Kenyan MPs to champion rural women’s influence on climate policy
By Isaiah Esipisu
Nairobi – Women are due to get a bigger say in Kenya’s climate change policies after female parliamentarians representing its 47 counties joined a group that has been pushing for gender balance from the local up to the national level.
Kenya’s new constitution provides for one seat per county that can only be contested by women. After the March general elections, for the first time, all counties have a female representative in the National Assembly.
Last month these representatives all signed up to work with a non-governmental organisation called Kenya Climate Justice Women Champions (KCJWC), raising hopes that efforts to tackle climate change will become more sensitive to women’s concerns.
Kenya’s rural woman are grappling with numerous challenges, including poverty, preventable diseases and the impacts of climate shifts on farming and other aspects of their daily lives, yet they are always under-represented in decision making, Tiyah Galgalo, female Member of Parliament (MP) for Isiolo County, said at an event to launch the collaboration.
“To improve the working conditions of our women, we are going to bridge the gap between the smallholder women farmers in the village and the top decision-making organs at both the national and international levels,” said Galgalo, one of the northeast region’s first women graduates and a long-time advocate for women rights.
The recently elected female MPs believe that, by acting as women’s “champions” on climate change, they can generate political goodwill that will help strengthen livelihoods, food security and health throughout Kenyan society.
They have committed to becoming ambassadors for the rights of women who are bearing the brunt of climate change, as highlighted by fellow “champions” at the grassroots level.
“We are lucky all the 47 women (MPs) have accepted to represent their respective counties at the policy-making level. This is an important ingredient that was lacking in our organisational structure,” said Cecilia Kibe, national coordinator for the KCJWC, which was set up in July 2010 by a group of professional Kenyan women.
FOOD & CHILD CARE PROVIDERS
Campaigners have called for more attention to the specific impacts of global warming on women, not least because they play the most important role in ensuring food security, especially in developing countries.
According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), women produce up to 80 percent of basic foodstuffs in sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean. In Asia, they provide between 50 and 90 percent of labour for rice cultivation, an industry that supplies many African countries including Kenya.
“It pains me when I see women queuing to have their kids receive malaria treatment, women toiling on farms to produce food, women walking long distances in search of water, and women sleeping in the cold with children because their houses have been swept away by floods, yet they have no voice in climate change policy-making processes at any level,” said Catherine Wambilianga, women’s MP for Bungoma County in western Kenya.
This region has always enjoyed climatic conditions that were favourable for farming. But that is no longer the case, due to climate-related disasters such as prolonged dry spells, floods and landslides, Wambilianga observed. The shifting climate heaps an additional burden on women, who are also largely responsible for child care, she added.
The main aims of the Kenya Climate Justice Women Champions movement are to unite voices, lobby for space in climate change negotiations, and help women adapt to new climatic conditions by backing community-based groups.
The partner MPs have already started collecting views from smallholder farmers through climate change advocacy forums organised by the KCJWC. The information gathered will be used to craft future policies on climate change.
Denittah Ghati, women’s representative for Migori County in western Kenya, said that when it comes to new agricultural or energy technologies, for example, there is a need to assess what is feasible in different communities, what problems might arise, and how effective the technologies are likely to be for rural women before recommending them to national decision makers.
Kibe from the women champions’ movement agreed that the impacts of climate change are most visible on the ground where women live and work, and so any interventions to help them should be guided by their experiences.
So far, the organisation has worked mainly with small farmers in rural areas, where it has pushed for women to become more involved in policy making through local administrative structures and advocacy forums it has hosted at the county level.
The group has already gained 426,000 female and 110,000 male members, who are working to promote climate- and gender-aware approaches across the country.
As a result, women have begun boosting their incomes by planting drought-tolerant crops, growing indigenous vegetables for nutritional purposes - especially for children and people living with HIV/AIDS - and adopting green farming practices such as agroforestry.
“As much as rural women remain the most vulnerable to climate change, they are also capable of creating change and adaptation within their communities,” said Kevin Kinusu, climate change officer for Oxfam.
“The truth is that the answers to most climate change-related issues of national and international concern lie with local people, who have ideas and relevant solutions. And that is the route we want to follow,” emphasised Isiolo MP Galgalo.
Isaiah Esipisu is a journalist specialising in agricultural and environmental reporting. He can be reached at email@example.com