Inter Press Service » Women & Climate Change http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Thu, 05 Mar 2015 04:42:04 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 Opinion: Let’s Grant Women Land Rights and Power Our Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-lets-grant-women-land-rights-and-power-our-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-lets-grant-women-land-rights-and-power-our-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-lets-grant-women-land-rights-and-power-our-future/#comments Wed, 04 Mar 2015 15:20:12 +0000 Monique Barbut http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139496 Mary Wanjiru is a farmer from Nyeri County in central Kenya. Granting land rights to women can raise farm production by 20-30 per cent in developing countries. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Mary Wanjiru is a farmer from Nyeri County in central Kenya. Granting land rights to women can raise farm production by 20-30 per cent in developing countries. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Monique Barbut
BONN, Mar 4 2015 (IPS)

Women are not only the world’s primary food producers. They are hardworking and innovative and, they invest far more of their earnings in their families than men. But most lack the single most important asset for accessing investment resources – land rights.

Women’s resourcefulness is astonishing, but they are no fools. They invest their income where they are most likely to see returns, but not in the land they have no rights to. Land tenure is the powerful political tool that governments use to give or deny these rights. We are paying a high price for the failure to grant land rights to the women who play a vital role in agriculture.

Courtesy of UNCCD

Courtesy of UNCCD

Women produce up to 80 per cent of the total food and make up 43 per cent of the labour force in developing countries. Yet 95 per cent of agricultural education programmes exclude them. In Yazd, the ‘desert capital’ of Iran, for example, women have invented a method to produce food in underground tunnels.

In Asia and Africa, a woman’s weekly work is up to 13 hours longer than a man’s. Furthermore, women spend nearly all their earnings on their families, whereas men divert a quarter of their income to other expenses. But most have no rights to the land they till.

Land rights level the playing field by giving both men and women the same access to vital agricultural resources. The knock-on effect is striking. Granting land rights to women can raise farm production by 20-30 per cent in developing countries, and increase a country’s total agricultural production by up to 4 per cent.

This is critical at a time when we are losing 12 million hectares of fertile land each year, but need to raise our food production by up to 70 per cent by 2050 due to population growth and consumption trends – not to mention climate change.

But what is land tenure exactly? Land tenure works like a big bundle of sticks, with each stick representing a particular right. There are five important sticks in the bundle; the sticks to access, to use, to manage land independently, to exclude and to alienate other users. The more sticks a land user has in the bundle, the more motivated they are to nourish and support the land.Women are grimly aware that without land rights, they could lose their land to powerful individuals at any moment. Where, then, is the incentive to invest in the land; especially if you’re hungry now?

The failure to grant these rights, not just to poor, rural land users, but to women as well, means fertile land is exploited to barrenness. With rising competition over what little is available, conflicts are inevitable.

In rural Latin America, only 25 per cent of the land holdings are owned by women. This drops to 15 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa and to less than 5 per cent in western Asia and northern Africa. These are shocking figures, and yet they may be even more optimistic than the reality.

A recent study in Uganda, for instance, shows that even when men and women nominally jointly own land, the woman’s name may not appear in any of the documentation. If a husband dies, divorces or decides to sell the land, his wife has no recourse to asserting her land rights.

Women are grimly aware that without land rights, they could lose their land to powerful individuals at any moment. Where, then, is the incentive to invest in the land; especially if you’re hungry now? Instead, those without rights take what they can from the land before they move to greener pastures. This adds to the unfortunate, yet preventable, spiral of land degradation.

At least 500 million hectares of previously fertile agricultural land is abandoned. And with less than 30 per cent of the land in developing world under secure tenure, there is little hope that these trends will change. The lack of secure land tenure remains a vital challenge for curbing land degradation in developing countries.

Among the rural poor, men are often the main beneficiaries. But granting land rights to both men and women will narrow inequalities and benefit us all.

In Nepal, women with strong property rights tend to be food secure, and their children are less likely to be underweight. In Tanzania, women with property rights are earning up to three times more income. In India, women who own land are eight times less likely to experience domestic violence. The social gains from secure land tenure are vast.

For years, women have dealt with land degradation and fed the world without the support they need. Imagine how granting them land rights could power our future. Let’s mark this year’s International Women’s Day by shouting the loudest for the land rights of rural women.

Edited By Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: It’s Time to Step It Up for Gender Equalityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-its-time-to-step-it-up-for-gender-equality/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-its-time-to-step-it-up-for-gender-equality http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-its-time-to-step-it-up-for-gender-equality/#comments Tue, 03 Mar 2015 19:09:58 +0000 Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139478 Girls attend school in Peshawar, capital of Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Girls attend school in Peshawar, capital of Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 3 2015 (IPS)

If we look at the headlines or the latest horrifying YouTube clip, Mar. 8 – International Women’s Day – may seem a bad time to celebrate equality for women.

But alongside the stories of extraordinary atrocity and everyday violence lies another reality, one where more girls are in school and more are earning qualifications than ever before; where maternal mortality is at an all-time low; where more women are in leadership positions, and where women are increasingly standing up, speaking out and demanding action.How much would it really cost to unlock the potential of the world’s women? And how much could have been gained!

Twenty years ago this September, thousands of delegates left the historic Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing on a high. The overwhelming feeling was that women had won a great victory. We had indeed – 189 world leaders had committed their countries to an extraordinary Platform for Action, with ambitious but realistic promises in key areas and a roadmap for getting there.

If countries had lived up to all those promises, we would be seeing a lot more progress in equality today than the modest gains in some areas we are currently celebrating. We would be talking about equality for women across the board – and we might be talking about a saner, more evenly prosperous, more sustainably peaceful world.

Looking today at the slow and patchy progress towards equality, it seems that we were madly ambitious to expect to wipe out in 20 years a regime of gender inequality and outright oppression that had lasted in some cases for thousands of years.

Then again – was it really so much to ask? What sort of world is it that condemns half its population to second-class status at best and outright slavery at worst? How much would it really cost to unlock the potential of the world’s women? And how much could have been gained! If world leaders really saw the Beijing Platform for Action as an investment in their countries’ future, why didn’t they follow through?

Some women are taking a seat at the top table. There were 12 female Heads of State or Government in 1990, and 19 in 2015. But the rest are men. Eight out of every 10 parliamentarians worldwide are still men.

Maternal mortality has fallen by 45 per cent; but the goal for 2015 was 75 per cent. There are still 140 million women with no access to modern family planning: the goal for 2015 was universal coverage.

More girls are starting school and more are completing their education; countries have largely closed the “gender gap” in primary education. Many more girls are entering secondary school too, but there is a wide gap between girls’ and boys’ attainments.

More women are working: Twenty years ago, 40 per cent of women were in waged and salaried employment.  Today that proportion has grown to some 50 per cent. But at this rate, it would take more than 80 years to achieve gender parity in employment, and more than 75 years to reach equal pay.

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Photo Courtesy of UN Women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Photo Courtesy of UN Women

This year marks a great opportunity for the world’s leaders, and a great challenge. When they meet at the United Nations in New York in September, they will have the opportunity to revisit and re-commit to the goals of Beijing.

Today, we call on those leaders to join women in a great partnership for human rights, peace and development. We call on them to show an example in their own lives of how equality benefits everyone: man, woman and child. And we call on them to lead and invest in change at a national level to address the gender equality gaps that we know still persist.

We must have an end point in sight. Our aim is substantial action now, urgently frontloaded for the first five years, and equality before 2030. There is an urgent need to change the current trajectories. The poor representation of women in political and economic decision-making poses a threat to women’s empowerment and gender equality that men can and must be part of addressing.

If the world’s leaders join the world’s women this September; if they genuinely step up their action for equality, building on the foundation laid in the last 20 years; if they can make the necessary investments, build partnerships with business and civil society, and hold themselves accountable for results, it could be sooner.

Women will get to equality in the end. The only question is, why should we wait? So we’re celebrating International Women’s Day now, confident in the expectation that we will have still more to celebrate next year, and the years to come.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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“HeForShe” Campaign Moves to the Next Stagehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/heforshe-campaign-moves-to-the-next-stage/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=heforshe-campaign-moves-to-the-next-stage http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/heforshe-campaign-moves-to-the-next-stage/#comments Tue, 17 Feb 2015 23:25:02 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139228 Emma Watson launching the HeForShe IMPACT 10x10x10 Initiative at the end of January in Davos for UN Women. Credit: UN Women/Celeste Sloman

Emma Watson launching the HeForShe IMPACT 10x10x10 Initiative at the end of January in Davos for UN Women. Credit: UN Women/Celeste Sloman

By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 17 2015 (IPS)

It launched in a blaze of social media glory with a viral speech that rocketed around the world, and five months on from the launch of U.N. Women’s groundbreaking HeForShe campaign, the real work is well underway.

The campaign, designed to recruit men and boys as key players in the gender equality movement, burst into life in September 2014 with a passionate speech from British actress Emma Watson on the floor of the United Nations in New York City.

The Harry Potter star’s speech has since been seen by millions around the globe, as the HeForShe launch and Watson’s remarks went viral worldwide.

“I have realised that fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating. If there is one thing I know for certain, it is that this has to stop,” she said at the U.N.

“It is time that we all see gender as a spectrum instead of two sets of opposing ideals… How can we effect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feel welcome to participate in the conversation?”

HeForShe asks men to stand up for women’s rights and gender equality, to address inequality and discrimination faced by women worldwide. The overarching goal is gender equality by 2030.

U.N. Women presented a campaign update to the U.N. on February 9, outlining its accomplishments so far: billions of media impressions; millions of dollars donated; over 200,000 men pledging their support to the movement; and the new “Impact 10x10x10” program to bring on governments, universities and corporations as partners, recently launched at the World Economic Forum in Davos. “I think it’s attainable, but it’s a question of political will. Will people with power exercise that power? Even though it looks bleak now, I believe women’s equality is coming.” -- Terry O’Neill, President of the National Organisation for Women

“Once men start questioning the dynamics of gender inequality, men take responsibility for changing them, alongside women,” the U.N. Women briefing heard.

Elizabeth Nyamayaro, senior advisor at U.N. Women and head of the HeForShe campaign, called it a “rallying call” and “solidarity movement for gender equality.”

“We need to shift the way things have been done. A new approach was needed, there is a need for men to be part of this dialogue,” she told IPS.

“This is something that can’t just be for women alone to solve. It’s about men recognizing this is their struggle too.”

Just five months old, HeForShe is arguably already one of the most well recognised gender equality campaigns to ever exist, but women’s groups hold mixed opinions on the goals, ideology and value of the movement.

Liesl Gerntholtz, Executive Director of the Women’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch, told IPS she was concerned that, ironically, men were seemingly being valued more than women in this gender equality campaign.

“The concern is that it is very easy for women’s voices to be usurped. That in shifting the focus to men, you run the risk of making women invisible again,” Gerntholtz said.

“There needs to be a conscious effort to keep women’s voices front and centre of these campaigns.”

She spoke of attending women’s rights conferences and summits where the entire panel of speakers were men, without a single female voice.

“Even in the U.N., with explicit decisions to look for gender parity in a discussion, I’ve been to events and panels that are all men. [HeForShe] might run the risk of replicating these risks of inequality and disempowerment,” Gerntholtz said.

Terry O’Neill, President of the National Organisation for Women, said HeForShe was a good starting point but was not the miracle cure for gender equality.

“The campaign does not address all the aspects of equality that need to be addressed. It simply says, feminism is good for men and for women, and that’s indisputable,” she told IPS.

“I think it’s attainable, but it’s a question of political will. Will people with power exercise that power? Even though it looks bleak now, I believe women’s equality is coming.”

Gerntholtz was skeptical of HeForShe’s broad goal “to end gender inequality by 2030,” as outlined by said UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.

“What are the indicators of gender equality that we are talking about? Is it access to education, participation in government and the corporate sector, a reduction in the number of women experiencing violence? The difficulty in an aim like that is it is very vague,” Gerntholtz said.

