Some environmentalists argue that the best thing the world could do to effectively tackle climate change would be to elect more women into positions of leadership where decision are made. The proponents of this argument is women are better environmentalists than men and therefore having many of them as legislators would see more environment protecting laws being passed.
They also argue that while climate change has impacts on both men and women, it is the latter that are more vulnerable.
The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has compiled a number of documents showing disparities caused by gender inequalities during climate change conferences. Another argument is that women as long time conservationists of nature need just to be granted the opportunity to prove their mettle.
“From the time a woman is brought up as a girl child here in Botswana, she is taught how to clean. This entails the disposing of waste safely. Then as they grow many are taught how to mix soil to build mud huts. The roofs of the huts are grass; again harvested by women. They are the ones who mostly earn a living from natural resources like Phane and others,” said Lucy Mosarwa, a resident of Makomoto village near Tonota in the Central District. This, she said, contributes in molding a woman into a compassionate human being when it comes to caring for the environment.
She said men are like bosses who when they tap into the natural resources, they destroy it. Yards and kraals, she said are built by men.
“Just look at that cattle kraal. Because the man did not want the poor animals to escape he has cut down Mophane trees into poles. He has cut more than five hundred trees to build an enclosure for 60 cattle. He has cut down even other smaller trees to make what they call droppers attached to the top wire of a fence. Just those two kraals have destroyed about two hectors of mophane bush,” she said pointing at a nearby kraal. Mophane trees have been cut down and turned into poles.
Mosarwa’s sentiments are shared by Dibapalwa Nageng Trust, a Kumakwane women Community Based Organization whose mandate is gathering wild fruits like Morula and processing them into jam, sweets and body ointment creams. They also keep bees.
The Secretary of Dibapalwa Nageng Trust, Lemogang Ngakaemang believes women are better environmentalists than men because men overharvest natural resources whenever they utilize them.
“Men like using axes to cut down trees. With women, when we go and fetch firewood for instance, it is a matter of gathering a small load; enough to be carried on the head. We just cut down dry branches. If a man goes out to fetch firewood, he takes an axe and cuts down trees, even those that are not dry. With women perhaps the destruction we can do is that of harvesting grass, but even then it is not as bad as what men do. Often we use tools that allow the grass to grow again during rainy season. We ensure seeds are given chance to germinate for the next season,” said Ngakaemang.
She said men are associated with destructive practices as far as harvesting is concerned; a clear example being the harvesting of river and pit sands from rivers around Gaborone city.
“We can no longer water our animals at Ditlhakane or Metsimotlhabe rivers because sand is no longer there. It has been illegally harvested and this is continuing. Consequently wells that were dug in the rivers have been covered by mud. Find out who is doing that kind of business and your will find that men are at the centre of that,” she said. Ngakaemang added that it is men who keep lots of cattle for social status. This, she said leads to over grazing which negatively impact on the same environment “from which we all should benefit.”
Ngakaemang said they as Dibapalwa Nageng Trust already are feeling the impact of climate change. Their main produce, Morula fruit is almost non-existent this year. This year’s fruits are so small that they cannot be processed.
“The fruits will just go through the holes of the processing machine, causing damage to the machine. So this year there is no Morula processing for us. We have however been saved by the cream we kept last season for processing this year,” she said.
The Morula wild fruit is seasonal, so with that knowledge, she said, they always preserve some for processing even during the time when it is not available.
“So we will be able to produce more products until the next harvesting season. As for the bees, we still have some, but the problem with them is that they should dry, if dry season continues for years they relocate. We are only keeping our fingers crossed that things change for the better,” she said.
The Minister of Environment, Tourism and Wildlife said late last year that his ministry intends to roll out programmes aimed at fighting effects of climate change.
According to a UNDP document, titled “Resource Guide on Gender and Climate Chang” , in the agricultural sector, rural women in developing countries are the primary producers of staple food, a sector that is highly exposed to the risks that come with drought and uncertain rainfall. In many countries, climate change means that women and young girls have to walk further to collect water, especially in the dry season.
“Women in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, spend 40 billion hours per year collecting water ÔÇô equivalent to a year’s worth of labor by the entire workforce in France; moreover, women can be expected to contribute much of the unpaid labor that will go into coping with climate risks through soil and water conservation, the building of anti-flood embankments, and increased off-farm employment,” reads the document.
It further explains that while underscoring the vulnerability of poor women to climate change, it should also be acknowledged that women play an important role in supporting households and communities to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
Across the developing world, women’s leadership in natural resource management is well recognized. For centuries, women have passed on their skills in water management, forest management and the management of biodiversity, among others. Through these experiences, women have acquired valuable knowledge that will allow them to contribute positively to the identification of appropriate adaptation and mitigation techniques, if only they are given the opportunity.