No climate justice without gender justice

No climate justice without gender justice

Date: December 5, 2011
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Roshanthi Fernando from Sri-Lanka recalls how fishing on the shores of the island used to be easy a decade ago. She remembers how people from her area could simply go and catch fish without using sophisticated fishing methods. Sadly, this is now history.

“When we first noticed this, we thought things would go back to normal, until we were told by experts that fish scarcity on the shores of Sri-Lanka is due to the rise in sea levels” she said. “They said to brace for the worst because the continuing rising sea levels would lead to more fish scarcity.”

Speaking at COP17’s side event on gender responsive adaptation and low carbon development, Fernando said that the fish scarcity particularly affects fisherwomen who used to generate income from selling fish. In most Sri-Lankan communities, women depend on natural resources and can earn income from processing fish, repairing fishing nets and to a lesser extent harvesting fish. Thus, the change in climate, and the resulting floods, erratic rainfall patterns and storms, increases the social and economic vulnerability of women.

Fernando also added that the situation exacerbates gender based violence. “Girls and women have to walk long distances to fetch drinkable water because water along the shores of the island is contaminated,” she said. “This exposes women to evil-minded men who sexually abuse them.”

There is also increasing pressure on land, as shrinking coastline forces families inland. “People staying along the shores must abandon their homes since land along the coast is submerging into the sea,” Fernando added. Women relocating find it difficult to secure new land to settle, unlike their male counterparts.

Sri-Lanka’s story as narrated by Fernando at COP 17 is among the many examples that give a perspective on how global warming is affecting women. Gender advocates have concluded that there can be no climate justice unless gender issues are fully integrated into mitigation, adaptation and any other related matters to climate change.

Speaking at same event, Elizabeth Letlhaku of South Africa’s Siphephile Recycling Co-operative called upon countries across the globe to mainstream gender in their land laws. She said that climate change is putting more pressure on usable land, meaning more women could lose or continue being denied land rights.

“Most small scale farmers across the globe are women. However, patriarchic systems popular in most African societies continue to snatch land away from women,” Letlhaku said. “There is a need therefore for authorities to tighten and implement land laws if women’s land rights are to be protected.”

Women are the backbone of most families, in as far agricultural food production and household food security is concerned. In addition, Letlhaku pointed out that, through agriculture, women produce food crops to feed their families, as opposed to men who priorities cash crops.

In her remarks, Gotelind Alber of Gender CC – Women for Climate Justice shared the same sentiments linking gender justice and climate justice. According to Gender CC’s Gender Into Climate Policy toolkit, the United Nations Convention on Climate Change is gender neutral. It further points out that even if the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 established gender as a basic requirement in international policy formulation, the accords on the Kyoto protocol ignored gender. Basing on these shortfalls, Gender CC warns that “mistakes in climate policy making may lead to consolidating or even extending inequalities between women and men,” hence a need to mainstream gender in climate change matters.

The organisation further notes that “challenges of climate change and gender injustice resemble each other – they require whole system change: not just gender mainstreaming but transforming gender relations and societal structures.”

Those concerned about gender and climate justice are demanding not just technical amendments to reduce emissions, but real mitigation through awareness, as well as changes in unsustainable lifestyles and the current ideologies and practices of unlimited economic growth.

Daud Kayisi is the Gender and Media Diversity Centre Programme Officer at Gender Links. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service and African Woman and Child Feature Service special series for the Sixteen Days of Activism on Gender Violence and COP 17 Conference.


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