Gender and Climate Change
The effects of climate change are felt everywhere in the world. But in most African countries, they have determining and life-changing impacts. The impacts of climate change in Africa include a rise in the sea level, coastal erosion, reduction of fresh water resources, deforestation, an increase in the intensity and recurrence of disasters and the spread of malaria, which makes Africa being the most affected continent of climate change (Boko et al. 2007; World Bank 2010b).
Climate change is not gender-neutral. It does affect men and women differently- even more so in rural areas of the African continent. Climate change thus gains a social dimension: As a result of different gender-based roles in the society, women are more dependent on natural resources, such as agriculture, which is highly climate-sensitive. Women and girls are the primary collectors, users and managers of water-supply. Hence, due to a decrease in rainfall, as it is the case in Southern Cameroon, riverbeds dry out which means women have to spend much more time and effort in order to fetch water. This increase of workload has another “side-effect” that leads to some important indicators which feed gender-based inequalities, such as lower school enrolment figures or less opportunity to engage in income-generating activities.
About 60% – 80% of the food-crops, especially for subsistence economy, are produced by women, but they own only 10% of the land suitable for cultivation (Rodenberg 2009). Female farmers have multiple responsibilities (food-production, household, care-taker) but are little involved in decision-making-processes.
The South-West region of Cameroon constitutes a hotspot, concerning bio-diversity, as it has a rich and diverse eco-system. However, uncontrolled land acquisition, large-scale agroforestry, illegal forest exploitation, poaching, and wildfires, coupled with unpredictable climatic and seasonal changes, have negatively affected the area. The main cash crops cultivated include cocoa, plantains, cocoyams, and cassava. The productivity of such is rather low due to little use of modern agricultural inputs. Most communities are largely dependent on the forest and surroundings for income generation and food security. The other important source for income-generation constitute large plantations. But such paid wage-activities are mostly for male members of a household and led to a strong migration.
Most rural communities in Cameroon are highly dominated by gender inequality. Women are responsible for the household duties, while men manage family assets, earn money for daily needs and make important decisions. Women don’t have access to and control over productive resources, services and land, which is crucial for their activities. Access to extension rural advisory services is vital for climate change adaption and mitigation, as it provides important information. But women seem to participate rarely in extension meetings due to their multiple responsibilities. They seem to focus more indigenous knowledge, while men use more advanced skills, especially in cocoa production, which they acquired from farmer field schools.
“The main piece of land I am working on belongs to my husband; the little he now has, after the creation of the park, led to seizure of part of our land. It is family land that he inherited from his father. I cannot cultivate crops such as cocoa that takes several years to mature because he could decide to sell it. I do not pray for trouble, but I know that especially if the family is faced with difficulties, he will prefer to sell the land where I am working on than his cocoa farm. I prefer to plant crops such as tomatoes, beans, cassava, cocoyams as they have a short maturation period. More so, planting these types of crops helps me to provide food for my family and sell surplus. I equally have a small piece of land which I bought last year. I am thinking of cultivating cocoa on it as cocoa, though seasonal, brings in large sums of money.” Female farmer, Munyenge
Our ideas and strategies to approach the issue…
First of all, it is important for us to approach the issue in a holistic and sustainable manner. We therefore take an intersectional approach, which highlights the importance on addressing different societal levels. We aim to approach the issue by implementing the following strategies:
Introduction of a change of crop-choice and a modification of traditional practices (dry planting, early planting, use of drought-tolerant seeds, livelihood diversification, diversification of crops, mulching, water storage, and natural barriers)
Providing professional advisory services and access to relevant information for both, men and women.
Offering Women another source of income-generating activities (e.g. “Green business strategies”)
Target leaders and decision-makers to stress the importance of an equal decision-making process and communication in the households between men and women, especially concerning land-use and choice of crops
Offering workshops and trainings to target institutions and hence a structural level. Though many institutions are aware of gender-based inequalities, this knowledge is not yet put into practise. Therefore, we want to come up with a practical approach and solutions which address the structural level.