IN many developing countries, socio-cultural norms, those unwritten rules and traditions that are usually inherited and are part of the greater patriarchal construct are definitive of the roles men and women are expected to perform.
The rules form part of the society’s acceptable norms where each gender is apportioned its responsibility and where any attempts to defy or override them is unacceptable and would be looked at with derision as anti-social — unAfrican in the African context.
In Zimbabwe, although strides have been made to bring equal opportunities in all areas, a lot more needs to be done in the home to ensure women are given an opportunity to explore their capabilities without murmurs of disapproval from men.
Women, in many developing countries suffer gender inequalities with respect to duties in the home, child care, human rights, political and economic status, land ownership, housing conditions, exposure to violence, education and health.
And climate change is just, but an added factor that will aggravate women’s vulnerability.
Climate change has had debilitating effects on availability of water and energy in the home and in most developing countries that is the women’s department in the unwritten code of gender responsibilities.
The climate change phenomenon has seen frequent droughts especially is sub-Saharan Africa and it meant that water to drink has also become scarce. Boreholes and wells that much of the population in the countryside depends on are drying up earlier than before.
Such a situation is putting more burden on women, such as travelling longer distances to get drinking and cooking water for the home.
A shortage of water in dams also means that hydro-power plants can no longer sustain the generation of enough electricity and therefore, an alternative to electricity energy will be required in the form of firewood both in town and in the rural areas.
The situation comes with a heavy weight on the shoulders of women and the girl child who should always ensure that there is enough of firewood to do the cooking.
Research by the United Nations (UN) shows that women represent a high percentage of poor communities that are highly dependent on local natural resources for their livelihood, particularly in rural areas where they shoulder the major responsibility for household water supply and energy for cooking and heating, as well as for food security.
Their childcare responsibilities, however, prevent them from migrating or seeking refuge in other places or working when a disaster hits. Their situation is not one of comfort especially in the face of climate change and its effects on the natural resources that they rely on for sustainable livelihoods.
Calls have therefore been made to increase women’s adaptive capacity so that they too absorb the shocks brought about by the climate change vagaries.
In Zimbabwe, this has prompted the Government to engage communities across the country sensitising them on the need to mainstream climate change in their planning as it is threatening livelihoods and burdening communities, especially women.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Mr Munesu Munodawafa said climate change was a reality that could no longer be ignored.
He said it was only proper for communities to appreciate adaptation and mitigation measures in the planning process.
“We cannot pretend that things are okay and normal when evidence backed by studies and what we see on the ground is pointing to the contrary. Climate change is real and the sooner we plan and include it in our budgets the better, we lessen its impacts.
“So, we are imploring all departments to mainstream climate change in their budgets,” said Mr Munodawafa.
He said climate change was manifesting itself in a number of ways such as frequent droughts and in weather phenomenon previously unknown to Zimbabwe as cyclones and prolonged dry spells that were putting a burden on women and the girl child.
“We never used to have cyclones in Zimbabwe, but if you check now, their frequency is increasing and so are droughts. There is water scarcity in the country’s cities and in rural communities. This is forcing our women and the girl child to walk painful distances looking for water.
“The lack of water is also affecting power generation and what it means is that our women and girl child are having to look for firewood since not many can afford other alternatives such as solar and gas.
“The climate change burden faced by women and the girl child is not only physically tiring but its psychological and it needs men to support them. This calls for councils and all other departments to put a plan on how they are going to respond to such issues when they occur. We need to put in place a roadmap to adapt and mitigate the effects of climate change.
“We also need to ensure that we have a gendered approach to these things in our communities as we build resilience (the ability of a social or ecological system to absorb disturbances while retaining the same basic structure and ways of functioning) through adoption of environmentally friendly and sustainable approaches to their way of life,” he said.
The Permanent Secretary added that low rainfall meant poor agriculture performance in communities and called for everyone to be on board in as far as planning for climate change is concerned.
He said in Matabeleland North Province studies have shown that districts such as Hwange, Tsholotsho and Umguza were vulnerable and needed to take climate change planning seriously although that is not to say all other districts are safe.
A climate change scientist, Ms Emily Matingo said it was worrying that women who contribute up to 50 percent of the agricultural workforce were mainly responsible for the more time-consuming and labour-intensive tasks that were carried out manually or with the use of simple tools.
She called for adaptation measures that take into account the role that women play in the home and in African societies.
“Women are mainly engaged in subsistence farming, particularly horticulture, poultry and raising small livestock for home consumption and all that requires water which is affected by climate change.
“We therefore, need to ensure that adaptation measures that we put in place seek to address those issues that are close to or that directly affect women and their productivity capacity.
“Adaptation initiatives should identify and address gender-specific impacts of climate change particularly in areas related to water, food security, agriculture, energy, health, disaster management, and conflict. Important gender issues associated with climate change adaptation, such as inequalities in access to resources, including credit, extension and training services, information and technology should also be taken into consideration,” she said.
The Director Climate Change Management Department in the ministry Mr Washington Zhakata said while it was true that women and the girl child were most affected, they have been active and effective agents and promoters of adaptation and mitigation.
“Women’s priorities and needs must be reflected in the development planning and funding. Women should be part of the decision making at national and local levels regarding allocation of resources for climate change initiatives,” he said.
He said it was important for communities to take early warning systems seriously so that they were not caught napping and urged institutions to ensure their buildings were safe from such issues as cyclones.
“There are buildings even institutions like WhaWha prison . . . if you look where it is built, in times of cyclones and serious flooding they need to plan ahead.
“We still have people settling in wetlands and flood plains, these need to have a plan as well because nature has a way of correcting human error and this may happen at the expense of human life which is why it is important for communities to be sensitized and capacitated in terms of knowledge,” said Mr Zhakata.
The director said the idea was to ensure efficiency in water and energy use as well as making sure there was a climate change building strategy where structures speak to climate change risks.
He added that they were carrying out sensitisation workshops in districts where they have covered more than half of the country’s districts and hoped that the message would help bridge the traditional gender gap in the communities.