To effectively fight climate change in Africa, empower African women

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by Davinah Milenge Uwella

Last December at the game-changing global climate summit in Paris, African Development Bank President Akinwumi Adesina eloquently listed his new flagship programmes, including a catalytic US $300-million fund to support women in business. Fellow panelist Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Chair of the African Union Commission, applauded the initiative, but was quick to caution him not to use the funds to buy women simple farm tools like hoes. Zuma’s advice embodies what the fight against climate change, at least for Africa, is about. As her comment highlighted, we cannot ignore a critical aspect of climate transformation: empowering women through access to finance, skills and technology.

Women’s access to finance is central to addressing climate change. Women make up 90% of the world’s poor, and it is common knowledge that climate change disproportionately affects the have nots. Floods, droughts, land degradation, displacements all have a disproportionately greater negative effect on the livelihoods of the poor than the rich, further pushing them to the bleak edge of deprivation. In many developing countries women, especially poor rural women, are dependent for their livelihoods on natural resources that are threatened by climate change. Access to finance breaks down many barriers, including access to less fragile agricultural lands, better safety nets, access to clean energy for lighting and cooking, easy mobility in case of natural disasters, and the ability to engage in alternative livelihoods such as off-farm employment.

Simple farm tools like hoes are last-century technology and have no place in the era of digitization and resource efficiency. Africa cannot build low-carbon and climate-resilient economies on the back of rudimentary technologies and policies. Information is power; for climate change this means that rural farmers – most likely to be women – must be able to receive early warning climate information that enables them make smart decisions on seeds, sowing and harvesting times, risks, markets, etc. With technology, as mobile phone technology has proven, Africa is capable of leapfrogging into an era of digitization which minimizes risks and cuts costs of doing business. African women have shown potential to compete in this digital workspace – Mfarm, AppsTech, JuaKali, Nandimobile, Hehe Ltd, Obami, DotNxt, are only a few of the women-led tech startups in Africa listed by Forbes. With the right amount of capital, these start-ups can be scaled up to generate Africa-specific technologies that would enable African countries to deliver their Paris Agreement Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) commitments to help reduce global temperature to below two degrees Celsius. Imagine how big that contribution would be if women – half of the world’s population – were given adequate means to work in climate-friendly ways.

Linked to the technology challenge is the skills challenge. The right skills set is critical to lifting rural women out of poverty and ultimately managing climate change. Africa negotiated hard to get loss and damage recognized by the Paris Agreement. This is a commendable feat, but it will not serve any purpose if the loss sufferers (again, mostly women) are not equipped to deal with climate change. It is not sufficient to engage in technology transfer if the target communities are not skilled to use the technologies. Like Zuma, an African government official made a similarly stark comment about green jobs: “cleaning solar panels should not be counted as green jobs transferred to Africa”. With the right investment in their tertiary education, women are equally capable of designing and become users of technologies that best fit their communities. In addition, given rural women’s symbiotic relationship with nature, they possess indigenous knowledge that would enable them to truly make technology appropriate for their communities.

But skills alone don’t go far without empowerment to decision-making and ownership. Until the poor (whose numbers are likely to double by mid-century) are empowered to own the means of production, make decisions about their livelihoods, and possess the right skills – there will be very little progress in combating climate change.

Besides the US $300-million fund called Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa, the African Development Bank strives to be a frontrunner on gender equality issues. The Bank’s Special Envoy on Gender serves as a chief whip on gender equality. The Bank’s Gender Strategy 2014-2018 sets out a transformative agenda, including targeted analytical tools to mainstream gender in all Bank operations. Good initiatives are emerging out of this. In Niger, for example, 457,000 women have benefitted from the Pilot Program on Climate Resilience (PPRC) which provides climate information to farmers and social protection kits; and in Kenya, the Menengai geothermal power project includes core indicators that generate gender disaggregated data to assess the project’s impact on improved access to electricity by the target population.

Facts show that there is actually great benefit in not giving women rudimentary tools like hoes. The McKinsey Global institute estimates that giving women opportunities equal to men would add US $12 trillion to global growth; that is good business by any standard. But it requires thinking outside the small farm tool mentality to get there! The Bank President reassured Zuma that the Bank will not do rudimentary business in its new transformative African agenda: to Light up and power Africa, Feed Africa, Integrate Africa, Industrialize Africa, and Improve the quality of life for all African people.


KIMANWA ADOLPHE LUMUNA - Congo 08/08/2016 19:00
Actually, the climate change is due to the use wood for cooking and agriultural reason. Increasing the awarness of women on the use of wood, wood charcoal and cuting trees bad impacts on climate change will make an awesome contribution to the worlwide fightiing tto prevent the earth warming and destruction of ecosystems and biodiversities.
Ephraim Senkondo - Tanzania 04/08/2016 09:06
Indeed women are the most important human resource in Rural Africa. as a result they directly get the impacts of Climate change in their daily chores. They cultivate,fetch water care for the family food etc. If you empower them your empowering the whole family. Let us target them
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