“It is important, what we use as markers on the road. It is an ambitious goal.”

When asked by IPS what indicators HeForShe would measure when assessing gender equality, Nyamayaro did not point to any specific examples.

“We’re looking for parity across every single level of society, whether in the home, workplace or community,” she said.

“We’re looking for lasting, concrete change… action from the grassroots, bottom up.”

Nyamayaro pointed out the Impact 10x10x10 project as HeForShe’s next substantial action, where she hoped meaningful change could be accomplished.

A one-year pilot initiative, the project will “engage governments, corporations and universities as instruments of change positioned within some of the communities that most need to address deficiencies in women’s empowerment and gender equality,” according to a release from U.N. Women.

“Each sector will identify approaches for addressing gender inequality, and pilot test the effectiveness of these interventions,” the release continues.

Nyamayaro said 10x10x10 would be a key part of HeForShe’s upcoming agenda, with further plans to be unveiled on International Women’s Day in March and a big one-year anniversary celebration in September.

“A lot needs to be done at the government and corporate level, and in terms of universities, with half the world’s population under 30 and the amount of violence on college campuses, we thought we could really do something there,” she said.

While Gerntholtz made clear her reservations over HeForShe, she said she generally supported the campaign’s goals.

“The women’s movement has been moving towards understanding that we need to include men and boys in the solution. We can’t just see them as perpetrators of violence, but as partners in eradicating violence,” she said.

“Using Emma Watson helps popularise feminism and makes it a legitimate choice for young men. It’s important she reaches the next generation, who will hopefully take leadership roles.”

O’Neill said the National Organisation for Women looked forward to tracking the progress of HeForShe.

“It’s really all hands on deck. We need all the help we can get,” she said.

“We need the U.N. to be loud and strong for women’s equality. HeForShe is one part of what’s needed, but it isn’t the be all and end all.”

Follow Josh on Twitter @joshbutler

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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U.N. Climate Talks Advance Link Between Gender and Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/u-n-climate-talks-further-link-between-gender-and-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-climate-talks-further-link-between-gender-and-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/u-n-climate-talks-further-link-between-gender-and-climate-change/#comments Thu, 12 Feb 2015 17:21:24 +0000 Denise M. Fontanilla http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139119 Anniete Cohn-Lois, head of gender affairs for the Dominican Republic government. Credit: Chris Wright

Anniete Cohn-Lois, head of gender affairs for the Dominican Republic government. Credit: Chris Wright

By Denise M. Fontanilla
GENEVA, Feb 12 2015 (IPS)

A week of climate negotiations in Geneva, Switzerland Feb. 8-13 are setting the stage for what promises to be a busy year. In order to reach an agreement in Paris by December, negotiators will have to climb a mountain of contentious issues which continue to overshadow the talks.

One such issue is the relevance of gender in the climate change negotiations.“Women and girls are differentially impacted by climate change. More importantly, they are agents, they have been contributing to climate solutions, especially at the community level." -- Verona Collantes

While gender mainstreaming has become a standard practice within development circles and was a critical aspect of the Millennium Development Goals, it still remains on the fringes of the U.N. climate discussions.

Recent developments have forced gender back into the spotlight thanks to concise action this week from the representatives of a number of countries, including the Dominican Republic, Ghana, Sudan, Mexico, Chile and the EU.

Anniete Cohn-Lois, head of gender affairs under the Dominican Republic’s vice presidency, has been one of the most vocal proponents of gender equality in the negotiations. According to the Germanwatch Long-Term Climate Risk Index, the Dominican Republic was the eighth most affected country in terms of the impacts of climate change over the past two decades.

However, as Cohn-Lois explained, her passion for Gender rights here in Geneva has been inspired by a particularly localised experience of marginalised women in Jimani, on the southern border with Haiti.

“The area that has been the most affected by climate change is actually the poorest. Of the people living there, the most heavily impacted by climate change are women, many of which are actually heads of their families,” she said.

Cohn-Lois added that many of the women in this area are single mothers, with some taking care of both elderly relatives and children. These women are some of the most vulnerable to climate change in the Dominican Republic and face several challenges, including gaining access to clean water.

“Since the southern side is such an arid part, access to water is still an issue. They can only afford to buy water weekly or even biweekly and find a way to [store] it,” she said.

She also noted that they have a wind farm in the area which provides electricity to most of the houses there.

Cohn-Lois is aware that women face similar challenges all over the world. Through her diplomatic post, she has markedly advanced the awareness of the importance of gender equality within the U.N. climate negotiations.

This week, she has called not only for gender equality in relation to climate change, but also gender-sensitivity, particularly and the value of community-based approaches to climate mitigation and adaptation programmes.

However, as Verona Collantes of UN Women argues, the task is not only to recognise that women are more affected by climate change, but to ensure they are a large part of the solution.

“Women and girls are differentially impacted by climate change. More importantly, they are agents, they have been contributing to climate solutions especially at the community level,” the Filipina said.

Verona Collantes, intergovernmental specialist of UN Women. Credit: IISD

Verona Collantes, intergovernmental specialist of UN Women. Credit: IISD

Climate change affects the poorest and most vulnerable people the most, and according to U.N. figures, women comprise 70 percent of the world’s poor.

Collantes also noted that women, especially indigenous women, make up the majority of those involved in agriculture and sustainable forest management, which is why it is critical they be represented in discussions on reducing forest-related emissions, here at the U.N. climate negotiations.

“When the man goes to earn a living, it’s the woman who becomes the chief of the household. It’s tied to the management of natural resources and livelihood, using fuel to warm their houses or cook their food, and fetching water – all of those have implications on climate change which, more and more, the parties to the UNFCCC [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] are increasingly recognizing,” she added.

A history of gender in the climate talks

While the U.N climate convention itself did not originally have a reference to gender, it began to be integrated into the talks at the 2001 conference in Marrakech, Morocco. There, negotiators agreed to improve women’s participation in all decision-making processes under the talks.

Following this milestone, the issue became dormant. For the next 12 years, gender was barely mentioned within the negotiations. Then, at the 2012 conference in Doha, Qatar, it was finally revived, thanks largely to a new wave of gender-sensitive negotiators such as Anniete Cohn-Lois.

According to Collantes, the issue then became dormant for almost 10 years. It was not until 2010 in Cancun, Mexico that gender equality once again came under consideration. And it was in Doha that the agreement began to shift from merely a recognition of gender balance towards ensuring women’s capacities are enhanced and formally recognised within the U.N. climate negotiations.

In 2013, a further workshop was held on gender, climate change, and the negotiations in Warsaw, Poland. At that stage, countries and observer organisations submitted ideas on how to advance the gender balance goal.

Last December, a two-year work programme to further explore gender issues was established in Lima, Peru. UN Women is also continuing this work, and currently preparing for another workshop in June on gender-responsive mitigation, technology development and transfer.

“We look at it from the aspect of women’s participation in the development of technology, women’s access to those technologies. Are they part of the beneficiaries? Were they even thought of as beneficiaries in the beginning?” Collantes said.

However, in Warsaw, the U.N. reported that less than 30 per cent of negotiators representing their countries were women. Since then, there have been small representational improvements, but we are still very far from achieving gender equality within the U.N. representatives, let alone in their decisions.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

Denise Fontanilla is a Filipina climate activist currently tracking the U.N. climate negotiations in Geneva. This article was made possible through a collaboration with adoptanegotiator.org.

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OPINION: The Plight of Women and Girls in Zambezi’s Floodshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-the-plight-of-women-and-girls-in-zambezis-floods/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-plight-of-women-and-girls-in-zambezis-floods http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-the-plight-of-women-and-girls-in-zambezis-floods/#comments Mon, 02 Feb 2015 18:53:12 +0000 Dr. Julitta Onabanjo and Michael Charles http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138974 Flooding in Malawi. Courtesy of the Malawi Red Cross Society

Flooding in Malawi. Courtesy of the Malawi Red Cross Society

By Julitta Onabanjo and Michael Charles
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 2 2015 (IPS)

The flooding of the Zambezi River has had devastating consequences for three countries in Southern Africa. The three worst affected countries are Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. 

Livestock has drowned, crops have been submerged or washed away and infrastructure has been badly damaged.Imagine being a pregnant woman airlifted from the floodplains and placed in a camp with no midwives, no sterilised equipment nor medical supplies to ensure a safe delivery.

Worse still, hundreds of lives have been lost – and the dignity of women and girls is on the line.

In Malawi, an estimated 638,000 people have been affected and the president has declared a state of disaster. About 174,000 people have been displaced in three of the worst affected districts out of 15 districts hit by floods.

A total of 79 deaths have been reported and about 153 people are still missing. Data disaggregated by age and sex are not readily available, however, it is estimated that about 330,000 of the 638,000 displaced people in the camps are women and close to 108,000 are young people.

The situation is also critical in Zimbabwe. According to preliminary assessments, approximately 6,000 people (1,200 households) have been affected, of which 2,500 people from 500 households are in urgent need of assistance. An estimated 40-50 per cent will be women or girls. More than ten people have drowned while many more have been injured, displaced and left homeless.

In Mozambique, almost all 11 provinces have experienced extensive rainfall. The central province of Zambézia was the worst hit – a bridge connecting central and northern Mozambique was destroyed by the floods in Mocuba district. Niassa and Nampula provinces were also seriously affected.

These three provinces are already among the poorest in the country, and for the most vulnerable – women, girls and children – the impact of flooding can be devastating.

Around 120,000 people from 24,000 families have been affected. The death toll due to flooding, lightning and houses collapsing has risen to 64, while more than 50,000 people from 12,000 families are in need of shelter. Others have fled to neighbouring Malawi. At least 700 out of an estimated 2500 people have been repatriated to date.

Mozambique has a recent history of recurrent floods. UNFPA is supporting the government and other partners to scale up efforts to safeguard the dignity of women and girls. This includes the positioning of reproductive health kits, hygiene kits and promoting gender-based violence prevention.

Flooding in Mozambique. Courtesy of UNFPA

Flooding in Mozambique. Courtesy of UNFPA

Health and reproductive health needs

As with most humanitarian situations, women, girls and children are usually the worst affected. In Mozambique, for example, close to 1,000 orphans and over 100 pregnant women and girls require urgent attention.

Imagine being a pregnant woman airlifted from the floodplains and placed in a camp with no midwives, no sterilised equipment nor medical supplies to ensure a safe delivery. This is a scenario that countless pregnant women are facing.

In addition to efforts by partners to address the food and infrastructural security needs of the people, women and girls are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and erosion of dignity, and deserve adequate attention.

In Malawi, about 315 visibly pregnant women were identified in the three worst affected districts. Between Jan. 10 and 24, 88 deliveries were recorded by 62 camps in the worst affected districts. Twenty-four of these deliveries were among adolescents aged between 15 and 19 years, as reported from Phalombe, where fertility rates and teenage pregnancies are generally high.

Malawi floods. Some of the pregnant women receiving dignity kits at Somba camp in T A Bwananyambi, Mangochi. Courtesy of UNFPA

Malawi floods. Some of the pregnant women receiving dignity kits at Somba camp in T A Bwananyambi, Mangochi. Courtesy of UNFPA

Women living in camps for displaced people are fearful of gender-based violence, including rape and other types of sexual abuse. Several cases of gender-based violence have already been reported. In one of the districts, a total of 124 cases were brought to the attention of authorities.

The design of the camps and the positioning of toilets are said to be contributing to these cases. A woman from Bangula camp said: “The toilets are far away from where we are sleeping. We are afraid to walk to the toilets at night for fear of being raped. If the toilets could be located close by, this could assist us.”

Personal dignity and hygiene is a major challenge for women and young people, especially for adolescent girls. A teenager from Tchereni camp in Malawi said: “I lost everything during the floods. My biggest challenge is how to manage my menstrual cycle.”

It has been reported that women and girls are sharing sanitary materials, which seriously compromises their health and dignity.

