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Women in Africa and Asia Take the Lead to Address Climate Change

March 2012

Today, Grassroots International honors International Women’s Day by celebrating the ongoing victories of our partners, grantees and allies in their promotion of a global social movement for women’s rights and climate justice.

Despite the disproportionate impact of climate change on women, women’s voices and participation are often absent in political decisions, debates and processes such as the Kyoto Protocol and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). With the support of Grassroots International, local groups in Africa and Asia and social movements around the world have undertaken projects that provide sustainable, gender-sensitive approaches to environmental issues.

In the Global South, gendered divisions of labor have resulted in the overrepresentation of women in the agricultural sectors. The livelihoods of rural women, which are largely dependent on the natural environment, are further restricted through limited rights and access to land, credit, and agricultural services.

Market-based incentive programs exacerbate social injustice, gender inequality and poverty, while corporate agriculture methods (including genetically modified seeds, chemical fertilizers, and the development of monoculture plantations and agrofuels) further pollute and deteriorate arable land. These mechanisms, often referred to by our partners as “false solutions to climate change,” do not benefit women in rural or indigenous communities. The World March of Women, a Grassroots International grantee and ally, connects the exploitation of women and the earth’s resources by explaining that multinational corporations perpetuate the appropriation and domination of nature, territories, and women’s bodies.

REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) is one market-based scheme that promises resources to rural communities in exchange for allowing governments and private corporations to control and occupy indigenous lands. According to our grantee the Bangladesh Krishok Federation (BKF), these and other United Nations programs such as Clean Development Mechanisms (CDM) are an attempt by multinational corporations to “throw money at poor countries through loans tied to promoting false solutions, so they can continue to emit carbon and at the same time take over our agriculture.”

In December 2011, in conjunction with corresponding political actions at the UN climate negotiations in Durban, South Africa, the BKF organized the “Climate Change, Gender, and Food Sovereignty Caravan in Bangladesh.” The caravan’s primary focus was to increase awareness about gender discrimination and the disproportionate impacts of climate change on women, and brought together numerous peasant organizations from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and the Philippines. In communities in Bangladesh, women have been subjected to gender-based violence and threats in response to publically speaking out against climate change. After participating in the caravan’s gender workshops, many women felt more empowered to take leadership roles in their communities.

In India, rapid industrialization and an increased emphasis on a capital-intensive agricultural model have severely affected the nutrition, health, and economic security of rural families. Changes in national agricultural policies such as the withdrawal of farm subsidies and ever-increasing input costs have led to widespread migration of male farmers and the loss of family land ownership. Women are even more affected by these policies, because they lack access to options and bear the additional burden of feeding and taking care of children and elders in their communities. The Tamil Nadu Women’s Collective is actively working to increase livelihood opportunities for landless women through their “Women’s Empowerment Project.” This project, which Grassroots supported in October 2011, serves to secure the land rights of single women through the formation of collective farms, and conducts trainings on gender, food security, and natural farming methods.

In West Africa, the marginilization of rural women continues despite their role in agricultural production and household food security. Now in the second year of their “We Are the Solution” campaign, Grassroots’ grantee Fahamu is developing iniatives to support the self-determination of African women in both their everyday lives and in decisions affecting the future of agricultural production. Collaborating with 12 women-led family farmer organizations in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, and Senegal, Fahamu is building a movement to strengthen women’s political learning and development. The curriculum includes concepts relating to women’s rights and international conventions, technology and media tools for comunication and networking, and food sovereignty and agroecology trainings.

From South Asia to West Africa, the Bangladesh Krishok Federation, the Tamil Nadu Women’s Collective and Fahamu echo the same sentiments as our partners around the world regarding climate change solutions. They demand comprehensive land reform, government support for small farmers and the inclusion of indigenous knowledge systems in efforts to promote biodiversity. Above all, real solutions to climate change demand system change: a complete reframing of social, political, and economic ideologies.

From a gender perspective, one of the most obvious yet complicated tasks is the need to create spaces for women to discuss, learn and advocate for their demands within the current political and social frameworks, while also working to transform current realities into a fundamentally different system. According to Hakima Abbas, Executive Director of Fahamu, successful movement building is a step-by-step process. It is critical to creating broader institutional change, and fundamental to that is raising public consciousness.


Photo courtesy of the Via Campesina

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