Posts Tagged ‘kenya’
Missed part 1? Check it out here
Since long before the issue garnered adequate concern on the world stage, women have been resisting, mitigating and even reversing the impacts of climate change, primarily at the local level. Moreover, not only do women tend to care for the environment, but they do so in a way that reflects how it is connected to the economy and livelihoods, health and social well-being.
This is the second article in a four-part series that explores the gendered impacts of climate change.
The first article discussed how women are impacted by climate change. Stay tuned in the coming months for part three, which explores how women are organizing in preparation for the December 2009 United Nations Conference on Climate Change; and part four, which discusses how the outcomes of the conference might impact women’s rights.
By Masum Momaya
Climate Change is now on the minds and lips of many people in local and international policy spaces. Yet, many women in large part due to their social roles as caretakers and their livelihoods as farmers, have been observing and mitigating the impact of climate change for generations. Today, they continue to care for the environment in their day-to-day interactions with it and also bring their experiences to legal and policymaking spaces at local, national, regional and international levels.
Because many live so intimately with the land and are often responsible for food, fuel, shelter, water and medicine in their families, women’s understanding of the climate change transcends science, statistics and physical changes to include the socioeconomic dimensions. Specifically, women have long been feeling the effects of agricultural policies dominated by corporate interests; the plunder and extraction of natural resource by governments and the private sector for profit; the oppression of indigenous peoples and their knowledge of biodiversity; the health impact of air, water and food pollutants; and the inadequacy of market-driven solutions in halting carbon emissions.
In Kenya, Wangari Maathai and the women of the Green Belt Movement have been planting trees and conserving water to replenish the rapid deforestation. What started out as a movement to simply replace trees that had been cut with seedlings has expanded to include a movement for peace, as Maathai herself found that environmental problems were a symptom and by-product of bad governance and widespread marginalization of women. The act of planting trees initially brought women together to exchange ideas and tap their knowledge of the environment. Yet, it eventually led them to work for peace and accountability, with some running for local and national positions. In this movement and various others worldwide, the destruction of the environment has politicized women and they have been at the forefront of an integrated analysis of and approach towards halting climate change.
In India, monocropping, or the strategy of planting one crop en masse for higher yields, and the increased used of harsh pesticides has eroded the soil. Large agribusiness corporations have developed and pushed the use of genetically modified seeds for these weaker soils, which have required harsher, more expensive pesticides and not necessarily yielded fruitful harvest. In desperation, such corporations have stolen seeds from local farmers, attempting to patent the seeds using intellectual property laws.  Women of the Navdanya movement in these farming communities have been selecting and saving strong seeds as a means of survival and resistance to large agribusiness and a means of maintaining indigenous biodiversity, and they are now fighting the patenting of their seeds in courts.
In Nigeria, partnerships between government officials and corporations have facilitated large-scale drilling and extraction of oil, releasing copious poisonous vapors and robbing local Nigerians of benefiting from or sharing in profits. Instead, local workers face low wages and hazardous working conditions while the surroundings environs are devastated. Using shaming tactics and strength in numbers, women in Nigeria have organized to either shut down the drilling or forced corporations to change their environmental and labor practices, ensuring that both people and the environment are protected.
In Bolivia, women played instrumental roles in community-based struggles against privatization of water provisions in Cochabamba. Faced with a government who decided to turn over the country’s water supply to be managed by large, multinational corporations, who in turn charged exorbitant, prohibitive prices for water, citizens rallied to create water associations and cooperatives, build water storage tanks, construct distribution networks, and drill wells, using limited resources. Acutely aware of the need for water for nutrition, disease eradication, sanitation, hygiene and farming, women worldwide are fighting the impacts of water privatization.
At the local level, many women lawyers are invoking legal systems to fight against environmental destruction and climate change. For example, Olya Melen has taken the Ukrainian government to task for allowing large cargo ships to dredge a canal across the Danube Delta wetlands, harming its biodiversity. In Papua New Guinea, Anne Kajir has been fighting for land rights on behalf of indigenous landowners who have seen massive logging in their rainforest. And in Kazakhstan, Kaisha Atakhanova has organized a movement to lobby against her country’s importing of nuclear waste, which has threatened to add to already high occurrences of genetic mutations, cancer and irradiated food resulting from decades of existing nuclear emissions.