Urgent action

In order to address the  sexual and reproductive health needs of affected populations, UNFPA Malawi has recruited and deployed full time Reproductive Health and Gender Coordinators to support the authorities with the management of SRH/HIV and gender-based violence (GBV) issues in the camps.

UNFPA has also distributed pre-positioned Reproductive Health kits as well as drugs and medical equipment to cater for clean deliveries, including by Caesarean section, and related complications of pregnancy and child birth in six districts and two central hospitals in the flood-affected areas.

Over 300 prepositioned dignity kits were distributed and 2,000 more have been procured, over half of which have already been distributed to women of child-bearing age in some of the most affected districts to allow the women to continue to live with dignity in their state of crisis.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has launched an emergency appeal for CHF 2,7 million to assist Malawi Red Cross to step up emergency response activities, including a detailed needs assessment of the affected regions, the procurement of non-food items, the procurement and distribution of shelter materials, and the provision of water and sanitation services.

A similar process was applied for Mozambique and Zimbabwe, with the aim of saving more lives by providing immediate assistance to those in need.

But as partners working together to address the numerous problems that confront the affected populations – and warnings of more risks of flooding – we cannot neglect the plight of women and girls.

In humanitarian situations especially, the dignity and reproductive health and rights of women and girls deserves our full attention.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Antiguan Shanty Dwellers Ask if Poverty Will Be the Death of Themhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/antiguan-shanty-dwellers-ask-if-poverty-will-be-the-death-of-them/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=antiguan-shanty-dwellers-ask-if-poverty-will-be-the-death-of-them http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/antiguan-shanty-dwellers-ask-if-poverty-will-be-the-death-of-them/#comments Wed, 28 Jan 2015 19:06:04 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138887 Terry-Ann Lewis fears that this drain which runs through her community could lead to catastrophe if it is unable to handle heavy storm runoff. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Terry-Ann Lewis fears that this drain which runs through her community could lead to catastrophe if it is unable to handle heavy storm runoff. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
GREEN BAY, Antigua, Jan 28 2015 (IPS)

It was early on a Saturday morning and there was no sign of life in the community. The shacks erected on both sides of the old, narrow road that winds through the area are all surrounded by zinc sheets which rise so high, it’s impossible to see what lies on the other side.

But behind those walls is a story of life on the margins: poverty and fear for women. In spite of noticeable improvements in the overall quality of life in Antigua and Barbuda, inequality and deprivation continue to challenge development, with pockets of extreme poverty in some areas.“Whenever the rain comes, it floods my mother’s house, it floods my house and it floods my daughter’s house.” -- Cynthia James

For Cynthia James and other women living in this shoreline community on the outskirts of the capital St. John’s, hope is all but lost.

“A politician came here once and called me a dog,” James said as she stood outside her gate holding her one-year-old grandson. “The politician said all of us in here are dogs and are not used to anything good and we will always be dogs. I will never forget that. When you get hurt you never forget it.”

The two main political parties here hold differing views about the level of poverty and unemployment in the country. The Antigua Labour Party (ALP) has consistently placed the poverty level at around 35 per cent but the United Progressive Party (UPP) placed the percentage of the working population living on less than EC$10 a day at 12 per cent, the lowest in the region.

“The highest is in Haiti: 79 percent of the population, that is eight out of 10, live on approximately EC$10 a day. Guyana, 64 percent; Suriname, 45 percent; Jamaica, 43 percent; Dominica, 33 percent; St Vincent & the Grenadines, 33 percent; Grenada, 32 percent; St. Kitts, 31 percent; Trinidad, 21 percent; St. Lucia, 19 percent; Barbados, 14 percent; Antigua, 12 percent,” said former legislator Harold Lovell, citing World Bank figures. Lovell served a minister of finance in the former administration.

James, 53, does not care much for the numbers being debated by politicians. For year now, she and the other women living in this vulnerable area have been watching a drain which runs through the community wreak havoc on their modest dwellings whenever it rains.

James, her 78-year-old mother Gertrude and 28-year-old daughter Terry-Ann Lewis all live on the same street. Their biggest fear now is that the drain which runs through the area will one day cause their deaths.

Antiguan resident Cynthia James said a politican once called her a dog. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Antiguan resident Cynthia James said a politican once called her a dog. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

“When I was a little girl they would always come and clean out the gutter, they would send the prisoners to clean up the area, but all of that has stopped,” James told IPS. “Whenever the rain comes, it floods my mother’s house, it floods my house and it floods my daughter’s house.”

The dozens of families here have thought about moving to safer communities but they say they are just too poor to relocate without assistance.

In 2014, the issue of poor drainage that leads to flooding in this and other communities across the country came into focus with a series of community consultations led by the Environment Division.

Senior Environment Officer Ruleta Camacho said the aim was to establish a sustainable financing mechanism and develop a climate adaptation project that could bring about significant changes to affected communities.

“Due to the impact of climate change we are having exacerbated drought and exacerbated rainfall – we are having large amounts of rain in a short amount of time and what we need to do at this point is to make sure our waterways and drains can handle that volume of water,” she said.

Terryann Lewis is anxiously awaiting the commencement of the promised project. She recalled her brush with death on Oct. 13, 2014 when Tropical Storm Gonzalo passed near Antigua, tearing roofs from people’s homes and knocking down trees.

For several hours, heavy rain and strong winds lashed Antigua, which bore the brunt of the storm as it cut through the northern Leeward Islands. Downed trees blocked many island roads and people lost power or reported that the storm damaged, or in some cases destroyed the roofs of their homes.

“I went to sleep that night and when I woke up, I was in water. I had just come home from work and I was tired so I just went to sleep but when I woke up the whole place was flooded. Everything gone; everything was soaked or washed away. I lost everything and I had to start fresh again,” Lewis told IPS.

“The gutter that runs through this community collects waste from all over the place so everything ends up right here in this community.

“That gutter is going to kill all of us; that is the only thing I can tell you. The gutter is blocked so whenever we have rain the water is not free to run. The drain is clogged up so the water quickly overflows. Whenever it rains this whole area is like a beach,” she added.

Prime Minister Gaston Browne, whose administration came to power just seven months ago, said his government will focus on improving human development, putting people first. He has consistently said he intends to make Antigua the region’s economic powerhouse, a Singapore on the Caribbean Sea.

“We will focus on building our human capital into internationally competitive individuals capable of driving the growth and social development of our nation state,” Browne said.

“We will concentrate on youth empowerment, providing our youth with employment, the opportunity to own a piece of the rock under our land for youth programme, a home under our home for youth programme or his/her own business through a dedicated entrepreneurial loan programme, that will commence in 2015 at the Antigua & Barbuda Development Bank.

“Our main focus of human development will be through education and training. No one will be left behind,” Browne added.

The International Monetary Fund anticipates growth in Latin America and the Caribbean in the region of 2.2 percent for 2015. This represents something of a rebound for the region, as growth in 2014 was estimated to be 1.3 percent.

But whether that figure will translate into improved living conditions for the poorest and most vulnerable remains to be seen.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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Africa’s Rural Women Must Count in Water Managementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/africas-rural-women-must-count-in-water-management/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=africas-rural-women-must-count-in-water-management http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/africas-rural-women-must-count-in-water-management/#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 18:58:21 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138833 Africa's rural women must be brought into the post-2015 water agenda. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Africa's rural women must be brought into the post-2015 water agenda. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Jan 26 2015 (IPS)

More women’s voices are being heard at international platforms to address the post-2015 water agenda, as witnessed at the recently concluded international U.N International Water Conference held from Jan. 15 to 17 in Zaragoza, Spain.

But experts say that the same cannot be said of water management at the local level and countries like Kenya are already suffering from the impact of poor water management as a result of the exclusion of rural women.

“At the Zaragoza conference, certain positions were taken as far as water is concerned, but the implementers, who are often rural women, are still in the dark,” environment expert Dismas Wangai told IPS.

Wangai gives the example of the five dams built around the Tana River, the biggest in Kenya. “It is very important that the so-called grassroots or local women have a say in water management because they are the most burdened by water stresses and are the best placed to implement best practices” – Mary Rusimbi, executive director of Women Fund Tanzania

He says that the dams have not been performing optimally due to poor land management as farmers continue to cultivate too close to these dams.

“This is a major cause of concern because about 80 percent of the drinking water in the country comes from these dams, as well as 60 to 70 percent of hydropower,” he says.

According to Wangai, there is extensive soil erosion due to extensive cultivation around the dams and as a result “a lot of soil is settling in these dams and if this trend continues, the dams will produce less and less water and energy.”

Mary Rusimbi, executive director of Women Fund Tanzania, a non-governmental organisation which works towards women rights,  and one of the speakers at the Zaragoza conference, told IPS that women must be involved in water management at all levels.

“It is very important that the so-called grassroots or local women have a say in water management because they are the most burdened by water stresses and are the best placed to implement best practices,” she said.

According to Rusimbi, across Africa women account for at least 80 percent of farm labourers, and “this means that if they are not taught best farming practices then this will have serious implications for water management.”

Alice Bouman, honorary founding president of Women for Water Partnership, told IPS that a deficit of water for basic needs affect women in particular, “which means that they are best placed to provide valuable information on the challenges they face in accessing water.”

She added that “they are therefore more likely to embrace solutions to poor water management because they suffer from water stresses at a more immediate level.”

According to Bouman, the time has come for global water partners to begin embracing local women as partners and not merely as groups vulnerable to the vagaries of climate change.

Water partnerships, she said, must build on the social capital of women because “women make connections and strong networks very easily. These networks can become vehicles for creating awareness around water management.” She called for developing a more comprehensive approach to water management through a gender lens.

Noting that rural women may not have their voices heard during international water conferences, “but through networks with civil society organisations (CSOs), they can be heard”, Rusimbi called for an end to the trend of international organisations bringing solutions to the locals.

This must change, she said. “We need to rope the rural women into these discussions while designing these interventions. They have more to say than the rest of us because they interact with water at very different levels – levels that are very crucial to sustainable water management.”

Wangai also says that rural women, who spend many hours looking for water, are usually only associated with household water needs.

“People often say that these women spend hours walking for water and they therefore need water holes to be brought closer to their homes” but, he argues, the discussion on water must be broadened, and proactively and consciously address the need to bring rural women on board in addressing the water challenges that we still face.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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‘Cyclone College’ Raises Hopes, Dreams of India’s Vulnerable Fisherfolkhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/cyclone-college-raises-hopes-dreams-of-indias-vulnerable-fisherfolk/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cyclone-college-raises-hopes-dreams-of-indias-vulnerable-fisherfolk http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/cyclone-college-raises-hopes-dreams-of-indias-vulnerable-fisherfolk/#comments Sat, 20 Dec 2014 18:21:56 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138357 Two fisherwomen walk along the seashore in Nemmeli. The village that saw widespread destruction in the 2004 tsunami and several cyclones since now has a unique community college where locals can learn disaster management. Half the students are women. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Two fisherwomen walk along the seashore in Nemmeli. The village that saw widespread destruction in the 2004 tsunami and several cyclones since now has a unique community college where locals can learn disaster management. Half the students are women. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
NEMMELI, India, Dec 20 2014 (IPS)

Ten years have now passed, but Raghu Raja, a 27-year-old fisherman from the coastal village of Nemmeli in southern India’s Kanchipuram district, still clearly remembers the day he escaped the tsunami.

It was a sleepy Sunday morning when Raja, then a student, saw a wall of seawater moving forward, in seeming slow motion. Terrified, he broke into a run towards the two-storey cyclone shelter that stood at the rear of his village, along an interstate highway.“This is what being a climate refugee is like.” -- Founder of the "Cyclone College", Ramaswamy Krishnamurthy

Once there, the teenager watched in utter bewilderment as the wall of water hammered his village flat.

“I didn’t know what was happening, why the sea was acting like that,” Raja recalls.

