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Why the voices of African women are so important in the fight against climate change

We are currently facing a climate crisis that is threatening health, ecosystems, and economies at a global scale. Climate change has and will continue to impact people in all countries, but its effects are being shaped and exacerbated by gender inequality and geographic factors.

Women are more likely to feel the impacts of climate change first, and worse, than men. This is because women are more likely to live in poverty than men, have less access to basic human rights like the ability to freely move and acquire land, and face systematic violence that escalates during periods of instability.

These factors, along with differentiated labor responsibilities, are felt even more so by women in African countries where gender inequality and economic marginalization mean that women may not have the same capacity to cope, or have the same access to resources, as their male counterparts. Women in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, are the primary water collectors in their communities. As climate change continues to cause water shortages, women may be burdened with extra responsibilities, including walking for increasingly longer distances to reach clean water, or keeping girls home from school to help with water collection duties.  

Dwindling resources and widespread drought are also responsible for migration and displacement, the effects of which can have dire consequences for women and girls, who face more gender-based violence and exploitation due to displacement. In North East Nigeria, for example, the terrorist group Boko Haram has targeted women who have been rendered more vulnerable by being displaced from their land by drought. Women and girls also become increasingly at-risk of child marriage, domestic and sexual violence, and human trafficking as a result of climate change. In Malawi, the economic impacts of climate change have resulted in more girls being married young, with 1.5 million girls at risk of becoming child brides in the coming years.

So what can be done? Evidence shows that advancing gender equality and empowering women can lead to advancements in food and economic security and health. At both household and national levels, women’s empowerment can lead to more environmentally-conscious decision making. 

In light of these factors, women–and African women in particular–are uniquely situated to initiate the conversations needed to bring about change. 

Below are just three of the many inspiring women leaders in the fight against climate change who are refocusing the conversation on Africa:

Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim

President, Association for Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad (AFPAT)

Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim is an environmental activist from Chad and an advocate on behalf of indigenous peoples. She has worked with UNESCO and the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee (IPACC) to create effective environmental and cultural adaptation and development plans.

Previously, she served as a co-chair of the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change, and is the Gender and Climate Representative for Congo Basin for the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Co-ordinating Committee.

Elizabeth Wanjiru Wathuti

Founder, Green Generation Initiative

Elizabeth is the founder of the Green Generation Initiative, which is dedicated to building green schools and empowering youth to become environmental enthusiasts. Since its launch in 2016, Green Generation Initiative has planted 30,000 trees in Kenya.

In 2019, Elizabeth was named one of the 100 Most Influential Young Africans by the Africa Youth Awards and was awarded the Africa Green Person of the Year Award by the Eleven Eleven Twelve Foundation of Nigeria. She has been featured by the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) as part of their Youth in Landscapes Initiative. 

Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, OBE

Mayor of Freetown and Amujae Leader

Amujae Leader Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr is a Sierra Leonean political leader and climate change activist with a strong commitment to driving positive social, economic and environmental change for her city. Her three-year ‘Transform Freetown’ plan includes planting 1 million trees in Sierra Leone’s capital among its 19 targets for development.

Mayor Aki-Sawyerr joined Gonzalo Muñoz, UN High Level Climate Champion for Chile, and Dr. Arvind Kumar, the Founder and Managing Trustee at the Lung Care Foundation in New Delhi, for the ‘COP26 & The Zero Carbon Growth Agenda’ panel discussion, an online event organized by The Climate Group in partnership with the United Nations and the City of New York, as part of the 2020 Climate Week NYC summit. Emphasizing the urgency with which we need to address the global climate emergency, Mayor Aki-Sawyerr also highlighted that everyone is capable of making a difference when it comes to combating climate change. 

To watch the full panel discussion, click here.

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