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OPINION: How Kenya can turn its gender and climate change commitments into reality

Kenya has strongly promoted gender equity and  women’s participation in climate change mitigation and adaptation programmes. Emma Bowa of CARE Kenya talked to CDKN’s Giovanna Grandoni about whether these aspirations are borne out in reality.

Kenya is among the first African countries to develop legislation and policies that promote the participation of women in climate change activities. How are women involved in mitigation and adaptation programmes?

Women are increasingly getting involved in climate change programmes, both at the policy level and at the implementation (community) level. The Kenyan constitution offers a fairly good framework for equity and the Gender Commission is a mechanism set up to ensure that issues of equity are addressed in the country. There is a draft climate change policy and Bill in the country; both mention gender and women’s rights issues, although not in detail. The Kenya National Climate Change Action Plan also makes a mention of gender and women’s issues.

However, the challenge lies in the implementation of plans and policies developed; as well as in targeting the most vulnerable groups of people. More effort needs to be placed on ensuring that the necessary resources, financial and technical, are available for effective implementation.

It is widely acknowledged that women are among the most vulnerable to climate change in developing countries; for example, in the IPCC’s report Climate 2014: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability.  Based on your experience, what does the Kenyan experience show us?

It is true that there are disproportionately negative impacts of climate change on women. There are numerous examples of this, such as walking long distances to look for water, being left behind with children and small livestock to look after, when men move away in search of pasture and water in pastoralist communities, for example. Women have also borne the brunt of natural resource-based conflicts; these have increased in recent times as a result of climate change related hazards, mainly longer, more severe and less predictable droughts.

However, women are not a homogeneous group, nor are they only passive or just victims in the context of climate change. They are actively engaging and influencing climate change and development planning and decision making processes. In Garissa, for example, they are increasingly diversifying their asset and capital base through small-scale businesses and village savings and loans groups. They are contributing to the planning and decision-making processes, by highlighting their roles in post-harvest marketing and value addition.

Which CARE  projects are focusing on gender and climate change?

One is the Adaptation Learning Programme, which promotes community based adaptation approaches and models. One of the main successes has been in integrating the use of climate information for participatory adaptation planning and decision making at the community level, as well as the County and national levels.

A second one, the STARCK+ project, looks at developing a County Adaptation Fund  to support public good investments. The public good investments will be informed by participatory vulnerability and capacity assessments and by climate information through community-based adaptation planning processes. These will be led by ward adaptation planning committees (supported by county adaptation planning committees.)

A gender analysis was carried out as part of the baseline to look at the differences and complementarities between men and women. The study went further, to interrogate ‘men and women’ as heterogeneous groups and considered issues of age, geographic location, livelihoods and access to resources. Women and men’s livelihoods activities were identified, and recommendations for strengthening linkages and interactions made. For example, men are engaged in the farm work and production of crops and animals, while women are more involved in the sale of the farm produce. Initially, when providing climate information, the focus was on  agricultural production, in terms of what to plant, when and what inputs to use. Including women in the discussions and planning processes ensured that climate information was also being produced to inform their investment and savings choices. In this way, some households reported having undertaken climate risk analysis for both production and the post-production periods and this helped to reduce and spread the climate risks.

What were the results of this gender analysis? How are men and women’s roles different and how does that relate to the common need to cope with climate change?

This varies from context to context. In some of the contexts, gender roles have also been changing with the changing climate. Generally, where systems and structures exist to allow for adaptation planning, men usually take a lead, with limited representation from women and the youth. However, there are efforts to promote increased representation from diverse groups within a community. During extreme events such as droughts and floods, women are left with children

For example in some traditionally nomadic pastoralist communities, there is less movement of the communities given the more frequent and longer droughts. Livestock has died in thousands and so the communities are settling into more sedentary lifestyles. Women have now started taking up income generating activities so as to contribute to income in the household. Men have also begun to work more closely with women. They have previously been separated in their roles, but having more interaction and understanding each other’s contribution has helped them to work better together.

How was it different in the communities you have worked with?

In Garissa, women do not take part in any farm activities. The men prepare the land and plant the seeds. They also grow pasture and take care of animals. Women have more access to the animals and can milk them, but cannot make decisions on selling them or slaughtering them for food or other reasons. As they are now living a more sedentary lifestyle, the women have had access to information and resources and are involved in selling the produce from the farm including milk products. The men are now interacting more with the women in planning for the season and the two groups complement each other. Women are charged with feeding children and the savings and loans help them to have extra resources for food, medicines and other necessities during extreme events, for example.

According to your experience, what are key measures to get more women involved in decision-making? What are the main consequences when it happens at community level?

The main measures should include:  raising awareness, increased capacity building,  research for more evidence based advocacy, and an enabling policy environment to ensure gender equality is mainstreamed and that institutions are well resourced.

When women are involved in decision-making they are able to share their perspectives. They also highlight the fact that not all women are the same. For example, there are differences according to the age and livelihoods groups they come from. Moreover, we have seen the differences in our project: since involving women in the capacity-building and climate information work in Garissa, they have had opportunities to speak publicly. The community has generally acknowledged that women also have skills that can be tapped into, including business skills, money management skills and leadership skills. It has been acknowledged that women can be active agents of change and can complement and/or build on to the work that the men are doing.

What are the  challenges around gender in Kenya today? What solutions do you suggest at national and community levels?

There’s still inequitable access and control over resources, at financial and technical levels and concerning access to information.

Planning and decision-making does not always take into account gender issues and the specific effects of climate change on different groups. Even where there are attempts to consider the differences between men and women, these groups are treated as homogeneous; generally with women as passive victims and men as active perpetrators, who prevent women from accessing and enjoying their rights.

Most of the policymakers and decision-makers understand gender concepts, but have limited information or capacity to transfer this information into action. They aren’t sure what integrating gender looks like in practice. On the other hand, there is often a lack of resources (financial, human, technical, time, research) allocated to ensure gender mainstreaming in climate change programming.

These can be addressed by complementing the actions already mentioned (raising awareness, increased capacity building, research and studies to support evidence based advocacy) with activities aimed at enabling legal and policy framework, and increasing the allocation of resources.


Image: Woman leader in Garissa, courtesy CARE Kenya.

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