Later, he heard that the seabed had been shaken by an earthquake, triggering a tsunami. It was a new word for Nemmeli, a village of 4,360 people. The tsunami destroyed all the houses that stood by the shore, 141 in Raja’s neighbourhood alone.

A decade later, the cyclone shelter that once saved the lives of Raghu Raja and his fellow villagers is a college that teaches them, among other things,  about natural disasters like tsunamis and how best to survive them.

The state-funded college was established in 2011. One of its primary goals was to build disaster resilience among communities in the vulnerable coastal villages. Affiliated with the University of Madras, the college offers undergraduate degrees in commerce and sciences, including disaster management and disaster risk reduction.

Today a married father of two, Raja, whose education ended after 10th grade, dreams that one day his children will attend this college.

Understanding the dangers that surround them

While Raghu Raja’s dream will take some time to come true, his fellow fisherman Varadaraj Madhavan is already there: two of his three children have attended the “cyclone college”.

His 22-year-old daughter Vijaya Lakshmi has already graduated from the college – the first graduate in Madhavan’s entire clan – and 18-year-old son Dilli Ganesh is expected to follow suit next year.

During her three years of college, Laxmi studied English, Computer Applications and Disaster Management. Among her greatest achievements as a student has been creating a “Hazard Map” of her village. The map, prepared after an extensive study of the village, its shoreline and soil structure, shows the level of vulnerability the village faces.

“This is a real time status,” says Ignatius Prabhakar of SEEDS India, an NGO that trains vulnerable communities in disaster preparedness. “There are different colours indicating different types of sea storms and the levels of threats they pose. The map, meant to be updated every three months, is for the villagers to understand these threats and be prepared.”

There are seven neighbourhoods in Nemmeli and a copy of the hazard map stands at the entrance of each of them. Laxmi, who worked alongside a team of engineering students from Chennai on the mapping project, describes is as a great learning experience.

“I learnt a lot of our village, the environment here. For example, I learnt how disappearance of sand dunes, overfishing and garbage disposal can increase the threats of flooding. I also learnt where everyone should go in time of a disaster and how exactly we should evacuate,” she says.

The young woman is now also a member of the Village Residents Alliance for Disaster Risk Reduction – a community group that actively promotes disaster preparedness.

From cyclone shelter to learning hub

Though highly popular now, it was an uphill task to set up the college, recalls Ramaswamy Krishnamurthy, a professor at the University of Madras and the founder of the college.

To begin with, the state government had asked the college to be operational from the year 2011. It was summer already, but there were no buildings to hold the classes in and no land allocated yet to build one. After several rounds of intense lobbying of local government officials, Krishnamurthy was offered the cyclone shelter to run the college.

The next big step was to convince the villagers to send their children to the college.

“We hired an auto-rickshaw (tuk tuk) and fixed a loudspeaker on top on it. My assistant would drive the vehicle around the neighbourhood all day, calling on the villagers to send their children to the college. I would wait right here, under a tree, waiting for a parent to turn up,” says Krishnamurthy, says who was the principal until recently and is credited for the college’s current popularity and its successful disaster risk reduction programme.

In the first year of the college, 60 students enrolled. After four years, the number has gone up to 411 and half of them are women, says Krishnamurthy.

Sukanya Manikyam, 23, who recently graduated, was one of the first students to enroll. She is now planning to join a post-graduate course. “I would like to teach at a university one day,” she says.

According to Krishnamurthy, since the tsunami, the rate of erosion along the shore has been visibly increasing. The topography of the sea bed has changed, the sand dunes are disappearing and houses are caving in, slowly rendering the villagers homeless and causing internal displacement.

“This is what being a climate refugee is like,” says Krishnamurthy.

As the danger of displacement from the advancing sea grows greater, so does this fishing community’s need for alternative livelihoods. The ‘cyclone college’ is catering to this need, providing knowledge and information that can help residents find new jobs and build new lives.

Tilak Mani, a 60-year-old villager, is optimistic about the future. “Ten years ago, the tsunami had left all of us in tears. Today, our children have the skills to steer us towards safety in such a disaster.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: Climate Change and Inequalities: How Will They Impact Women?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-climate-change-and-inequalities-how-will-they-impact-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-climate-change-and-inequalities-how-will-they-impact-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-climate-change-and-inequalities-how-will-they-impact-women/#comments Fri, 12 Dec 2014 17:29:21 +0000 Susan McDade http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138241 A woman dries blankets after her home went underwater for five days in one of the villages of India's Morigaon district. The woven bamboo sheet beyond the clothesline used to be the walls of her family’s toilet. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

A woman dries blankets after her home went underwater for five days in one of the villages of India's Morigaon district. The woven bamboo sheet beyond the clothesline used to be the walls of her family’s toilet. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

By Susan McDade
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 12 2014 (IPS)

Among all the impacts of climate change, from rising sea levels to landslides and flooding, there is one that does not get the attention it deserves: an exacerbation of inequalities, particularly for women.

Especially in poor countries, women’s lives are often directly dependent on the natural environment.The success of climate change actions depend on elevating women’s voices, making sure their experiences and views are heard at decision-making tables and supporting them to become leaders in climate adaptation.

Women bear the main responsibility for supplying water and firewood for cooking and heating, as well as growing food. Drought, uncertain rainfall and deforestation make these tasks more time-consuming and arduous, threaten women’s livelihoods and deprive them of time to learn skills, earn money and participate in community life.

But the same societal roles that make women more vulnerable to environmental challenges also make them key actors for driving sustainable development. Their knowledge and experience can make natural resource management and climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies at all levels more successful.

To see this in action, just look to the Ecuadorian Amazon, where the Waorani women association (Asociación de Mujeres Waorani de la Amazonia Ecuatoriana) is promoting organic cocoa cultivation as a wildlife protection measure and a pathway to local sustainable development.

With support from the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP), the women’s association is managing its land collectively and working toward zero deforestation, the protection of vulnerable wildlife species and the production of certified organic chocolate.

In the process, the women are building the resilience of their community by investing revenues from the cocoa business into local education, health and infrastructure projects and successfully steering the local economy away from clear-cutting and unregulated bushmeat markets.

Indigenous women are also driving sustainable development in Mexico. There, UNDP supports Koolel-Kab/Muuchkambal, an organic farming and agroforestry initiative founded by Mayan women that works on forest conservation, the promotion of indigenous land rights and community-level disaster risk reduction strategies.

The association, which established a 5,000-hectare community forest, advocates for public policies that stop deforestation and offer alternatives to input-intensive commercial agriculture. It has also shared an organic beekeeping model across more than 20 communities, providing an economic alternative to illegal logging.

Empowered women are one of the most effective responses to climate change. The success of climate change actions depend on elevating women’s voices, making sure their experiences and views are heard at decision-making tables and supporting them to become leaders in climate adaptation.

By ensuring that gender concerns and women’s empowerment issues are systematically taken into account within environment and climate change responses, the world leaders who wrapped up the U.N. Climate Change Conference 2014 in Lima, Peru, can reduce, rather than exacerbate, both new and existing inequalities and make sustainable development possible.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Pushing for Gender Equity at COP20http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/pushing-for-gender-equity-at-cop20/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pushing-for-gender-equity-at-cop20 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/pushing-for-gender-equity-at-cop20/#comments Wed, 10 Dec 2014 20:54:28 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138220 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/pushing-for-gender-equity-at-cop20/feed/ 2 OPINION: Women Must Be Partners and Drivers of Climate Change Decision-Makinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-women-must-be-partners-and-drivers-of-climate-change-decision-making/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-women-must-be-partners-and-drivers-of-climate-change-decision-making http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-women-must-be-partners-and-drivers-of-climate-change-decision-making/#comments Mon, 08 Dec 2014 23:03:07 +0000 Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138154 Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Photo Courtesy of UN Women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Photo Courtesy of UN Women

By Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 8 2014 (IPS)

As leaders from around the world gather in Lima, Peru this week to discuss global cooperation in addressing climate change, a woman in Guatemala will struggle to feed her family from a farm plot that produces less each season.

A mother in Ethiopia will make the difficult choice to take her daughter out of school to help in the task of gathering water, which requires more and more time with each passing year.Women have proven skills in managing natural resources sustainably and adapting to climate change, and are crucial partners in protecting fragile ecosystems and communities that are increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

A pregnant woman in Bangladesh will worry about what will happen to her and her children if the floods come when it is her time to deliver.

These women, and millions of women around the world, are on the front lines of climate change. The impacts of shifting temperatures, erratic rainfall, and extreme weather events touch their lives in direct and profound ways.

For many, these impacts are felt so strongly because of gender roles – women are responsible for gathering water, food and fuel for the household. And for too many, a lack of access to information and decision-making exacerbates their vulnerability in the face of climate change.

Our leaders in Lima this week will meet to lay the critical foundations for a new global agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

They seek to resolve important questions about collective action to reduce carbon emissions that cause climate change, to build resilience in communities to the climate change impacts we can’t avoid, and to provide the finance needed for climate-smart development around the world. It is critical that in all of these efforts, our leaders recognise the importance of ensuring that climate change solutions are gender-responsive.

What does it mean for climate change solutions to be gender-responsive? It means, for example, that in formulating strategies for renewable energy women are engaged in all stages and that these strategies take into consideration how women access and use fuel and electricity in their homes.

It means that vulnerability assessments and emergency response plans take into account women’s lives and capabilities. And critically, it means women are included at decision-making tables internationally, nationally, and locally when strategies and action plans are developed.

Going beyond the acknowledgment that men and women are impacted differently by climate change and thus, the need for climate policies and actions to be gender-responsive, we must also examine and support pathways to greater empowerment for women.

When women are empowered, their families, communities, and nations benefit. Responding to climate change offers opportunities to enhance pathways to empowerment. This requires addressing the underlying root causes such as gender stereotypes and social norms that perpetuate and compound inequality and discrimination.

Examples abound and these include removing restrictions to women’s mobility, providing full access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, ensuring access to education and employment opportunities as well as access to economic resources, such as land and financial services.

Enhancing women’s agency is key to a human rights-based and equitable climate change agenda. In September during the U.N. Secretary General’s Climate Summit in New York, UN Women and the Mary Robinson Foundation–Climate Justice brought together more than 130 women leaders for a forum on “Women Leading the Way: Raising Ambition for Climate Action.”

We heard remarkable stories of women’s leadership in addressing all aspects of the climate crisis.

Women have proven skills in managing natural resources sustainably and adapting to climate change, and are crucial partners in protecting fragile ecosystems and communities that are increasingly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Women leaders mobilise communities, promote green investments, and develop energy efficient technologies. Indeed, if we are serious about tackling climate change, our leaders in Lima this week must ensure that women are equal partners and drivers of climate change decision-making.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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“Indigenous Peoples Are the Owners of the Land” Say Activists at COP20http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/indigenous-peoples-are-the-owners-of-the-land-say-activists-at-cop20/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-peoples-are-the-owners-of-the-land-say-activists-at-cop20 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/indigenous-peoples-are-the-owners-of-the-land-say-activists-at-cop20/#comments Sat, 06 Dec 2014 18:54:44 +0000 Milagros Salazar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138141 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/indigenous-peoples-are-the-owners-of-the-land-say-activists-at-cop20/feed/ 2 Climate Finance Flowing, But for Many, the Well Remains Dryhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/climate-finance-flowing-but-for-many-the-well-remains-dry/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-finance-flowing-but-for-many-the-well-remains-dry http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/climate-finance-flowing-but-for-many-the-well-remains-dry/#comments Thu, 04 Dec 2014 13:25:29 +0000 Desmond Brown http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138082 Communities like this one in Grenada, which depend on the sea for their survival, stand to suffer the most with the loss of the fishing industry due to climate change. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Communities like this one in Grenada, which depend on the sea for their survival, stand to suffer the most with the loss of the fishing industry due to climate change. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

By Desmond Brown
LIMA, Dec 4 2014 (IPS)

For more than 10 years, Mildred Crawford has been “a voice in the wilderness” crying out on behalf of rural women in agriculture.

