Support rural women to build climate resilience

A woman milks a Galla goat under care in Taveta's Malukiloriti area, Taita Taveta County. [Jeckonia Otieno, Standard]

The world celebrated International Women’s Day early this week with a call for “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow.” This was emphasised through the #BreakTheBias hashtag.

Breaking the bias, as the UN Women Executive Director Sima Bahous put it, means inclusivity in many aspects of life; consciously “leveling the playing field” and including women at the decision-making table. One of the targets of the fifth global Sustainable Development Goal (Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls) is to “end all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere”.

Efforts towards attaining this equality have been visible, and somehow more women are in research, more are contesting elective positions while more girls are taking Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics courses.

This month also harbours World Water Day at a time women in rural areas are most affected by climate-induced water stress in form of drought and flooding. In the village, it is the responsibility of women to ensure their households access water and to keep their homes and kin clean. 

But these women, mostly courtesy of their limited education, are not well represented at decision-making tables where climate-induced water stresses are discussed, resolutions, policies and strategies made, and implementation designs and plans decided. Neither are they part of research, unless coming in as statistics or voices to confirm or reject hypotheses. While this may be justified, those who research findings are supposed to help most are sometimes not the bearers of the latest information on technological developments around climate change, or water. As such, their ability to respond appropriately to climate change threats is limited to existing indigenous or traditional knowledge, devoid of latest research-based recommendations, including on smart agriculture.

If well empowered, the rural woman, despite socio-cultural barriers, can be a major player in disaster risk reduction and save communities from ripple effects of climate-induced water stresses such as poverty and hunger, conflict over meagre natural resources that may cause forced migration, stunted economic growth, food security issues and more. They speak the language of the common man, the rural folk who engage more with biodiversity and are key players in their survival or loss.

This calls for increased action by national and the devolved governments through relevant ministries and other organisations to ensure more participation by the rural folk in climate action.

Latest knowledge, information and research findings, such as that released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Working Group II) last week, must be broken down and disseminated in forms and languages that they can easily understand.

Such findings should be spread through all means, including vernacular radio and TV stations, and in learning institutions.

- Writer is an Editor at The Standard.