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Rural Women and Children More Climate Change Susceptible

FILE- A Dogon rural woman carries the millet for daily consumption to be pounded in the Benimato village, west Mali, February 4, 2007, Reuters.
FILE- A Dogon rural woman carries the millet for daily consumption to be pounded in the Benimato village, west Mali, February 4, 2007, Reuters.

Scientists say Africa is the most vulnerable region to climate change, though it contributes less than 5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the United Nations. The UN Conference of Parties (COP27) last month in Egypt established a fund to compensate vulnerable nations for ‘loss and damage’ from climate-induced disasters.

Numerous studies have produced evidence to suggest that African women and children should be prioritized on the list of adaptation efforts to cope with climate change.

The studies indicate women and children are more susceptible and have less capacity to adapt due to a lack of access to wealth, health care, and community-level participation as well as male-household decision-making power and the overwhelming burden of household activities. Evidence shows they contribute more than men to adaptation efforts within the household to recurrent drought and the variability of weather conditions.

Women make up more than half of Africa's population and are heavily reliant on work in disproportionately climate-exposed sectors such as health, agriculture, livestock management, forestry and water management.

Rural African women are at a significant risk due to increasing work in food production and displacement resulting from drought or flooding caused by heavy rains.

In the wake of disasters, women and children make up 80 per cent of those needing assistance while poor women are 14 times more likely to die during a natural disaster.

Celine LaVina, a Senior Associate at the Land and Resource Rights Initiative and Gender Equity Practice at the World Resources Institute's Equity Center, said in an interview with VOA that women in Africa and the developing world often lack land rights and have a weak voice in decision-making.

“Many rural women typically have access through their husbands or other male relatives (father, brother, son, uncle) called secondary land access. This access tends to be for smaller and less productive plots for subsistence production, as the bigger and more productive plots are often used for cash crops that are generally grown by men.”

The research shows that of the global number of owners of agricultural land – only 14 percent are women, and that number drops dramatically across Africa and East Asia. Rural women make up 70 percent of smallholder farmers in Africa and the rest of the developing world, where up to 80 percent of food comes from small farms.

Secure land tenure is important given rural women’s traditional responsibility for household food production and family nutrition, according to LaVina.

Gender studies indicate that climate change action programs should consider cultural distinctions between women and men that limit women's success.

“Research shows that gender is one of the key factors that influence the success or failure of solutions to climate change. As the primary collectors of water, fuelwood, and non-timber forest products in many rural communities, women are integral to the effective management of fast-depleting natural resources and the ecosystem services that they support,” according to LaVina.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) estimates that it will take roughly 135 years to close the global gender gap. It says to design and implement effective adaptation strategies, women must be included in climate action plans.

Ewi Lamma, a climate change activist, a PhD Candidate at the University of Buea in Cameroon and a UN Agora Climate Action Winner, said rural women learn from an early age that they have no place in society.

Lamma’s father died when she was a child, and her mother lost everything when her father died, said Lamma.

“Women are the ones who contribute the most in taking care of the nature. They’re the ones who contribute the most in providing food at home, so there is a lot of weight on them. When a woman is financially fit, she’d be able to purchase land for herself, and she’d be able to make an environmental impact on our community.”

Gender Thematic Day - which took place during COP27 - reaffirmed that women continue to bear a disproportionate burden of the adverse impacts of climate change.

Many development experts are calling for funding that reflects the magnitude of Africa’s challenge and are urging wealthy countries to honor their climate pledges, provide necessary financing, address loss and damage from the climate emergency and introduce a carbon trading mechanism that allows for quick results.