other perils, painting a grim picture of the intersection between gender inequality and environmental degradation.
Climate change is a global challenge, but it is not a one-size-fits-all crisis. In Kenya, as in many developing nations, women bear a disproportionate burden of its impacts. Yet, they are not mere victims of circumstance; they are powerful agents of change. Kenyan women play a pivotal role in climate resilience, adaptation, and mitigation. They harness the power of technology and community to tackle these challenges head-on.
This article will delve into the intertwined narratives of climate change, agriculture, and gender equality in Kenya, shedding light on the experiences of the nation’s women and girls. It will explore the challenges they face, the resilience they embody, and the solutions they champion, emphasizing the urgent need for global attention and support to ensure a more equitable and sustainable future for all.
GENDERED IMPACT OF CLIMATE CHANGE
Climate change affects people’s lives in various ways, from extreme weather events to long-term shifts in temperature and precipitation patterns. However, these impacts are not gender-neutral. Women are often more vulnerable due to socioeconomic disparities, cultural norms, and their roles as caregivers and food providers in many societies.
As the world seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, women’s contributions in sectors such as renewable energy, sustainable transportation, and waste management are invaluable.Dr John Chumo
For instance, in rural communities, women are responsible for collecting water and fuel, and changing weather patterns can make these tasks more challenging and time-consuming. Women are also primary caregivers for their families, and when climate-related disasters strike, they bear the brunt of caring for children, the elderly, and the sick.
WOMEN AS CLIMATE RESILIENCE CHAMPIONS
Despite facing these challenges, women are not just passive victims but active champions of climate resilience.
They often have valuable traditional knowledge about managing natural resources sustainably, which can contribute to local adaptation efforts. Furthermore, women are increasingly taking on leadership roles in environmental conservation and community-based climate initiatives.
Women’s involvement in agriculture is another critical aspect of climate resilience. In many parts of the world, women are responsible for food production. Equipping them with climate-smart agricultural techniques and technologies can enhance food security and build resilience in the face of changing weather patterns.
MITIGATION EFFORTS AND WOMEN’S CONTRIBUTION
Women’s participation in climate mitigation efforts is equally important. As the world seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, women’s contributions in sectors such as renewable energy, sustainable transportation, and waste management are invaluable. By engaging women in these fields, societies can tap into their innovative ideas and skills, accelerating the transition to a low-carbon economy.
In the era of rapid technological advancement, women’s participation in the development and use of climate-related technologies is crucial. Women have been at the forefront of creating and implementing tech-based solutions for climate adaptation and mitigation, from weather forecasting apps to solar-powered cooking devices.
Moreover, technology can provide women with access to vital information and resources. For instance, mobile apps can deliver weather forecasts and climate-related advice directly to women in rural areas, helping them make informed decisions about their livelihoods.
To fully harness the potential of women as key actors in climate resilience, governments, NGOs, and international organizations must prioritize gender-responsive policies and initiatives. These efforts should include:
Gender-sensitive climate strategies
These will ensure climate policies consider the specific needs and contributions of women. For example, in regions prone to droughts and water scarcity, adopting a gender-sensitive climate strategy becomes imperative. Such a strategy would focus on acknowledging the pivotal role women play in water collection and usage.
A key component of this approach involves the establishment of Community Water Committees, with women serving as key decision-makers. These committees would take charge of vital tasks such as water allocation, distribution, and infrastructure maintenance. Additionally, the strategy would aim to enhance women’s access to water-efficient technologies, including water storage tanks, rainwater harvesting systems, and water purification devices, thereby alleviating the physical burden associated with water collection and ensuring water quality.
Empowering women through training programs on water conservation practices, efficient irrigation techniques, and water quality testing forms another crucial aspect.
Financial support, in the form of microfinance programs or grants tailored specifically for women, would enable them to invest in water-related projects like small-scale water treatment businesses or community water supply enterprises.
Furthermore, gender balance would be promoted by ensuring women’s representation in decision-making bodies related to water management and policy development. This comprehensive strategy not only addresses women’s unique needs but also harnesses their capabilities to enhance community resilience in the face of water-related challenges.
In conclusion, women’s involvement in climate resilience, adaptation, mitigation, and technology is not just a matter of equality; it’s a matter of necessity. Empowering women as key actors in addressing climate change is not only ethical but also a practical approach to building a more sustainable and resilient world.
As we strive to bridge the gender gap in these critical areas, we can unlock the full potential of half of the world’s population in the fight against climate change.
Dr John Chumo is the CEO, MaMa Doing Good and an environmental expert