At the national level, women form an increasing number of the ranks of Green Parties, which are advancing multi-issue social agendas, especially in Europe. In addition to pushing for environmental concerns to be at the forefront of policymaking agendas, many Green Parties are also concerned with grassroots democracy, sustainable development, nonviolence, women’s rights, indigenous rights and social justice – and many parties’ platforms are set and championed by women leaders in Parliaments.
Women’s rights groups and some researchers in various countries are also lobbying governments to include access to contraception and comprehensive reproductive health services in their agendas and funding to address climate change. A recent study concludes that universal access to reproductive health could be one of the most cost effective ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Also, according to RH Reality Check, an online publication committed to advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights, “rapid population growth can exacerbate existing vulnerability to the impacts of climate change.” The publication explains, for example, that “population growth rates in highly vulnerable low elevation coastal zones in Bangladesh and China are nearly twice as high as national averages; and in Ethiopia, the combination of rapid population growth and climate-induced declines in agricultural production will heighten food insecurity.”  Nevertheless, advocates must be cautious that women are not coerced as population control targets in their efforts to curb climate change. At the international level, women’s rights groups have been documenting and raising awareness about the gendered impact of climate change and also building the capacity of local organizations and regional networks to integrate an analysis of and advocacy around climate change integrate into the other issues they address via resource manuals, trainings and convenings.
Women’s rights organizations have also been increasingly participating in high-level climate change discussions, including questioning the dominance of market-driven solutions such as carbon trading to curb emissions. For example, Yifat Susskind of MADRE, an international women’s human rights organization, has explained that carbon trading “allows companies with high carbon emissions to fund projects that supposedly absorb carbon in exchange for their continued pollution. [This] does not address the root cause of climate change, which is unsustainable use of resources. It simply enables the continued emission of carbon. In a perverse way, [it] creates an incentive for carbon pollution by turning emissions into a tradable commodity.” 
Amidst a geopolitical landscape populated with powerful and marginalized stakeholders and influenced by complex political and private sector agendas, the upcoming United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen will provide yet another space in which to influence global policy and campaign for gender equality to be brought about in concert with environmental protection.
Learn more about Women’s Strategies to Address Climate Change:
Two powerful videos showing women’s relationship with the environment, from the Women News Network:
Johan Hari of The Independent/UK has reported an amazing story this week about a woman who set out to save trees in Africa.
She was born on the floor of a mud hut with no water or electricity in the middle of rural Kenya, in the place where human beings took their first steps. There was no money but there was at least lush green rainforest and cool, clear drinking water. But Maathai watched as the life-preserving landscape of her childhood was hacked down. The forests were felled, the soils dried up, and the rivers died, so a corrupt and distant clique could profit. She started a movement to begin to make the land green again – and in the process she went to prison, nearly died, toppled a dictator, transformed how African women saw themselves, and won a Nobel Prize.
Her name is Wangari Maathai, and she considers herself a “daughter of the soil”. Humbled be humans needs for trees, she returned to Africa after coming to the U.S. for college. She was the first woman ever to get a PhD in East or Central Africa. She convinced international aid organizations to pay some woman from the National Council of Women of Kenya to plant trees. As Hari says, planting trees turned to planting ideas, and her own husband began to see her Maathai as a threat.
The very public divorce from her husband did not deter her from protesting and soon other men began to see her as a threat also.
But the initial reaction to her protests was frightening. She began to receive anonymous phone calls telling her should shut up or face death. Moi called her a “madwoman,” and announced: “According to African traditions, women should respect their men! She has crossed the line!” When she carried on, she was charged with treason – a crime which carried the death penalty – and was slammed away in prison. She had arthritis, and she says: “In that cold, wet cell my joints ached so much I thought I would die.” But she would not apologise, or give in. “What other people see as fearlessness is really persistence. Because I am focused on the solution, I don’t see the danger. If you only look at the solution, you can defy anyone and appear strong and fearless.”
She went on to get national recognition and has left Africa to spread her knowledge
The rainforests can be killed from two directions – by the saws of men like Moi, or the warming gases of people like us. That is why she has left the land she loves, armed with the Nobel Peace Prize she won in 2004, and travelled so far: to try to persuade us to let the forests live. “There are moments in history when humans have to raise their consciousness and see the world anew. This is one of those moments. We are being called to assist the earth in healing her wounds, and in the process we can heal our own. We can revive our sense of belonging to a larger community of life. We can see who we really are.”
