By Margaret Mvura
FORAYS to look for firewood and fetch water in the rural areas now seem normal routines, nothing out of the ordinary, but this does not make these chores any easier.
The rural woman or girl has it difficult compared to her counterpart in the urban areas.
Tap water and electrical power make life easier for those in towns compared to those in rural areas.
The climate change story can never be complete without a female face.
The life of a rural woman or girl must feature prominently in the climate change debate and decision-making process at this year’s Conference of Parties (COP 22).
While gender looks at both women and men, the reality on the ground is that women are mostly affected by weather and climate as seen through the household chores they are engaged in.
While lobbyists claim to have tried to lobby for women at the high level meetings, rural women or others in similar difficult circumstances must begin to find solutions in their own backyards.
Adaptation and mitigation has not factored in the needs of women.
Weather-related diseases are now more frequent and fresh water sources are dwindling, food insecurity is now the order of the day while diseases that were deemed extinct are resurfacing.
Climate change is a sustainable development challenge, with broad impacts not only on the environment, but also on economic and social development.
The effects of climate change vary among regions and between different generations, income groups and occupations.
Speaking during a gender and climate change workshop held in Harare recently, ZERO Regional Environment Organisation’s acting director, Shephard Zvigadza, said issues of climate change affected women mostly hence the need to consider their views.
“Issues of climate change have been discussed widely, but within the discourse women are left out,” Zvigadza said.
“It is women who bear the brunt of climate change and know the issues that affect them.
“In the household, the woman is the one responsible for food security and within the gender relationship, women bear the brunt hence it is important for them to share their experiences in terms of what they have done to circumvent the challenges they face.”
Also speaking at the workshop, Meteorological Services Department’s director Amos Makarau said it is important to think climate resilience in order to have communities coping with climate change.
“Climate resilience as opposed to climate change, which is mostly futuristic, places greater emphasis on how communities and households may cope with the increasing vagaries of present weather,” Makarau said.
“Empowering women and acknowledging their role as part of the core factors in the total value chain of mitigating and adapting to climate change will go a long way in enhancing household food security and maximising the capability of women towards community development and national well-being.”
With Zimbabwe heavily reliant on rain-fed agriculture for sustenance and survival, it is unfortunate that the impact is felt mostly at the household level and by women who are mostly at the periphery of socio-economic development.
Over two thirds of the country’s population is directly dependent on weather and climate with many women either being bread winners or single parents, making them most vulnerable to any anomalies of weather patterns, particularly during droughts.
During such times, they must look for alternatives for survival and sometimes they are forced to fetch water from unprotected water sources, exposing them to cholera, dysentery, meningitis and diarrhoea.
Getty Savanhu (72) of Domboshava, who was part of the workshop, said being a woman in a world that has seen the adverse effects of climate change, it is imperative for those in authority to avail solutions to the problems they are facing.
“We are affected by climate change as seen through the unavailability of water for drinking,” she said.
“We have to walk for long distances to fetch water in other people’s homesteads but it is not sustainable.”
Dzivarasekwa’s Sekai Catherine Chiremba (47) says women continue to suffer from the impacts of climate change.
“A lot of homes are looked after by women,” she said.
“They are working, buying and selling, so that the household stands, but it has become hard with the unavailability of water exacerbating the problem.”
Chiremba said it has become evident that women are finding it difficult to cope with the challenges they face.
“As Zimbabwe Homeless People’s Federation community co-ordinator, which has a revolving fund, we have seen that women are now finding it difficult to pay back loans they are given,” she said.
“There is need to ensure that governments find ways of cushioning women in times like these.”
Nokwanda Langazana, representative of the Women for Climate Justice, said adopting climate smart strategies could help alleviate the problems.
“Climate change has affected women mostly and it is unfortunate there is a gap in their representation in decision making positions,” Langazana said.
“Our involvement with women has shown that women are now returning to our indigenous knowledge systems for them to cope with climate change.
“With the advent of climate-smart agriculture, the use of biogas digesters for energy and taking advantage of small spaces for crop production, food security is assured.”
The purpose of the workshop is to amplify women’s voice on how they have been impacted by climate change in preparation for COP 22.
The workshop brought together women community representatives from different provinces to raise awareness and build capacity on gender and climate change in communities to improve climate policies.
It was also meant to increase the knowledge base on gender and climate to identify effective mitigation and adaptation options as well as enhance co-operation on gender and climate issues at all levels.