Crawford, 50, who grew up in the small Jamaican community of Brown’s Hall in St. Catherine parish, was “filled with enthusiasm” when she received an invitation from the World Farmers’ Organisation (WFO) to be part of a civil society contingent to the 20th session of the United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP20), where her voice could be heard on a much bigger stage."Many countries are actually putting their own money into adaptation because they don’t have any other option, because they can’t wait for a 2015 agreement or they can’t wait for international climate finance flows to get to them." -- UNFCCC chief Christiana Figueres

But mere days after arriving here for her first-ever COP, Crawford’s exhilaration has turned to disappointment.

“I am weary, because even in the side events I don’t see much government representatives coming to hear the voice of civil society,” she told IPS.

“If they are not here to hear what we have to say, there is very little impact that will be created. Already there is a gap between policy and implementation which is very serious because we talk the talk, we don’t walk the talk.”

Crawford said women farmers often do not get the attention or recognition they deserve, pointing to the important role they play in feeding their families and the wider population.

“Our women farmers store seeds. In the event that a hurricane comes and resources become scarce, they would share what they have among themselves so that they can have a rebound in agriculture,” she explained.

WFO is an international member-based organisation whose mandate is to bring together farmers’ organisations and agricultural cooperatives from all over the world. It includes approximately 70 members from about 50 countries in the developed and emerging world.

The WFO said its delegation of farmers is intended to be a pilot for scaling up in 2015, when the COP21 will take place in Paris. It also aims to raise awareness of the role of smallholder agriculture in climate adaptation and mitigation and have it recognised in the 2015 UNFCCC negotiations.

The negotiations next year in Paris will aim to reach legally-binding agreements on limits on greenhouse gas emissions that all nations will have to implement.

Mildred Crawford, a farmer from Jamaica, is attending her first international climate summit in Lima. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Mildred Crawford, a farmer from Jamaica, is attending her first international climate summit in Lima. Credit: Desmond Brown/IPS

Diann Black-Layne speaks for a much wider constituency – Small Island Developing States (SIDS). She said adaptation, finance and loss and damage top the list of issues this group of countries wants to see addressed in the medium term.

“Many of our developing countries have been spending their own money on adaptation,” Black-Layne, who is Antigua and Barbuda’s ambassador on climate change, told IPS.

She said SIDS are already “highly indebted” and “this is borrowed money” for their national budgets which they are forced to use “to fund their adaptation programmes and restoration from extreme weather events. So, to then have to borrow more money for mitigation is a difficult sell.”

The executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Christiana Figueres agrees that such commitments by developing countries needs to be buttressed with international climate finance flows, in particular for the most vulnerable.

“There is no doubt that adaptation finance needs to increase. That is very clear that that is the urgency among most developing countries, to actually cover their adaptation costs and many countries are actually putting their own money into adaptation because they don’t have any other option, because they can’t wait for a 2015 agreement or they can’t wait for international climate finance flows to get to them (so) they are actually already doing it out of their own pocket,” Figueres said.

Loss and Damage is a facility to compensate countries for extreme weather events. It also provides some level of financing to help countries adjust to the creeping permanent loss caused by climate change.

“At this COP we are focusing on financial issues for loss and damage,” Black-Layne said. “In our region, that would include things like the loss of the conch industry and the loss of the fishing industry. Even if we limit it to a two-degree warming, we would lose those two industries so we are now negotiating a mechanism to assist countries to adapt.”

In the CARICOM region, the local population is highly dependent on fish for economic and social development. This resource also contributes significantly to food security, poverty alleviation, employment, foreign exchange earnings, development and stability of rural and coastal communities, culture, recreation and tourism.

The subsector provides direct employment for more than 120,000 fishers and indirect employment opportunities for thousands of others – particularly women – in processing, marketing, boat-building, net-making and other support services.

In 2012, the conch industry in just one Caribbean Community country, Belize, was valued at 10 million dollars.

A landmark assessment presented Wednesday to governments meeting here at the U.N. climate summit said hundreds of billions of dollars of climate finance may now be flowing across the globe.

The assessment – which includes a summary and recommendations by the UNFCCC Standing Committee on Finance and a technical report by experts – is the first of a series of assessment reports that put together information and data on financial flows supporting emission reductions and adaptation within countries and via international support.

The assessment puts the lower range of global climate finance flows at 340 billion dollars a year for the period 2011-2012, with the upper end at 650 billion dollars, and possibly higher.

“It does seem that climate finance is flowing, not exclusively but with a priority toward the most vulnerable,” Figueres said.

“That is a very, very important part of this report because it is as exactly as it should be. It should be the most vulnerable populations, the most vulnerable countries, and the most vulnerable populations within countries that actually receive climate finance with priority.”

The assessment notes that the exact amounts of global totals could be higher due to the complexity of defining climate finance, the myriad of ways in which governments and organisations channel funding, and data gaps and limitations – particularly for adaptation and energy efficiency.

In addition, the assessment attributes different levels of confidence to different sub-flows, with data on global total climate flows being relatively uncertain, in part due to the fact that most data reflect finance commitments rather than disbursements, and the associated definitional issues.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at destinydlb@gmail.com

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Floods Wash Away India’s MDG Progresshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/floods-wash-away-indias-mdg-progress/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=floods-wash-away-indias-mdg-progress http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/floods-wash-away-indias-mdg-progress/#comments Tue, 07 Oct 2014 17:52:07 +0000 Priyanka Borpujari http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137040 When isolated by floodwaters, families have no choice but to use boats for transportation; even children must learn the survival skill of rowing. Here in India’s Morigaon district, one week of rains in August affected 27,000 hectares of land. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

When isolated by floodwaters, families have no choice but to use boats for transportation; even children must learn the survival skill of rowing. Here in India’s Morigaon district, one week of rains in August affected 27,000 hectares of land. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

By Priyanka Borpujari
MORIGAON, India, Oct 7 2014 (IPS)

The northeastern Indian state of Assam is no stranger to devastating floods. Located just south of the eastern Himalayas, the lush, 30,000-square-km region comprises the Brahmaputra and Barak river valleys, and is accustomed to annual bouts of rain that swell the mighty rivers and spill over into villages and towns, inundating agricultural lands and washing homes, possessions and livestock away.

Now, the long-term impacts of such natural disasters are proving to be a thorn in the side of a government that is racing against time to meet its commitments under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of poverty reduction targets that will expire at the year’s end.

A woman dries blankets after her home went underwater for five days in one of the villages of the Morigaon district. The woven bamboo sheet beyond the clothesline used to be the walls of her family’s toilet. August rains inundated 141 villages in the district. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

A woman dries blankets after her home went underwater for five days in one of the villages of the Morigaon district. The woven bamboo sheet beyond the clothesline used to be the walls of her family’s toilet. August rains inundated 141 villages in the district. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Target 7C of the MDGs stipulated that U.N. member states would aim to halve the proportion of people living without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 2015.

While tremendous gains have been made towards this ambitious goal, India continues to lag behind, with 60 percent of its 1.2 billion people living without access to basic sanitation.

Diving into the river is an easy solution to a lack of bathrooms for children and men, even though the water has been stagnant for about a month. Skin rashes are the most common ailment caused by contact with unclean water, according to village doctors. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Diving into the river is an easy solution to a lack of bathrooms for children and men, even though the water has been stagnant for about a month. Skin rashes are the most common ailment caused by contact with unclean water, according to village doctors. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Now, recurring floods and other disasters are putting further strain on the government, as scores of people are annually displaced, and left without safe access to water and sanitation. In 2012 alone, floods displaced 6.9 million people across India.

Currently, Assam is one of the worst hit regions.

Floods in Morigaon have submerged about 45 roads in the district. Most people wade through the water, believing this is quicker than waiting for a rickety boat to transport them across. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Floods in Morigaon have submerged about 45 roads in the district. Most people wade through the water, believing this is quicker than waiting for a rickety boat to transport them across. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Since May this year, several waves of floods have affected more than 700,000 people across 23 of the state’s 27 districts, claiming the lives of 68 people.

In places where roads have collapsed, the government has erected bamboo bridges. When the government is absent, locals do this work themselves. This man and child travel from one village to another on a boat, and travel by foot over the bridges. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

In places where roads have collapsed, the government has erected bamboo bridges. When the government is absent, locals do this work themselves. This man and child travel from one village to another on a boat, and travel by foot over the bridges. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Heavy rainfall during one week of August devastated the Morigaon and Dhemaji districts, and the river island of Majuli. A sudden downpour that lasted two days in early September in parts of Assam and the neighbouring state of Meghalaya claimed 44 and 55 lives respectively.

Men transporting milk from Dhemaji to Dibrugarh district across the Brahmaputra River wash their utensils in the river. The lack of hygiene and proper sanitation facilities is a severe concern in flood-affected areas. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Men transporting milk from Dhemaji to Dibrugarh district across the Brahmaputra River wash their utensils in the river. The lack of hygiene and proper sanitation facilities is a severe concern in flood-affected areas. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

The Indian federal government last week announced its intention to distribute some 112 million dollars in aid to the affected population.

In Dhemaji district, closer to the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, people use a rope boat in the absence of a road. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

In Dhemaji district, closer to the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, people use a rope boat in the absence of a road. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

One of the primary concerns for officials has been the sanitation situation in the aftermath of the floods, with families forced to rig up makeshift sanitary facilities, and women and children in particular made vulnerable by a lack of water and proper toilets.

Women from the Mishing community in Dhemaji district are shocked by the siltation caused by the floods. Their homes on stilts – known as chaang ghor – are built on a raised platform. But the sands have submerged the homes in this village by two feet. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Women from the Mishing community in Dhemaji district are shocked by the siltation caused by the floods. Their homes on stilts – known as chaang ghor – are built on a raised platform. But the sands have submerged the homes in this village by two feet. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Directly following the floods, the ministry of drinking water and sanitation advised the public health and engineering department of the Assam government to “urgently” make provision for such disasters, particularly ensuring safe water for residents in remote rural areas.

Women from Rekhasapori village in Dhemaji district walk on the hot sand towards a health camp set up by Save The Children. Most people complain of rashes, and acidity from acute hunger. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Women from Rekhasapori village in Dhemaji district walk on the hot sand towards a health camp set up by Save The Children. Most people complain of rashes, and acidity from acute hunger. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Among other suggestions, the ministry recommended the “hiring of water tankers for emergency water supply to affected sites […], procuring of sodium hypochlorite, halogen tablets and bleaching powder for proper disinfection [and] hiring of sufficient vehicles fitted with water treatment plants to provide onsite safe drinking water.”

Mohini Pait delivered her daughter on the day after floods in the Rekhasapori village of Assam state washed her house away. She and her baby are currently living in one of many relief camps that dot the roads in flood-affected areas throughout Assam. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

Mohini Pait delivered her daughter on the day after floods in the Rekhasapori village of Assam state washed her house away. She and her baby are currently living in one of many relief camps that dot the roads in flood-affected areas throughout Assam. Credit: Priyanka Borpujari/IPS

In Morigaon and Dhemaji, families are slowly trying to pick up the pieces of their lives, but experts say unless proper disaster management measures are put in place, the poorest will suffer and floods will continue to erode India’s progress towards the MDGs.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Nepal Landslide Leaves Women and Children Vulnerablehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/nepal-landslide-leaves-women-and-children-vulnerable/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nepal-landslide-leaves-women-and-children-vulnerable http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/nepal-landslide-leaves-women-and-children-vulnerable/#comments Wed, 27 Aug 2014 01:50:55 +0000 Naresh Newar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136342 Relief workers and aid agencies are worried about the security, protection and psychological health of women and children in post-disaster settings. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

Relief workers and aid agencies are worried about the security, protection and psychological health of women and children in post-disaster settings. Credit: Naresh Newar/IPS

By Naresh Newar
DABI, Nepal, Aug 27 2014 (IPS)

Living in a makeshift tarpaulin shelter, which barely protects her family from the torrential rainfall or scorching heat of this remote village in southern Nepal, 36-year-old Kamala Pari is under immense stress, worrying about her financial security and children’s safety.