I strongly suggest reading the rest of this amazing woman’s life here
Climate change has forced The Massai – a tribe in Kajiado, Kenya – to compete with animals over the water supply. The tribe is struggling against the new seasonal weather patterns although they have been residents of the land for centuries. Their quest for water takes the men into the capital, Nairobi.
As traditional cattle herders, the Maasai have found themselves leaving their homes for months at a time in search of pastures and water for their animals. In most cases this means vulnerable women, children and the elderly are left behind to fend for themselves in the villages.
Ebby Nanzala Wamatsi who wrote the article on The Massai for the Women News Network says in some cases women walk over 10 kilometers to fetch water and still there is a chance that they will return empty handed. However, with the help of the United Nations Environment Programme, women are also taking action to change their situation.
The project is being spearheaded by the United Nations Environment Programme and the Regional Land Management Unit of the World Agro-forestry Centre. The organisations are providing equipment and training for the women.
To date, over 200 tanks have been constructed under the initiative. The women are also involved in digging mini reservoirs or ‘earth-pans’ to collect run-off water from sloping land. This in turn is used for irrigation purposes to water their crop and vegetable fields.
The women of Kajiado have also begun a tree-planting project to encourage the Maasai to adopt a more settled communal way of life as arable farmers. It makes it compulsory for every household to plant at least a hundred trees.
“It’s time to determine our own destiny. I am anticipating cooler weather. We are fed up with scorching temperatures and spending entire days searching for water,” says Luise Mwoiko, chair of the Mataanobo Women’s Group.
The women’s initiative cooperates to construct water tanks from one homestead to another. And they are proud of their work, as Mwoiko makes clear. “We never bother our men to climb up the tanks and make the final touches. We do it ourselves,” says Mwoiko as she adds that the women’s husbands assist financially in the projects.
Another member, Jerusha Lasoi, said their projects will ensure that the Maasai will no longer require food aid from outside their community. Pointing to her secure reservoir of water, a milk cow and thriving business in vegetable sales, Lasoi felt confident in their future.
The need for some form on transportation is clear:
The relentless drought has decimated their traditional herding economy, leaving many families with no income at all. The long walk to the nearest health clinic is dangerous – and often impossible for the sick and elderly who need to get there.
The bicycles are capable of carrying jugs of water or extra passengers, which not only makes their days easier, but provides income by being able to transport tourists to a nearby wildlife preserve.
There is still help needed! If you would like to contribute, choose one of these options:
- By supporting Women’s Wheels: Bicycles for Rural Development, you can help the women of Umoja meet three urgent needs with one great bike.
- Share information about Women’s Wheels by updating your Twitter status.
- Post a flyer in your local bike shop, coffee shop or community center for Women’s Wheels: Bicycles for Rural Development.
- Email us if you’re able to distribute small Women’s Wheels promotional cards at local businesses.
MADRE supported the installation of a community water collection point and a drinking trough for livestock for the Emayian Maasai community of Southwest Kenya. These innovations will protect a local water source and provide clean water to the people drawing water from it.
Here is a rundown of the problem from MADRE:
Access to clean water, a basic human right, has been an ongoing challenge for Indigenous Maasai Peoples in the Trans Mara District of Southwest Kenya. Climate change and environmental degradation have contributed to frequent droughts, and the Emayian Maasai community hasn’t had the means to collect and store rainwater during the short rainy season.
Without a centralized system to bring water into the community, women are forced to haul heavy loads of water great distances. The local water source, a spring located 2.5 km from the village, also serves as a watering hole for livestock. The shared use leads to contamination of the water and the spread of water-borne diseases. The high-volume human and animal traffic is causing soil erosion around the spring, degrading the quality and availability of water.
The best thing about this is that MADRE worked with the women in the village and not the men which has been the standard in other water projects like these.
Together they accomplished these things:
- The community will have access to uncontaminated water in both rainy and dry seasons.
- Women will spend less time hauling water and will be able to participate in other activities.
- The number of cases of cholera, scabies, typhoid and other waterborne diseases will be significantly reduced.
- The spring will be protected from erosion caused by human and animal activity.