The recent Africa Climate Summit in Nairobi offers great promise in addressing the pressing climate change issue across the continent. The unified stance of African governments signifies a crucial step toward collective climate action. However, it’s imperative that this unity translates into meaningful support for the most vulnerable groups affected by the climate crisis. Among these are women.
Women in Africa are celebrated for a myriad of things, including their strengths in the face of adversity. They represent 50% of Africa’s population and are responsible for 80% of the continent’s food production. And yet, they remain underrepresented in climate leadership and have to date been left behind in regional and global climate action.
If you look back at the climate disasters that have struck Africa over the past five years, the plights, needs, roles and contributions of women are hard to miss. Take East Africa’s drought crisis as an entry point: day after day, communities are fending for their lives. Crucial to their survival has been the recurring efforts of women (and girls) who ensure their families and livestock have food (no matter how little) and water – placing community needs above their own physical needs.
The Africa Climate Summit aimed to drive homegrown solutions to the climate crisis and enable Africans to access finance for Africa-designed solutions. This is a milestone in Africa’s global strides and the beginning of more commendable efforts in the on-going development of a climate-positive strategy for the world. As a subsequent step, the African Union and African heads of states should work to include gender lens approaches into our regional climate action plan.
It is paramount that these entities prioritize and fully support women’s participation in climate action. A key recommendation is to provide climate financing in the form of grants rather than loans. Grants acknowledge the distinct challenges women face and enable them to implement sustainable climate solutions without the added burden of repayment. This approach not only empowers women but also recognizes their invaluable contributions to building climate resilience within and beyond communities, states and countries.
Women-led climate initiatives in Africa have demonstrated remarkable results at the local level: women farmers have pioneered sustainable agricultural practices resilient to changing climate conditions, advocated for sustainable land management, and championed community-driven initiatives to enhance resilience. To further empower women in climate action, it is essential to support and scale up these initiatives. Not only do they bring tangible benefits to communities, but they also serve as models for effective climate resilience strategies.
In governments and regional leadership, women have complimented the strengths that men have previously brought to the tables of decision-making rooms. In countries like Kenya and South Africa where women have been appointed to lead on climate matters, there has been more public interest and support for environmental information and initiatives. This just goes to show how instrumental women are convening people for a common cause – a value so critical in this path our global community is on. This only points to the need for women as active participants in decision-making processes related to climate policy.
At the First Lady’s Pavilion at the Summit, stories of women as change agents in different African countries abound. This was a show of the historical and continued commitment of women in resolving the climate crisis.
The Africa Climate Summit Declaration represents a significant stride forward, but it must not remain as words on paper. It is time to translate these declarations into concrete actions that enable women – in all their diversity – and pave the way for a more sustainable and equitable future. Africa’s women are not just victims of climate change; they are powerful agents of change capable of leading us toward a more resilient future. Their involvement is not just an option; it is a necessity.
The author is the Head of Communications at SHE Changes Climate