Things fall apart: climate change eroding gender progress?

Things fall apart: climate change eroding gender progress?

Date: December 7, 2011
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Climate change at face value may seem to have nothing to do with gender based violence. But there are a few poignant points to think about, especially when considering the Zimbabwean scenario.

More than three quarters of the female population live in communal framing areas where they constitute more than half of the farmers and provide 70% of the labour. Not only is the work of women farmers essential for food security, but most women are unpaid family workers.

Rural women work very long hours, 16 to 18 hours a day, spending almost 50% of their time on agricultural activities and about 25% on domestic activities. Rural women, among other things, do almost all the water fetching, food processing and preparation, firewood gathering, cooking and domestic work.

For Zimbabwe, the past two decades have been characterised by extremes of weather. During this time, the country has gone through ten droughts, resulting in less freshwater and destroyed biodiversity. In addition, our agricultural zones have now also shifted. While some communities had to cope with a dry and sparse landscape, others have experienced the exact opposite as devastating floods persistently hit the lower Guruve.

Climate change worsens the situation for those living in poverty, creating a vicious cycle. Disasters due to climate change can take away people’s basic needs for survival and their dignity, as well as undermine any progress made in reducing poverty. The climate makes the conditions for water and food supply, essential factors for maintaining health and creating opportunities for economic growth possible. Unfortunately, as the situation is set to get worse, the majority of people are now at risk.

The UN Development Programme predicts that agricultural production, which is the livelihood for nearly three-quarters of the population, is likely to decrease by up to 30% this century, as our growing season shortens by up to 35 days. This means a decrease in our staple food maize, a loss in livestock production due largely to reduced grazing area. Water supplies are going to be significantly reduced with fewer rainy days and as it occurs, there is the risk of floods.

Given the abovementioned scenario, one is reminded of the William Butler Yates, poem The Second Coming and Professor Chinua Achebe’s book title from that poem things fall apart. Indeed, “Turning and turning in the widening gyre/ The falconer looses hold of the falcon/ Things fall apart the centre cannot hold.”

Given that the majority of Zimbabwean women live in rural areas, and make up the bulk of the labour force in the agricultural sector, for starters, there is going to be increasing feminisation of poverty. There is going to be a serious loss of livelihood to these women, all blamed on what is legally termed force majeure or acts of nature.

Women will have to travel longer distances to fetch water, face greater challenges in terms of sanitation needs and bathing for instance, thus become vulnerable to rape. Youths too and young girls are not going to be spared, in this ordeal. School going girls are going to experience challenges in their education, possibly missing classes as they spend more time fetching water, or working in exchange for food.

Worse still more girls and some boys will drop out of school because their parents will not be able to afford school fees. Many girls face early marriages at times in polygamous marriages.

There is bond to be migration to cities, where families will leave in cramped quarters, with little or no privacy, where child molestation, sexual harassment and abuse will become prevalent. More youths face the serious possibility of human trafficking, where they will end up in commercial sex work, working as domestic help for pittance in the cities and nearby countries. Things fall apart, possibly reversing the gains towards Millennium Development Goals and various international protocols on Gender.

I witnessed a rather sad scenario, near Bindura in 2009, where young girls were involved in gold panning, alongside men. This was happening because with low agricultural activity and non-availability of employment opportunities. In this situation, young women exposed themselves to a dangerous environment where sexual abuse, and with it the possibility of HIV/ AIDS infection, was prevalent.

Nonetheless, Zimbabwe must prepare for what is an imminent threat to food security. However, organisations like Humana People to People (DAPP), Practical Action and Environment Africa are working with groups of farmers living in Zimbabwe’s most vulnerable regions to protect water and food supplies.

The solutions we must look at include crucial technological and political change, water conservation, and the breeding of drought resistant crops, as well as village industrialisation and world economy reforms so as to have equity and economic emancipation. Government should with the assistance of the donor community continue to install boreholes in urban and rural areas.

Training of resettled farmers and communal people should continue. Gender based organisations must work in harmony with key ministries in areas like gender budgeting, village industrialisation, water conservation and provision of knowledge and assistance in times of drought, flooding and in preparing for famine.

Edward Kuyipa is with Women’s Monitor Magazine. This story is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service for the Sixteen Days of Activism on Gender Violence.



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