As global temperatures rise, and weather patterns change, many of Kenya’s rural women are now paying a high price.
These may include among others, women walking increasingly long distances to look for water as a result of more severe drought, or being left behind with children and livestock to care for while men move further away in search of pasture and water.
However, women are not one homogenous group with shared situations and experiences, nor should they be seen as passive victims of climate change. In fact, in parts of Kenya they are actively engaging in and influencing climate and development planning and decision-making processes thanks to a combination of civil society advocacy and the increasingly progressive mindset of the Kenyan government.
Kenya is one of the first African countries to develop legislation that actively promotes women’s participation in climate change activities, both at the policy and community levels. Not only does the Kenyan constitution offer a fairly good equity framework, but the National Gender and Equality Commission also helps to ensure that issues of equity are addressed across the board.
In addition, there is a draft Kenyan climate change policy and bill as well as the Kenya National Climate Change Action Plan, all of which mention gender and women’s rights issues. As a result, women are becoming increasingly involved in Kenya’s climate response.
CARE’s Adaptation Learning Programme for Africa (ALP), which promotes community-based adaptation approaches in Kenya, Ghana, Niger and Mozambique, is a case in point. It has been working hand in hand with the government, and with both men and women, to integrate the use of climate information into participatory adaptation planning and budgeting. Put simply, it’s about asking both men and women for their views, ideas and needs when it comes to taking action on climate change – and affording them fair weight.
Traditionally, where systems and structures exist to allow for climate change adaptation planning, men usually take the lead, with limited representation from women and youth. This is true, for example, of some of Kenya’s nomadic pastoralist communities.
Generally, women do not take part in farming activities, leaving the men to prepare the land, plant seeds, grow pasture and take care of the animals. And although women traditionally have access to the animals to milk them, mostly they do not make decisions about when to sell them or slaughter them for food.
But now, in some pastoralist communities at least, things are changing. With more frequent and longer droughts due to climate impacts, people are tending to roam far less widely than they once did, while numbers of livestock have also rapidly decreased. Gradually, people are settling into more sedentary lifestyles.
In response, and partly due to their increased participation in decision-making processes, women have also begun to diversify their asset and capital base by engaging in income generating activities which complement men’s livelihood activities in support of the household bottom line.
This includes women taking part in small-scale businesses and village savings and loans groups that enable families to buy extra food, medicines and other necessities in preparation for an unpredictable future, including potential disasters.
With improved access to information and resources, a number of women in Kenya’s rural communities (particularly Garissa) are also becoming more involved in selling farm produce. The men, in turn, are increasingly interacting with women to plan planting seasons and to make sure their skills complement each other during the farming seasons.
Men have also begun to work more closely with women. So, instead of having traditionally separate and clearly defined roles, increasingly men and women are able to interact and understand each other’s contribution to keeping the family afloat.
Acknowledging women’s talents
And there are other benefits too. Many women involved in climate information and capacity building work in Garissa have also had new opportunities to speak publicly. Their communities are starting to acknowledge that the women among them have essential skills, including business skills, money management skills and leadership skills. And people are beginning to see women as active agents of change whose actions complement and build on the work that men are doing.
In short, involving men and women equally in decision-making processes brings many rewards. Not only are they able to share their perspectives with each other, but their joint participation in climate change adaptation planning also results in more sustainable resilience building.
Our experience has highlighted that not all women (or men) are the same. People’s needs vary according to age, livelihood group and many other factors. And, crucially, such processes also build confidence and social capital.
So, it’s a good start and in these communities, at least, women and men are working together to respond to the climate threat. But there’s still much work to do.
The challenges lie in the implementation of plans and policies, as well as in targeting the most vulnerable groups. More effort needs to be placed on ensuring that the necessary resources are available for effective implementation – not just in pastoralist communities or in Garissa, but far, far wider. And, there’s still inequitable access and control over resources at financial and technical levels and when it comes to accessing climate information.
While most policy- and decision-makers understand gender concepts, they often have limited capacity to transfer this information into tangible action. In short, many aren’t sure what integrating gender looks like in practice.
So we need to raise awareness about equitable approaches to climate action – and we need to find the financial, technical and human resources to enable effective capacity building on gender and climate change across the nation. Finally, we need further investment in evidence-based advocacy, and an enabling policy environment that helps ensure gender is integral to all climate interventions.
Only once these challenges have been met will Kenya be able to truly say it is delivering gender-equitable climate action for some of our nation’s most vulnerable people.