By Temba Dube
Participants to the third annual Gender Justice and Local Government summit signed a petition calling on governments in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to add an addendum on climate change and sustainable development to the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development.
Noting the impact of climate change on the lived realities of women, representatives from local authorities attending this year's summit joined gender activists in urging governments not to leave out the issue in the gender protocol, which is a road map for achieving gender equality in the region. The protocol has 28 gender equality targets to be achieved by 2015.
According to a Gender Links (GL) policy brief, 70 percent of the world's poor are women. The brief highlights that while climate change affects everyone, the poor and vulnerable in Africa and other developing countries that have the least responsibility for climate change suffer the most, as they experience violence, exclusion and loss of sovereignty over natural resources.
"About 85 percent of people who die in climate induced natural disasters are women while 75 percent of environmental refugees are women," the policy brief says.
In an interview, GL Chief Executive Officer Colleen Lowe Morna said she is optimistic that the issue will be incorporated into the protocol by the end of the year.
"The effects of climate change have increased dramatically since the original protocol was drafted. We are working with governments and civic organisations to push for the inclusion of gender sensitive strategies to adapt to climate change in the protocol to protect vulnerable groups," said Lowe Morna.
She said there would be a final push when the Southern Africa Protocol Alliance presents its findings to the SADC Heads of States (HOS) summit in Mozambique in August this year.
"We hope Governments will ratify the amendment then so that it becomes a national and regional policy that is legally binding like the protocol," she said. Asked why the issue had been left out when the protocol was first drafted, she said it had been overshadowed by issues that were more topical at the time.
"Climate change has always been there but it is only in recent years that the full scope of its frightening effects has been fully understood. Then (at the time of the campaign for the protocol) Gender Based Violence (GBV) and equal representation in government were the more burning issues. Luckily, the protocol is not a closed document. It can be amended from time to time to meet prevailing needs," said Lowe Morna.
Speaking during a plenary session on climate change and sustainable development, the Coordinator for Climate Change in Southern Africa, Dorah Marema advocated for the addendum saying climate change was the biggest threat to humankind today. "Food security, already a humanitarian crisis in the region is likely to be further aggravated by climate change and weather variability, HIV and AIDS, poor adaptation and poor governance," said Marema.
"With changes in the climate, traditional food sources become more unpredictable and scarce. This exposes women to loss of harvests, often their sole sources of food and income," she added.
Eduardo Namburete, a GL board member from Mozambique said his country has been at the forefront for the addendum to the Gender Protocol. "The suggestion that this addition should be made, came from an organisation in Mozambique. The country because of its geographic location is arguable the worst affected by natural disasters caused by climate change," said Namburete.
Mozambique often has heavy floods, because it is in the catchment area for rivers in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Swaziland, Namibia and Malawi, and the country's coastal areas are hit by severe cyclones. "Convincing governments to make the addition may be the only way to save the region, and ultimately the world," he said.
Temba Dube is a journalist with The Chronicle in Zimbabwe. This article is part of GL Opinion and Commentary Service, special news and analysis series of the 2012 Gender Justice and Local Government Summit