African women walk for miles across harsh terrain to find clean water sources, planting and harvesting crops through scarcity and drought. Climatic disasters, such as floods, hurricanes, and landslides, can separate families, exposing women to human trafficking, hunger, and loss of life in a matter of moments.
Women must be an integral part of the climate change discussion in Africa, says the United Nations Initiative of the Inter-Agency Network on Women and Gender Equality. Yet, women are rarely involved in forming climate change policies.
More than 80 percent of African women work in agriculture; approximately 95 percent of the continent relies on agriculture for its livelihood. Women are thus key figures in economic development, and should be key figures in developing preventive measures or plans for repairing the damage caused by climate change, says the U.N.
According to the U.N. website, it is “imperative that a gender analysis be applied to all actions on climate change and that gender experts are consulted in climate change processes at all levels, so that women’s and men’s specific needs and priorities are identified and addressed.”
“African women are forging ahead despite the odds against them,” Lama El Hatow, Co-founder, Water Institute in the Nile
An annual symposium on Gender and Climate Change in Africa was held by the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CDSSRA) in Cairo, Egypt, in November 2012. The CDSSRA found that “the feminization of poverty and the dominance of patriarchal values in Africa” will make women feel the greatest impact of climate change, according to its website.
These factors will also exclude women from the discussion on the effects of climate change and how to mitigate them, says CDSSRA.
African governments often view men as first-class citizens, giving them greater access than women to critical information on strategies and resources for climate change adaptation. Training, education, and preparation are, however, especially necessary for women involved in agriculture—the vast majority of African women.
An Egyptian Woman’s Climate Change Battle
Lama El Hatow is one of the few women in Africa heavily involved in forming climate change solutions. She is an environmental specialist at a private firm in Cairo, Egypt, and co-founder of the Water Institute in the Nile, a think tank that works on water management in the Nile Basin.
“Women have only recently started holding key positions in government and in the business world,” says El Hatow. “They’re often strong women that battle all odds to get to these positions and have excelled, often making great sacrifices.”
Women have always been important in family life, says El Haltow. Increasingly, however, the need for two sources of income in households has created a double burden for women: they must still take care of domestic matters, and get full-time jobs outside the home.
“African women are forging ahead despite the odds against them,” says El Hatow. “Those odds do not affect my productivity. I am as effective at my job as any man, and sometimes even more so.”
She feels the younger generation of women will make some headway on the issue, while climate change is an unfamiliar topic for older women.
Coastal flooding could affect Africans living within 60 miles of the coast, according to the CDSSRA, steeping an already impoverished people deeper into despair and vulnerability. The council also reports that the continent’s GDP could be impacted 5 to 10 percent by climate change.
“Climate Change will impact Egypt brutally in the delta, agriculture, water, coastal zones,” says El Hatow. “Sadly, many of us feel that the response of the government to this is very weak and almost indifferent.”
She is pushing the limit of what she feels women are currently able to contribute to forming climate change policy on an official level in Egypt.
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