The family’s only house and tiny plot of farmland were completely destroyed by the massive landslide on Jul. 2 that struck the village of Dabi, part of the Dhusun Village Development Committee (VDC) of Sindhupalchok district, nearly 100 km south of the capital Kathmandu.

Dhusun was one of the four VDCs including Mankha, Tekanpur and Ramche severely affected by the disaster, which killed 156 and displaced 478 persons, according to the ministry of home affairs.

This was Nepal’s worst landslide in terms of human fatalities, according to the Nepal Red Cross Society, the country’s largest disaster relief NGO.

“My students are too scared to return to their classrooms. They really need a lot of counseling." -- Krishna Bhakta Nepal, principal of Jalpa High School
Though the government is still assessing long-term damages from that fateful day, officials here tell IPS the worst victims are likely to be women and children from these impoverished rural areas, whose houses and farms are erected on land that is highly vulnerable to natural catastrophes.

Left homeless and further impoverished, Pari is worried about the toll this will take on her children, who are now living with the reality of having lost their home and many of their friends.

“We’re not just living in fear of another disaster but have to worry about our future as there is nothing left for us to survive on,” Pari told IPS, adding that their monthly income fell from 100 dollars to 50 dollars after the landslide.

Her 50 neighbours, living in tarpaulin tents in a makeshift camp on top of a hill in this remote village, are also preparing for hard times ahead.

“We lost everything and now we run this shop to survive,” 15-year-old Elina Shrestha, a displaced teenager, told IPS, gesturing at the small grocery shop that she and her friends have cobbled together.

Their customers include tourists from Kathmandu and nearby towns who are flocking to destroyed villages to see with their own eyes the landslide-scarred hills and the lake created by the overflow of water from the nearby Sunkoshi river.

Protecting the vulnerable

Relief workers and protection specialists from government and aid agencies told IPS they are worried about the security, protection and psychological health of women and children.

An estimated 50 children were killed in the landslide, according to the ministry of women, children and social welfare.

“In any disaster, children and women seem to be more impacted than others,” Sunita Kayastha, chief of the emergency unit of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) told IPS, adding that they are most vulnerable to abuse and violence.

Women and children are 14 times more likely than men to die in a disaster, according to a report by Plan International, which found adolescent girls to be particularly vulnerable to sexual violence in the aftermath of a natural hazard.

Senior psychosocial experts recently visited the affected areas and specifically reported that children and women were under immense psychological stress.

“The children need a lot of counseling [and] healing them is our top priority right now,” Women Development Officer Anju Dhungana, point-person for affected women and children in the Sindhupalchok district, told IPS.

Dhungana is concerned about the gap in professional psychosocial counseling at the local level and has requested help from government and international aid agencies based in Kathmandu.

Schools are gradually being resumed, with the help of aid agencies who are identifying safe locations for the children whose classrooms have been destroyed.

One school was totally destroyed, killing 33 children, and the remaining 142 children are now studying in temporary learning centres built by Save the Children and the District Education Office, officials told IPS.

A further 1,952 children who attend schools built close to the river are also at risk, experts say.

Trauma is quite widespread, the sight of the hollowed-out mountainside and large dam created close to the river still causing panic among children and their parents, as well as their teachers.

“I lost 28 of my students and now I have [the] job of healing hundreds of their school friends,” Balaram Timilsina, principal of Bansagu School in Mankha VDC, told IPS.

“My students are too scared to return to their classrooms. They really need a lot of counseling,” added Krishna Bhakta Nepal, principal of Jalpa High School of Khadichaur, a small town near Mankha.

International agencies Save the Children, UNICEF and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) are helping the government’s efforts to restore normal life in the villages, but it has been challenging.

“We need to help children get back to school by ensuring a safe environment for them,” Sudarshan Shrestha, communications director of Save the Children, told IPS.

The international NGO has been setting up temporary learning centres for hundreds of students who lost their schools.

High risk for adolescent girls

Shrestha’s concern is not just for the children but also the young women who are often vulnerable in post-disaster situations to sexual violence and trafficking.

“The risk of sexual exploitation and trafficking is always high among the families impoverished by disaster, and during such situations, girls are often hoaxed and tricked by traffickers,” explained Shrestha.

Sindhupalchok, one of Nepal’s most impoverished districts, is notorious for being a source of young girls who are trafficked to Kathmandu and Indian cities, according to NGOs; a recent report by Child Reach International identified the district as a major trafficking centre.

“Whenever disaster strikes, the protection of adolescent girls should be highly prioritised and our role is to make sure this crucial issue is included in the disaster response,” UNFPA’s country representative Guilia Vallese told IPS, explaining that protection agencies need to be highly vigilant.

Government officials said that although there have been no cases of sexual or domestic violence and trafficking, they remain concerned.

“There are also a lot of young girls displaced [and living] with their relatives and after our assessment, we found that they need more protection,” explained officer Dhungana.

She said that many of them live in the camps or in school buildings in villages that are remote, with little or no government presence.

The government has formed a committee on protection measures and will be assessing the situation of vulnerability soon to ensure that children and women are living in a secure environment.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Women Warriors Take Environmental Protection into Their Own Handshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/women-warriors-take-environmental-protection-into-their-own-hands/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-warriors-take-environmental-protection-into-their-own-hands http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/women-warriors-take-environmental-protection-into-their-own-hands/#comments Fri, 08 Aug 2014 06:32:25 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135998 Indian activist Suryamani Bhagat has been fighting state officials in the eastern state of Jharkhand to protect tribal people’s forest rights. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Indian activist Suryamani Bhagat has been fighting state officials in the eastern state of Jharkhand to protect tribal people’s forest rights. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
BALI, Aug 8 2014 (IPS)

Aleta Baun, an Indonesian environmental activist known in her community as Mama Aleta, has a penchant for wearing a colourful scarf on her head, but not for cosmetic reasons.

The colours of the cloth, she says, represent the hues of the forests that are the lifeblood of her Mollo people living in West Timor, part of Indonesia’s East Nusa Tenggara province.

“The forest is the life of my people, the trees are like the pores in our skin, the water is like the blood that flows through us…the forest is the mother of my tribe,” Aleta told IPS.

“If I were a man, I would have been arrested and thrown in jail by now. Because we women stand together, police are reluctant to act like that.” -- Suryamani Bhagat, founder of the Torang tribal rights and cultural centre
The winner of the 2013 Goldman Environmental Prize, she represents an expanding international movement against environmental destruction helmed by humble, often poor, rural and tribal women.

For many years, Aleta has been at the forefront of her tribe’s efforts to stop mining companies destroying the forests of the Mutis Mountains that hug the western part of the island of Timor.

The Mollo people have long existed in harmony with these sacred forests, living off the fertile land and harvesting from plants the dye they use for weaving – a skill that local women have cultivated over centuries.

Starting in the 1980s, corporations seeking to extract marble from the rich region acquired permits from local officials, and began a period of mining and deforestation that caused landslides and rampant pollution of West Timor’s rivers, which have their headwaters in the Mutis Mountains.

The villagers living downstream bore the brunt of these operations, which they said represented an assault on their way of life.

So Mama Aleta, along with three other indigenous Mollo women, started traveling by foot from one remote village to the next, educating people about the environmental impacts of mining.

During one of these trips in 2006, Aleta was assaulted and stabbed by a group of thugs who waylaid her. But the incident did not sway her commitment.

“I felt they were raping my land, I could not just stand aside and watch that happen,” she told IPS.

The movement culminated in a peaceful ‘occupation’ of the contested mountain, with Aleta leading some 150 women to sit silently on and around the mining site and weave traditional cloth in protest of the destruction.

“We wanted to tell the companies that what they were doing was like taking our clothes off, they were making the forest naked by [cutting down] its trees,” she said.

A year later, the mining groups were forced to cease their operations at four sites within Mollo territory, and finally give up on the enterprise altogether.

 

Indigenous women from the Indonesian island of Lombok make traditional handicrafts using supplies from the forest. Amantha Perera/IPS

Indigenous women from the Indonesian island of Lombok make traditional handicrafts using supplies from the forest. Amantha Perera/IPS

Increasingly, women like Aleta are taking a front seat in community action campaigns in Asia, Africa and Latin America aimed at safeguarding the environment.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) estimates that women comprise one of the most vulnerable populations to the fallout from extreme weather events.

In addition, small-scale female farmers (who number some 560 million worldwide) produce between 45 and 80 percent of the world’s food, while rural women, primarily in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, spend an estimated 200 million hours per day fetching water, according to UN Women. Any change in their climate, experts say, will be acutely felt.

According to Lorena Aguilar, senior gender advisor with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in some parts of rural India women spend 30 percent of their time looking for water. “Their role and the environment they live in have a symbiotic connection,” she said.

Ordinary mothers accomplish extraordinary feats

In the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand, Suryamani Bhagat, founder of the Torang tribal rights and cultural center, is working with women in her village of Kotari to protect the state’s precious forests.

Working under the umbrella of the Jharkhand Save the Forest Movement (known locally as Jharkhand Jangal Bachao Andolan), Bhagat initially brought together 15 adivasi women to protest attempts by a state-appointed forest official to plant commercially viable timber that had no biodiversity or consumption value for the villagers who live off the land.

The women then went to the local police station – accompanied by children, men and elders from the village – and began to pluck and eat the fruit from guava trees in the compound, announcing to the officers on duty that they wanted only trees that could provide for the villagers.

On another occasion, when police showed up to arrest women leaders in the community, including Bhagat, they announced they would go voluntarily – provided the police also arrested their children and livestock, who needed the women to care for them. Once again, the police retreated.

Now the women patrol the forest, ensuring that no one cuts more wood than is deemed necessary.

Bhagat believes that her gender works to her advantage in this rural community in Jharkhand’s Ranchi district.

“If I were a man, I would have been arrested and thrown in jail by now,” she told IPS. “Because we women stand together, police are reluctant to act like that.”

Over 7,000 km away, in the Pacific island state of Papua New Guinea, Ursula Rakova is adding strength to the women-led movement by working to protect her native Carteret Atoll from the devastating impacts of climate change.

The tiny islands that comprise this atoll have a collective land area of 0.6 square kilometers, with a maximum elevation of 1.5 metres above sea level.

For nearly 20 years, locals here have battled a rising sea that has contaminated ground water supplies, washed away homes and made agriculture virtually untenable.

The National Tidal Centre at the Australian government’s bureau of meteorology has been unwilling to provide long-term projections for the atoll’s future, but various media outlets report that the islands could be completely submerged as early as 2015.

In 2006, at the request of a local council of elders, Rakova left a paid job in the neighbouring Bougainville Island and returned to her native Carteret, where she helped found Tulele Peisa, an NGO dedicated to planning and implementing a voluntary relocation plan for residents in the face of government inaction.

The organisation advocates for the rights of indigenous islanders, and seeks economic alternatives and social protections for families and individuals forced to flee their sinking land.

“It is my island, my people, we will not give up on them,” Rakova told IPS. “It is our way of life that is going under the sea.”

All three women are ordinary mothers, who have taken extraordinary steps to make sure that their children have a better world to live in, and that outsiders, who have no sense of their culture or traditions, do not dictate their lives.

Of course this is nothing new. Michael Mazgaonkar, an India-based coordinator and advisor for the Global Greengrants Fund (GGF), told IPS that women have always played an integral role in environmental protection.

What is new is their increasing prominence on the global stage as fearless advocates, defenders and caretakers.

“The expanding role of women as climate leaders has been gradual,” Mazgaonkar stated. “In some cases they have been thrust forward, because they had no choice but to take action, and in others they have volunteered to play a leadership role.”

