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Defying odds in championing climate change mitigation efforts

 Women from Kakamega County planting indigenous trees. [Bernard Lusigi, Standard]

A group of women from Kakamega County have courageously taken a leading role in planting indigenous trees, defying the odds and stereotypes associated with such activities.

It has not been a walk in the park for the women because some Luhya cultural beliefs and practices forbid them from planting trees and many other activities reserved for men only.

To date, some Luhya subtribes restrict women to activities such as house cleaning, babysitting, and other lighter occupations.

Judith Waswa from Kisembe Village in Navakholo said after being trained by Women Earth Alliance (WEA) in partnership with a Kakamega-based Women in Water and Natural Resources Conservation (WWANC) on how to mitigate the effects of climate change, the group opted to put into practice what they were taught.

She has been educating the community and sensitising locals on climate change mitigation measures.

The women have been championing efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change with passion and determination.

They have embraced planting indigenous trees to contribute towards an initiative launched earlier by President William Ruto targeting to have at least 15 billion trees planted across the country by 2032.

“I was trained on eco-friendly approaches to tackle the climate change crisis in the country. After the training, I decided to play a role in this fight by championing the initiative in my community. We are gradually getting rid of backward cultural beliefs that forbid women from planting trees, especially indigenous ones,” said Ms Waswa.

She added: “The effects of climate change do not know gender boundaries whenever they strike, they affect everybody regardless of gender.”

Waswa has so far trained over 200 women on how to address the climate change crisis and establish tree nurseries to get enough tree seedlings for planting.

“We distribute seedlings to schools and other government institutions for planting. Our target is to ensure the whole community embraces tree planting. Traditionally, we have been told that women do not plant trees, and if they do, the trees cannot grow, but that was just a bad belief because we have planted many trees, and they have grown,” she said.

 A woman carries indigenous tree seedlings during a planting exercise in Kakamega County. [Bernard Lusigi, Standard]

“We also have energy-saving jikos that have helped us reduce reliance on firewood, which contributes to the destruction of forests.  They also reduce smoke emissions in our kitchens and respiratory diseases caused by such smoke,” said Waswa.

Stella Machio and Peninah Nyongesa said besides distributing seedlings to schools for free, they also sell seedlings for income.

“We generate income from selling tree seedlings. The little savings we get help us in educating our children and putting food on the table,” said Ms Machio.

WWANC, chief executive officer, Rose Wamalwa, said women suffer a lot due to the climate change crisis ranging from lack of rainfall, which causes water scarcity and food insecurity.

“Since women are the most vulnerable, we have opted to engage them to be at the forefront of mitigation efforts against climate change and empowering them. We want them to educate their peers that planting trees has nothing to do with going against cultural beliefs but will help in mitigating against the effects of climate change for a better future,” said Ms Wamalwa.

She said WWANC in partnership with WEA targets grassroots women across East Africa to champion initiatives geared towards tackling the effects of climate change.

“The challenges Kenyan women face are facing are the same as those women in Uganda, Tanzania, and Africa in general are grappling with. It is our duty as women to play a leading role in eco-friendly initiatives to address the climate change crisis,” she said.

Ms Melinda Kramer and Amira Diamond, the co-founders of WEA, lauded Kenyan women for being at the forefront of the fight against the effects of climate change.

“Kenyan women have decided to act now on climate change, it is inspiring to see grassroots women playing a key role in this fight,” said Ms Kramer.

She added: “We are looking forward to having more women joining these initiatives for a better future.”

Karen Ndiema, a senior Warden at Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) in charge of Kakamega Forest, said they allocated 100 hectares of forest to WWANC to plant indigenous trees and help in efforts to restore the forest and conserve the environment.

She said the region has experienced a shift in rainfall patterns, which she attributed to the effects of climate change.  “We have a target of planting 15 million trees. We cannot achieve this on our own, and that is why we have embraced organisations like WWANC to support us,” said Ms Ndiema. 

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