By Tanele Dlamini

Much has been publicised about the effects of climate change – particularly of droughts, on imports and exports in Swaziland. Focus has been placed on the impacts of climate change on food production and on hydrology and water resources. The impact that does not receive the attention it deserves is the amplification of inequalities, particularly for women. The Inter Press Service News Agency which reports on news and views from the Global South defines climate change as referring to unsustainable human consumption and production systems driving changes in average temperatures and weather patterns. Climate change has fast become a prominent environmental and developmental issue and has frequently been called “the challenge of our time”. Climate change exacerbates insecurities of the most vulnerable populations which includes women.

A large body of literature points to the fact that natural disasters are not gender neutral; that extents of vulnerability to environmental challenges differ among men and women. It is the intention of this article to present the case that women pay a higher cost of environmental degradation. A question which will be answered is why women in Swaziland need to be specifically targeted in climate change deliberations. First, women make up 53% of the population in a country with 63% of the population living in poverty, therefore solving their problems is solving the problems of the majority. Second, statistics support that women are amongst the most vulnerable in the country and it is the vulnerable groups which experience an intensification of challenges under additional vulnerability to the environment. The Swaziland Household Income and Expenditure Survey 2009/10 reported female-headed households as having higher poverty incidence at 67% when compared to their male counterparts at 59%. Furthermore, the Labour Force Survey provides that between 2001 and 2010, unemployment for women rose from 29.7% to 31.3% while for men there was a decrease from 29.7% to 25.7%. Suffice to say, women need distinctive consideration.

Noting that 70% of the population reside in rural areas and that 89% of the poor live in rural areas in an economy which is predominantly depend on agriculture; pro-longed drought results in disturbing levels of food insecurity. Drought truncates rainfall and limits arable land. Drought adds strain to already fragile rural households predominately deriving their livelihoods from subsistence agriculture. Moreover, drought further limits access and control over resources. Women’s increased vulnerability to climate change is connected to the fact that women have fewer resources and therefore low adaptive capacities. In Swaziland, women generally have lower economic status than men as the 2013-2014 Draft Labor Force Survey indicates that male earnings are 67% higher than those of women. Additionally, the survey indicates female labour participation rate at only 45% and women participation in the labour force as lower in all the regions as well as across rural and urban dimensions.

In a 1994 article published in the journal Focus on Women, Wilfred Tichagwa advances reasons why droughts are more harmful to women than men. Tichagwa advocates that drought can have economic, social, health, and environmental effects on women. His argument centers around the notion that women’s workload increases in times of drought. Women are primarily responsible for meeting the food needs of the family. In times of drought, rural women have to walk longer distances to fetch water and firewood (often on foot) and this poses health risks. To evidence this, the Swaziland Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) 2010 confirms that for households without drinking water on premises, those typically responsible for collecting drinking water was 69% women. Women have unique expertise and experience as they also pass on their skills to their children on how to manage water collection and how to collect firewood, skills are a vital household asset – especially during drought.

At a global level, there has been renewed emphasis on the importance of gender issues in climate change debates. This emphasis has been advanced through the international environmental treaty – the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). During the 2005 Conference on the Parties (COP 11), NGOs inputted that more women should have representation in climate change discussions. This suggestion was put into action a decade later, in 2015, when the Women’s Earth & Climate Action Network (WECAN International) played an active role in the exercise to form a global agreement to confront climate change through COP 21.

Likewise, promoting gender equality and empowering women is a stand-alone goal in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This shows commitment to gender-focused approaches to tackling world challenges including climate change. SDG Goal 5 is dedicated to achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls. Goal 5 links with several goals such as Goals 1 (no poverty); Goal 2 (zero hunger); Goal 3 (good health and well-being); Goal 4 (quality education); Goal 6 (clean water and sanitization); Goal 8 (good jobs and economic growth); Goal 10 (reduced inequalities); Goal 13 (climate action) and Goal 17 (partnerships for the goals). This relationship with numerous others goals gives the indication that a gendered perspective is a critical lens necessary to solve developmental problems to accelerate the Kingdoms efforts to become a developed country.

Locally, so much more work needs to be done for gender-specific strategies to be identified, and effectively implemented. Linkages between gender and climate change remain in need of greater recognition. Adaptive interventions need to bear in mind the cultural norms; unequal distribution of roles, resources and power. This builds the case for strategies which need to mark the appropriate target. The same economic and societal roles that make women more vulnerable to the effects of climate change are also the same key challenges which mark women as key actors for driving sustainable development.

To-date, the National Development Strategy (NDS) pronounces that the country mainstream climate change into national development and sectoral planning and budgeting. Swaziland now has a National Climate Change Policy and the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) was established to promote disaster reduction programmes and awareness campaigns to drastically reduce disaster risk and strengthen disaster victims’ resilience especially for drought victims. In executing its role of developing and strengthening legal and institutional framework for disaster risk reduction, the NDMA needs to pay particular attention to women, their needs, their unique experience of vulnerability in instances of disaster.

The drought provides well needed lessons for the country as the last phase of implementing the NDS sets in. There is need to reduce gender disparities in climate vulnerability, the socio-economic differences between men and women need more vigorous interrogation so as to ease gender roles which increase vulnerability to climate change. At the first instance, more research at the regional level is necessary to assess the socio-economic differences which need to be understood for adaptation and mitigation of the effects of climate change. Secondly, women need appropriate representation at all levels of climate agreements in order to contribute their distinctive experience of how to adapt to climate change. Climate change interventions must not exclude women as they are powerful change agents. Through a gendered review of strategies, Swaziland can address a range of economic; social and environmental issues.

Sustainability and effectiveness of climate change projects and policies can be strengthened through women’s greater participation. As Carvajal-Escobar, Quintero-Angel & M. Garcia-Vargas (2008) put it, women tend to be very effective at mobilizing communities in the event of disasters and disaster risk management and reduction and have a clear understanding of what strategies are needed at the local level. This defines the next move that is necessary, it is to craft out women’s role in the mitigation of the effects of climate change.