While the outcome of many of these campaigns hangs in the balance, one thing is for certain, he said: that the world “will continue to see their role becoming more pronounced.”

GFF Executive Director Terry Odendahl believes that “men are doing equally important work” but added: “historically women and their roles have been undervalued. We need to create the space for their voices to be heard.”

“If we raise women’s choices,” she said, “We can improve this dire environmental predicament we are faced with.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Mexico’s Climate Laws Ignore Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/mexicos-climate-laws-ignore-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexicos-climate-laws-ignore-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/mexicos-climate-laws-ignore-women/#comments Thu, 08 May 2014 10:40:10 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134169 The Ajusco forest, one of Mexico City’s green lungs and water sources. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

The Ajusco forest, one of Mexico City’s green lungs and water sources. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, May 8 2014 (IPS)

The rural communities of San Miguel and Santo Tomás Ajusco, to the south of Mexico City, are preserving 3,000 of their 7,619 hectares of forest in exchange for payment for environmental services. But the inequality in the communities is far from ecological.

The 484 men and 120 women who own plots of between half a hectare and eight hectares are organised in the Comisariado de Bienes Comunales (“commissioner’s office for communal goods”). To preserve the forest and care for the water, they receive trees, seeds, greenhouses and other supplies from the federal government and the authorities in the state capital.

There are numerous jobs, ranging from guarding the forest to prevent logging or fires to filling out official paperwork.

And the benefits provided are not insignificant.

Since 2012, this group of ‘comuneros’ – peasants farmers who work communal lands – has been participating in the programme for payments for environmental services financed by the National Forestry Commission (CONAFOR) and the private construction firm Ingenieros Civiles Asociados (ICA), who provide 123 dollars a year per hectare for keeping the forest clean, growing living barriers, and planting trees.

The work is not done on all plots at the same time, but in a rotating fashion, so the benefits circulate around a surface area of 220 hectares.

In addition, between 2012 and 2013, CONAFOR granted them around 300,000 dollars for the restoration of micro-basins.

But women only participate in reforestation and garbage collection activities.

“We’re going to reforest up to July, when the rainy season starts,” Alma Reyes, a 42-year-old mother of three who is one of the 120 female ‘comuneras’, told IPS. “The problem is that the jobs available to women are very limited.”

Reyes overcame decades of exclusion in 2010, when she successfully ran for the position of secretary of the Comisariado, one of the organisation’s three highest-level posts.

But her term ended in August 2013, and Reyes doubts that another woman will be elected to the position.

“A sexist majority prevails, and the laws are not enforced,” she said. “Women have no influence over what is done, in the distribution of benefits or in decision-making.”

In 2013, similar payments were approved for 52,000 hectares of forest land around the country. And for a period of five years, CONAFOR earmarked 77 million dollars in environmental services on 471,000 hectares.

At first glance, the projects have borne fruit: most of the children in the communities attend school, people eat three meals a day, and villagers have stopped leaving. But statistics are needed to gauge the improvement in living conditions for both men and women.

The case of the ‘comuneras’ from Ajusco illustrates how the role of women is not taken into account in Mexico’s laws on climate change.

The General Climate Change Law in effect since 2012 makes virtually no reference to participation by women.

The only mention of the subject, in article 71, says the plans drawn up by the states must “always seek to achieve gender equity and the representation of the most vulnerable populations.”

“All laws can be perfected,” legislator Lourdes López, chair of the congressional commission on the environment and natural resources, told IPS. “We are reviewing it, because when the law is applied, details are found. We want to ensure follow-up on the climate change plans and on how the executive branch implements them.”

López, who belongs to the Green Ecological Party and heads the Mexican chapter of the Global Legislators Organisation (GLOBE International), is one of the advocates of greater reforms.

The law made the target of reducing national greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2020 obligatory, subject to the availability of funding and technology transfer, according to the most comprehensive study on climate legislation, which analysed the laws of 66 countries and was published in February by GLOBE International, a global network of parliamentarians concerned about the environment.

Martha Lucía Micher, a lawmaker from the left-wing Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), believes laws and decision-making must do a better job of including women.

“How can policies be developed if women are ignored?” asked Micher, chair of the gender equality commission. “How can sustainable projects be promoted if women don’t participate? We aren’t sufficiently represented in decision-making on climate change.”

The two legislative commissions presided over by López and Micher, as well as female activists and academics, set up a working group to propose changes to laws on climate change, with the aim of including a gender perspective.

This country of 118 million people is highly vulnerable to climate change and is already suffering the manifestations of global warming, such as more frequent and devastating storms, severe drought, a rising sea level, and a loss of biological diversity.

Over half – 51.3 percent – of the population lives in poverty, and many women, especially in rural areas, bear the brunt of the impact of climate change, because they are responsible for making sure their families have clean water and food, and for taking care of their families in case of disasters.

The absence of a gender focus in the country’s climate laws contrasts sharply with other areas.

The National Development Plan 2013-2018 stipulates that a gender angle must be incorporated in all government programmes, in order to achieve equality between men and women.

And the National Programme for Equal Opportunities and Non-Discrimination against Women 2013-2018 orders the incorporation “of a gender focus in the detection and mitigation of risks, emergency response and reconstruction in natural and manmade disasters,” and in “policies on the environment and sustainability.”

Leticia Gutiérrez, a policy adviser with the Alianza MéxicoREDD+ (REDD+Mexico Alliance), told IPS that “under the prevailing approach, women are still seen as a vulnerable group and the focus is on the promotion of productive projects without managing to have an impact on the structural causes of gender inequality.”

The Alianza sponsored a study that analyses Mexico’s main laws and policies, as well as public spending dedicated to equality between men and women in relation to the REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) mechanism.

The document, drawn up by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Global Gender Office, concluded that although there is a legal and institutional framework that requires the inclusion of gender considerations, a gender focus is not yet sufficiently included in a cross-cutting manner in forestry, agriculture, environment and climate policies.

Mexico is ranked 21 out of 72 countries on the IUCN Environment and Gender Index (EGI). The top country on the list is Iceland, and the Democratic Republic of Congo is in last place.

The achievements and proposals “sound great,” said Alma Reyes. “I hope they are put into practice, because gender equity is demanded from all sides.”

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Rural Costa Rican Women Plant Trees to Fight Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/rural-costa-rican-women-plant-trees-fight-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rural-costa-rican-women-plant-trees-fight-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/rural-costa-rican-women-plant-trees-fight-climate-change/#comments Wed, 02 Apr 2014 13:39:21 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133379 Olga Vargas next to the greenhouse with which the Quebrada Grande de Pital Women’s Association began to revitalise its sustainable business, whose priority is reforestation. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

Olga Vargas next to the greenhouse with which the Quebrada Grande de Pital Women’s Association began to revitalise its sustainable business, whose priority is reforestation. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
PITAL, Costa Rica , Apr 2 2014 (IPS)

Olga Vargas, a breast cancer survivor, is back in the countryside, working in a forestry programme in the north of Costa Rica aimed at empowering women while at the same time mitigating the effects of climate change.

Her recent illness and a community dispute over the land the project previously used – granted by the Agrarian Development Institute, where the women had planted 12,000 trees – stalled the reforestation and environmental education project since 2012 in Pital, San Carlos district, in the country’s northern plains.

But the group is getting a fresh start.

“After the cancer I feel that God gave me a second chance, to continue with the project and help my companions,” Vargas, a 57-year-old former accountant, told IPS in the Quebrada Grande forest reserve, which her group helps to maintain.

She is a mother of four and grandmother of six; her two grown daughters also participate in the group, and her husband has always supported her, she says proudly.

Since 2000, the Quebrada Grande de Pital Women’s Association, made up of 14 women and presided over by Vargas, has reforested the land granted to them, organised environmental protection courses, set up breeding tanks for the sustainable fishing of tilapia, and engaged in initiatives in rural tourism and organic agriculture.

But the top priority has been planting trees.

A group of local men who opposed the granting of the land to the women from the start demanded that the installations and business endeavours be taken over by the community.

The women were given another piece of land, smaller than one hectare in size, but which is in the name of the Association, and their previous installations were virtually abandoned.

“I learned about the importance of forest management in a meeting I attended in Guatemala. After that, several of us travelled to Panama, El Salvador and Argentina, to find out about similar initiatives and exchange experiences,” said Vargas, who used to work as an accountant in Pital, 135 km north of San José.

The most the Association has earned in a year was 14,000 dollars. “Maybe 50,000 colones [100 dollars] sounds like very little. But for us, rural women who used to depend on our husband’s income to buy household items or go to the doctor, it’s a lot,” Vargas said.

The Association, whose members range in age from 18 to 67, is not on its own. Over the last decade, groups of Costa Rican women coming up with solutions against deforestation have emerged in rural communities around the country.

These groups took up the challenge and started to plant trees and to set up greenhouses, in response to the local authorities’ failure to take action in the face of deforestation and land use changes.

“Climate change has had a huge effect on agricultural production,” Vargas said. “You should see how hot it’s been, and the rivers are just pitiful. Around three or four years ago the rivers flowed really strong, but now there’s only one-third or one-fourth as much water.”

In Quebrada Grande, the Agrarian Development Institute dedicated 119 hectares of land to forest conservation, which the Womens’ Association has been looking after for over a decade. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

In Quebrada Grande, the Agrarian Development Institute dedicated 119 hectares of land to forest conservation, which the Womens’ Association has been looking after for over a decade. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

In San Ramón de Turrialba, 65 km east of San José, six women manage a greenhouse where they produce seedlings to plant 20,000 trees a year.

Since 2007, the six women in the Group of Agribusiness Women of San Ramón have had a contract with Costa Rica’s electric company, ICE, to provide it with acacia, Mexican cedar, and eucalyptus seedlings.

The group’s coordinator, Nuria Céspedes, explained to IPS that the initiative emerged when she asked her husband for a piece of the family farm to set up a greenhouse.

“Seven years ago, I went to a few meetings on biological corridors and I was struck by the problem of deforestation, because they explain climate change has been aggravated by deforestation,” said Céspedes, who added that the group has the active support of her husband, and has managed to expand its list of customers.

Costa Rica, which is famous for its forests, is one of the few countries in the world that has managed to turn around a previously high rate of deforestation.

In 1987, the low point for this Central American country’s jungles, only 21 percent of the national territory was covered by forest, compared to 75 percent in 1940.

That marked the start of an aggressive reforestation programme, thanks to which forests covered 52 percent of the territory by 2012.

Costa Rica has set itself the goal of becoming the first country in the world to achieve carbon neutrality by 2021. And in the fight against climate change, it projects that carbon sequestration by its forests will contribute 75 percent of the emissions reduction needed to achieve that goal.

In this country of 4.4 million people, these groups of women have found a niche in forest conservation that also helps them combat sexist cultural norms and the heavy concentration of land in the hands of men.

“One of the strong points [of women’s participation] is having access to education – they have been given the possibility of taking part in workshops and trainings,” Arturo Ureña, the technical head of the Coordinating Association of Indigenous and Community Agroforestry in Central America (ACICAFOC) , told IPS.

That was true for the Pital Association. When they started their project, the women received courses from the Instituto Nacional de Aprendizaje (national training institute), which made it possible for two illiterate members of the group to take their final exams orally.

Added to these community initiatives are government strategies. More and more women are being included in state programmes that foment agroforestry production, such as the EcoMercado (ecomarket) of the National Forest Finance Fund (Fonafifo).

EcoMercado is part of the Environmental Services Programme of Fonafifo, one of the pillars of carbon sequestration in Costa Rica.

Since Fonafifo was created in the mid-1990s, 770,000 hectares, out of the country’s total of 5.1 million, have been included in the forestry strategy, with initiatives ranging from reforestation to agroforestry projects.

Lucrecia Guillén, who keeps Fonafifo’s statistics and is head of its environmental services management department, confirmed to IPS that the participation of women in reforestation projects is growing.

