Impacts of climate change on women and key asks for climate actions

  1. Background and Introduction

Zimbabwe’s vulnerabilities to climate change are undeniable, and this has significantly impacted all sectors, including the agricultural sector. Decreased crop yield and crop failure in agriculture, coupled with fluctuating availability, quality, and cost of agricultural raw materials for the industry, have been some of the results of climate change. A critical step to crafting relevant strategies is understanding how climate change increases the vulnerability of women. Women have different access to information, resources, and networks compared to their male counterparts. Additionally, women are responsible for food production, and the lack of adequate appreciation of this societal role that women play can contribute to food insecurity for many households. Therefore, women must voice their concerns on climate change to represent the disenfranchised demographic. ZELA has been advocating for a climate change law that presents an opportunity to build a low-carbon society through transparent decision-making and implementation. Climate laws are essential as they offer a clear way to address the challenges that result from climate change. They also aim to increase resilience to climate change, minimize vulnerability, including that of women, and comply with international obligations that Zimbabwe has assumed.

The Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association conducted 5 community meetings with 145 women in Binga, Zvishavane, Bikita, Chimanimani and Mutoko districts. These convenings of women were aimed at highlighting how patriarchy results in gender bias and exclusion of women’s voices in shaping national and local agendas on climate change. The design and structure of the community outreach programme facilitated stakeholder participation. This was aimed at enabling consensus forming on what key asks Zimbabwe has regarding fulfilling the dictates to combat climate change.

  1. Objectives
    i. To conduct an interactive dialogue session that will discuss the progress and barriers in implementing the action points of COP 26 at the community level.
    ii. To elicit stakeholder views and positions on climate change issues in Zimbabwe, including youth, women, and other marginalized groups.
    iii. To develop an advocacy position paper for COP 27 and key asks for the climate change proposed Bill.
  2. Data Collection Tools
    The FGDs were employed to stimulate primary qualitative explanation with a complimentary effort to encourage interaction and participation. An unstructured questionnaire (FGD checklist) was used to assess context-specific women’s perceptions and understanding of climate change and related key themes such as causes, impacts, and mitigation strategies as well as mapping their own locally contextual solutions to climate change.
  3. The climate change context
    Communities have an understanding about climate change especially when it comes to shifts in seasons and weather patterns and the occurrence of natural disasters such as Cyclone Idai. The participants emphasized the change in key variables in terms of rain, temperature, and wind. Women acknowledged that climatic change has been mainly associated with unpredictable rain. The winds have brought destruction to infrastructure including houses. The rainfall patterns have shifted and have become unpredictable.

The key causes as depicted by the communities range from cultural and social, to human, and economic factors. Over the past years, participants acknowledge that there has been increased deforestation and there have been high levels of stream back cultivation which has led to the depletion of water sources and bodies. One of the significant contributors as asserted by the respondents is veld fires. The veld fires are common. In Chimanimani, there are several places associated with sacred values that have with time lost cultural value and are no longer respected, especially by the younger generation. Although there is no evidence linking this to climate change and related disasters, the respondents believe in a causal relationship between the two variables. The communities also understand that industrial activities that include manufacturing are a big contributor to climate change as residual wastes are left without proper disposal measures.

  1. Climate change induced impacts, shocks, and stresses
    The impacts of climate change have been noticed in all spheres of rural livelihoods, especially among women. This includes impacts on daily household activities, livelihood options, and women as the most affected players. The following are some of the impacts on different socioeconomic themes.
    • The unavailability of water has increased the burden of unpaid care work, and there has been an increase in protection risks, including GBV.
    • Destruction of strategic resources -apart from the above impacts, climate change has also caused infrastructure destruction like roads and bridges through cyclones, and this has manifested in the loss of external markets for agricultural products and timber products which the detract rely on
    • Loss of household income
    • Elevated levels of school dropout
    • Health risks such as malaria and bilharzia
    • The impacts have also manifested through the relocation of communities from their traditional land.

Climate change has influenced how women perform basic household duties. The Climate change-induced impacts such as the depletion and drying up of water sources have led to women walking long distances to fetch basic needs like water. This has resulted in the loss of time that could be invested in other economic activities. Again, the occurrence of the disasters has led to the women walking longer distances to fetch firewood which has equally influenced the loss of economic time that could be otherwise utilized for other important activities. Ensuring food security through farming has become very difficult and the water shortage crisis exacerbates the problem.

Subsistence Farming –The district mostly depends on rainfed agro-based livelihoods which are severely affected by increasingly frequent climate-induced shocks, impacting food security and livelihoods, making gender inequality more extreme, and hitting young women the hardest. Climate change has worsened the plight as agricultural activities they depend on are no longer viable. This follows that disasters and climate change-related variable such as droughts and change in seasons has affected the normal farming season. There have been disease outbreaks that farmers are failing to combat. Water tables have depleted leaving water inaccessible to their gardens. Cyclone Idai has made severe destruction to the gardens and even the infrastructure that facilitated routes to markets for the farmers’ produce.

