When a child’s screams attracted villagers to a scene where his mother had just collapsed and died, the first suspected cause was hunger.
Emily Chebon, 38, had walked many kilometres to and from a water pan, a 20-litre jerrycan on her head, only three weeks after giving birth to her fifth born. Her husband was at Baringo County border to ward off bandits.
Baringo is one of the 23 counties where rain has been inadequate for at least three years, causing drought and water stress.
Many African cultures place women in the kitchen, where they worry about the wellbeing of the entire family even at their weakest moment. Chebon would probably be alive if not for the climate-induced water stress. Like many women in past climate disasters, she paid for the sins of the West with her own life.
Today, the sad faces of people worst hit by famine in the Horn of Africa are women. They fight for little water after walking long distances. They are the labourers in lands owned by their husbands.
They are heads of homes and security providers for their young ones and frail old people in whole villages when men go to search for pasture or jobs far away. The women bear the psychological and real brunt of climate change, but are also key solution drivers, more as a calling than duty.
When Kenya’s Nobel Peace laureate Wangari Maathai suffered in the hands of police in her attempts to save Karura and other forests, she did it for the good of the existing and future generations. She offered solutions to a greed driven environmental mess.
Women, no matter their status in society, are the biggest stakeholders in the climate crisis, yet not really best represented at the decision making table. Yet the solutions to the climate crisis lie in the hands of those with knowledge, political power, financial muscle, land and other property ownership among other privileges.
These people not only determine how land and other resources are shared and used, but also who gets the opportunity to air their views, or takes notes at the decision making table. These opinions influence decisions around policy formulations and implementation in agriculture, construction, extraction, manufacturing and all that is directly linked to the state of air, water, food security, economic stability and peace we desire.
As proven multipliers of change, women must be given their rightful space to save humanity from the climate disaster. More women must be empowered to vie for political seats and get proper representation in national and county assemblies’ finance, agriculture, environment, water, tourism, mining, infrastructure, education, investment and all other committees directly linked to climate change. Their participation must also increase in the National Climate Change Adaptation Plans. First Lady Rachael Ruto, who has shown interest in climate action, must be more aggressive and use her networks to achieve the best in this calling. She can champion a serious gender transformative climate adaptation.
Women will offer climate solutions if adequately empowered, involved in policy formulation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation, with equal pay, increased access to funds, as well as proper acquisition of knowledge and property. This will guarantee them access to credit and increase their resilience in the face of climate disasters, especially where loss of livelihoods is experienced.
This capacity building on climate change, action and opportunities must also involve the Kenyan Women Parliamentarians (KEWOPA), who have the opportunity and mandate to influence decisions at the national assemblies to ensure plans and budgets are made with adequate consideration of women’s roles in climate action.
Happy Wangari Maathai Day