She stressed that in the case of the EcoMercado, women’s participation increased 185 percent between 2009 and 2013, which translated into a growth in the number of women farmers from 474 to 877. She clarified, however, that land ownership and the agroforestry industry were still dominated by men.

Statistics from Fonafifo indicate that in the EcoMercado project, only 16 percent of the farms are owned by women, while 37 are owned by individual men and 47 percent are in the hands of corporations, which are mainly headed by men.

But Guillén sees no reason to feel discouraged. “Women are better informed now, and that has boosted participation” and will continue to do so, she said.

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A Honduran Paradise that Doesn’t Want to Anger the Sea Againhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/honduran-paradise-doesnt-want-anger-sea/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=honduran-paradise-doesnt-want-anger-sea http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/honduran-paradise-doesnt-want-anger-sea/#comments Wed, 26 Mar 2014 13:17:57 +0000 Thelma Mejia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133238 One of the walkways built by the community of Santa Rosa de Aguán to connect the local houses with the beach to preserve the sand dunes. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

One of the walkways built by the community of Santa Rosa de Aguán to connect the local houses with the beach to preserve the sand dunes. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

By Thelma Mejía
SANTA ROSA DE AGUÁN, Honduras , Mar 26 2014 (IPS)

At the mouth of the Aguán river on the Caribbean coast of Honduras, a Garífuna community living in a natural paradise that was devastated 15 years ago by Hurricane Mitch has set an example of adaptation to climate change.

“We don’t want to make the sea angry again, we don’t want a repeat of what happened with Mitch, which destroyed so many houses in the town – nearly all of the ones along the seashore,” community leader Claudina Gamboa, 35, told IPS.

Around the coastal town of Santa Rosa de Aguán, the stunning landscape is almost as pristine as when the first Garífunas came to Honduras in the 18th century.

The people who came from the sea

The Garífunas make up 10 percent of the population of 8.5 million of Honduras, which they reached over two centuries ago.

The Garífunas are descendants of Africans captured and brought to the region by European slave ships that sank in the 17th century off the island of Yarumei – now St. Vincent – where they settled and intermarried with native Carib and Arawak people.

From St. Vincent, which was under British dominion, they were expelled in 1797 to the Honduran island of Roatán. Later, the Spanish colonialists allowed them to move to the mainland, and they spread along the Caribbean coast of Honduras and other Central American countries.

To reach Santa Rosa de Aguán, founded in 1886 and home to just over 3,000 people, IPS drove by car for 12 hours from Tegucigalpa through five of this Central American country’s 18 departments or provinces, until reaching the village of Dos Bocas, 567 km northeast of the capital.

From this village on the mainland, a small boat runs to Santa Rosa de Aguán, located on the sand in the delta of the Aguán river, whose name in the Garífuna language means “abundant waters.”

Half of the trip is on roads in terrible conditions, which become unnerving when it gets dark. But after crossing the river late at night, under a starry sky with a sea breeze caressing the skin, the journey finally comes to a peaceful end.

A three-year project to help the sand dunes recover, which was completed in 2013, was carried out by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) through the Global Environment Facility’s (GEF) Small Grants Programme, with additional support from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).

The project sought to generate conditions that would enable the local community to adapt to the risks of climate change and protect the natural ecosystem of the dunes.

The initiative enlisted 40 local volunteers, almost all of them women, who went door to door to raise awareness on the importance of protecting the environment and to educate people about the risks posed by climate change.

“They called them crazy, and thought the people working on that were stupid, but I asked them ‘don’t stop, just keep doing it.’ Now there is greater awareness and people have seen the winds aren’t hitting so hard,” Atanasia Ruíz, a former deputy mayor of the town (2008-2014) and a survivor of Hurricane Mitch, told IPS.

She and Gamboa said the women played an essential role in raising awareness on climate change, and added that thanks to their efforts, the project left an imprint on the white sand and the local inhabitants.

People in the community now understand the importance of protecting the coastal system and preserving the dunes, and have learned to organise behind that goal, Gamboa said. “It’s really touching to see the old women from our town picking up garbage for recycling,” she said.

The sand dunes act as natural protective barriers that keep the wind or waves from smashing into the town during storms.

“When the sea got mad, it made us pay. When Mitch hit, everything here was flattened, it was just horrible,” Gamboa said.

Some people left town, she said, “because we were told that we couldn’t live here, that it was too vulnerable and that the sea would always flood us because there was no way to keep it out.

“But many of us stayed, and with the knowledge they gave us, we know how to protect ourselves and our town,” she said, proudly pointing out how the vegetation has begun to grow in the dunes.

In late October 1998, Hurricane Mitch left 11,000 dead and 8,000 missing in Honduras, while causing enormous economic losses and damage to infrastructure.

Santa Rosa de Aguán was hit especially hard, with storm surges up to five metres high. The bodies of more than 40 people from the town were found, while others went missing.

The effort to recover the sand dunes along the coast included the construction of wide wooden walkways to protect the sand.

In addition, the remains of cinder block houses destroyed by Mitch were finally removed, to prevent them from inhibiting the natural formation of dunes.

The project also introduced recycling, to clear garbage from the beach and the sandy unpaved streets of this town, where visitors are greeted with “buiti achuluruni”, which means “welcome” in the Garífuna language.

Lícida Nicolasa Gómez is an 18-year-old member of the Garífuna community who prefers to be called “Alondra”, her nickname since childhood.

“I loved it when they invited me to the dunes and recycling project, because we were deforesting the dunes, hurting them, destroying the vegetation, but we’re not doing that anymore,” she said.

“We even made a mural on one of the walls of the community centre, to remember what kind of town we wanted,” she added, with a broad smile.

The mural of scraps of plastic and other recyclable materials made on the community centre wall by the people of Santa Rosa de Aguán to celebrate their way of life and the beauty of Garífuna women, and remind the town of the need to mitigate climate change. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

The mural of scraps of plastic and other recyclable materials made on the community centre wall by the people of Santa Rosa de Aguán to celebrate their way of life and the beauty of Garífuna women, and remind the town of the need to mitigate climate change. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

The mural includes scraps of plastic, metal, tiles and bottle tops. It reflects the beauty of the Garífunas, showing people fishing, crops of mandioc and plantain, and the sea and bright sun, while reflecting the desire to live in harmony with the environment.

The sand dunes are up to five metres high in this small town at the mouth of a river that runs through the country’s tropical rainforest.

Hugo Galeano, from GEF’s Small Grants Programme, told IPS that Santa Rosa de Aguán became even more vulnerable after Hurricane Mitch, which affected the local livelihoods based on fishing, farming and livestock.

For this community built between the river and the sea, flooding is one of the main threats to survival, said the representative of the GEF programme.

Ricardo Norales, 80, told IPS that, although the sand dunes and vegetation are growing, “the location of our community means we are still exposed to inclement weather.

“With the project, we saw how the wind and the sea don’t penetrate our homes as much anymore. But we need this kind of aid to be more sustainable,” he said.

The history of Santa Rosa de Aguán is marked by the impact of tropical storms and hurricanes, which have hit the town directly or indirectly many times since it was founded.

But the sand dunes are once again taking shape along the shoreline, where the community has built walkways to the sea.

Local inhabitants want their town to be seen as an example of adaptation to climate change and the construction of alternatives making survival possible. Several of them said they did not want an “ayó” – good-bye in Garífuna – for their community.

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Sun Shines on Forest Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/sun-shines-forest-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sun-shines-forest-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/sun-shines-forest-women/#comments Fri, 07 Mar 2014 08:13:17 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132514 Forest women in Anantagiri forest in the south-east of India check out their solar dryer. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS.

Forest women in Anantagiri forest in the south-east of India check out their solar dryer. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS.

By Stella Paul
ANANATAGIRI, India, Mar 7 2014 (IPS)

Chintapakka Jambulamma, 34, looks admiringly at a solar dryer. It’s the prized possession of the Advitalli Tribal Women’s Co-operative Society- a collective of women entrepreneurs that she leads.

She opens up a drawer in the dryer, scoops out a handful of the medicinal plant Kalmegh and exclaims, “Look, it’s drying so fast.”“We work hard, gather good quality herbs and seeds. Our life depends on this money. Why should we settle for less?”

Around her, women from the co-operative break into laughter.  The women are from the Koya and Konds tribes in the Eastern Ghat mountains of southern India. The forest has always been their home and their source of sustenance. Now, these women are tapping the sun that shines through it.

The solar dryer has four panels attached. It was installed two years ago by the Kovel Foundation – a non-profit group that helps forest tribes defend their rights and improve their livelihood.

The dryer – one of the two such machines installed by the foundation so far, cost about a million rupees (17,000 dollars)  says Krishna Rao, director of the foundation.

The investment has been worth it, he says, because the women are using it to run a business sustainably. “There are 2,500 women from 20 villages in the cooperative. None of them have studied beyond the junior school. Yet, they know how to run a business well,” Rao tells IPS.

“They are organised and work well as a team. Also, they are learning how to collect the roots, leaves and fruits without harming the mother plant, so that their resources don’t run dry.”

The forests of this region yield more than 700 non-timber forest products that include leaves, edible herbs, medicinal plants, fungi, seeds and roots. Most popular among them are honey, gum, Amla (Indian gooseberry), Tendu leaves, Mahua flowers and soap nuts.

Koyas and Konds have made a living for centuries off such forest products.  Penikala Ishwaramma, 23, is one of the herb gatherers. On a good day she gathers 20-25 kg of herbs. This year there is a bumper growth of the kalmegh herb in the forest, and Ishwaramma has gathered 116 kg of it.

The forest department buys much of this produce – 25 products must be sold to the department alone. But tribal people find the department’s procurement process slow and its prices lower than the market price. The forest department pays 45 rupees for a kilogram of gooseberry, while the existing market price is more than 60 rupees (about a dollar).

It’s this disappointment with government prices that drove the women to build their own collective business of selling forest products. Within two years, they are close to earning the 200,000 rupees (3,300 dollars) the Kovel Foundation loaned them.

The foundation had also provided basic entrepreneurial skill-building. Every day women like Ishwaramma bring their bounty directly to the cooperative where the managing team weighs and buys them, paying much higher than the government rate.

“We work hard, gather good quality herbs and seeds, “ says Ishwaramma. “Our life depends on this money. Why should we settle for less?”

But making a profit for the cooperative depends on producing good quality herbs quickly and efficiently – a difficult task as the women lack proper infrastructure to store or dry their produce. In addition, forests villages are very vulnerable to extreme weather, especially cyclonic storms.

According to the Disaster Management department of Andhra Pradesh state in southern India, the area has witnessed over 60 cyclones in the past 40 years, and the frequency is rising.

Using solar energy to dry their herbs has helped the women minimise risks of damage. In 2013, their forest was hit by five big cyclones – Mahasen. Phailin, Helen, Lehar and Madi. Yet the group didn’t lose much of their produce.

“Before a storm approaches, we try to dry as much of the herbs as possible and quickly pack them,” says Jambulamma. “We no longer need to leave them in the courtyard to dry.”

With drying and packaging no longer under weather, the group is now focusing on building a network of regular buyers, which would help them break even.

Bhagya Lakshmi, programme manager at the Kovel Foundation which connects the women with herbal product manufacturers, agrees. “They have already got their first big client which is a Bangalore-based herbal pharmaceutical company called Natural Remedies Private Limited. Currently, they are buying kalmegh in bulk quantity. We are trying to find more firms who will buy other products from them.”

Besides establishing a clientele, the women are planning to upgrade their technology. Krupa Shanti heads five forest villages in the area. Shanti says she is proud of the women’s cooperative and would like to see it grow bigger.

The government has installed a solar photo voltaic station at a nearby school that can convert and store solar power. Shanti is lobbying authorities to install one such station in her village.

“The government has so many welfare schemes. But for forest women like us, the best scheme is one that will help us become economically independent. If the government installs a solar charging station in each of our villages, we can expand this business and change our future.”

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