Livestock Production -In the Chimanimani district, women acknowledged an increase in disease and pest outbreaks, destruction of grazing areas, the sudden death of animals, and shortage of pastures. A general but insignificant shift from crop production to livestock due to climate change has also been witnessed as farmers are claiming that livestock offers a better alternative solution to climate change, especially in terms of drought power.

Casual labour -Another source of income and a livelihood option is causal labour. However, this activity has been affected by climate change as piece jobs are now difficult to find due to the low productivity of the agricultural subsector, hence no jobs.

Bikita and Zvishavane
Climate change and the impacts it brings have been experienced by women living in Bikita and Zvishavane. It has led to starvation and malnutrition which is affecting children’s education who find it more taxing to walk long distances to school while suffering malnutrition. In addition, their health status is being affected because of the lack of access to safe water which is exposing them to diseases such as cholera and diarrhoea. Women as mothers are affected through witnessing these challenges affecting their children. Furthermore, livestock is suffering due to a lack of adequate grass. Consequently, the food security of communities is affected. Climate change has also brought about weather hazards such as cyclones which have resulted in landslides of rocks falling from mountains and destroying homes. The hardships brought by climate change have resulted in domestic violence due to income dependency on husbands and hunger. Violence is being noticed again in areas where women get their sources of water. Human and wildlife conflict tends to happen because water sources in the forest are drying up. The hot and dry conditions are affecting crop yields and affecting the marketing of crops harvested and sources of income of those who depend on agricultural activities as a source of income. Lack of adequate sources of income is affecting women from getting renewable and clean sources of energy such as biogas and installing renewable energy such as solar panels.

Moreover, women in Zvishavane are resorting to artisanal small-scale mining due to dry weather conditions which are affecting their agricultural activities, but the environment is not conducive enough for women as mining in the area is characterised by violence and male dominance. They are also facing discrimination and being ‘labelled’ because of their participation in mining activities. Furthermore, the women reported that rivers are drying up in Bikita. In areas where there is adequate rainfall, persistent rainfall is affecting people’s planting processes and agricultural activities. In addition, livestock is losing strength due to inadequate grass to feed, a situation which affects ploughing activities which are dependent on livestock. The environment is vulnerable to veld fires, resulting in the death of livestock and destroying thatched houses that people live in.

One lady in Mutoko indicated that she got married in 2010. During the 2010/2011 farming season, she was able to harvest about 19 bags of groundnuts which she managed to sell and provide for the family. However, during the 2020/2021 farming season, she only managed to harvest 2 bags of groundnuts. Limited rain and an increase in temperatures affected the crop which did not mature very well because of the excess heat and limited rainfall.
Another lady in Mutoko shared that since 2010 she has been able to harvest an average of 350 boxes of tomatoes per crop cycle. The funds from the sale of tomatoes were enough to pay for the children’s schooling and build a decent homestead. However, in 2017, her crop was attacked by worms (Tuta) which move rapidly from one crop to another. Community members suspected the pests were increased by the heat which also affected the crop. Cattle were also affected by some diseases during the same period, and this affected the woman’s chicken rearing business because beef prices were lowered with communities sometimes buying carcasses for meat. Disease outbreaks in cattle also affected the cultivation of fields.
When one lady in Mutoko got married in 1997, there were many natural wells which were used to water gardens for market gardening. The lady bemoaned the current situation where natural wells no longer have water and communal farmers now rely on the rains for crops. She revealed that of late, she was only harvesting 15 bags of groundnuts, a huge cut from her harvests when she got married in 1997.

Women in Binga indicated the dire impacts climate change was having on society, such as the increase in poverty levels due to crop failure. The women said extreme weather conditions were also causing sickness in children. In addition, underground water levels were said to be going further down due to decreased rainfall and increased temperatures. Water shortages have seen people resorting to stream bank cultivation for better yields.

  1. Key asks on climate actions and climate legislation.
    • Training for transformation and building the capacity of the local leadership to better understand climate change and women’s issues. This in turn would help in the enforcement of local laws.
    • Centres of excellence where climate change adaptation, mitigation, and resilience would be observed and promoted for the community to adopt. These centres of excellence may include demonstration sites of water harvesting techniques, soil, and water management among others that can be replicated in local communities.
    • Leadership training programmes to encourage women’s participation in local leadership and decision-making spaces.
    • Capacity building initiatives for climate change mitigation, resilience, and adaptation.
    • Specific training for women on green economic alternatives and farming systems such as mushrooms, and apiculture, among others to help them cope with the impacts of climate change.
    • Engaging and collaborating with local leadership on environmental matters.
    • Providing irrigation facilities and income-generating projects to increase household income.
    • Continuously building the capacity of women to preserve forests in various communities.
    • Extensive public consultation in the climate change Bill making processes.
    • Direct funding from developed countries to support such vulnerable communities as those in Zimbabwe to improve their adaptive capacity to climate change.

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