Climate communications: Empowering women to speak up for themselves

Climate communications: Empowering women to speak up for themselves

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Date: 4th August 2019
Type: Feature
Countries: Africa, Nigeria

Bibian Ama and Mairi Dupar discuss how empowering women in communities to speak up more effectively on climate change issues is vital to strengthening climate and development decision-making.

CDKN has recently been sharing its experiences on communicating climate change with NGOs and community-based organisations in developing countries.  A frequent question that comes up is:

‘How can we communicate local priorities for climate change adapation to policy-makers, so that policies are improved to help people become more climate-resilient?’

We suggest that one answer is: ‘Empower community members and especially women, to have a greater say in decision-making and to take their climate concerns to the seats of power!’

This was the topic of our recent presentation at the BRACED-sponsored Gender and Resilience Winter School. We summarise our propositions and field experiences here.

Principles for communicating effectively from the grassroots into policy processes

In our 'Communicating climate change: A practitioner's guide', CDKN highlights an important role for intermediary organisations (including NGOs, universities) and self-help groups to help community members to:

  • Join the dots on climate change: contextualise their lived experience of climate change in view of scientific understanding;
  • Enhance their capacity to act as effective policy advocates and influencers; and
  • Speak up and be heard.

For people to join the dots between what is happening locally with climatic changes and the bigger scientific picture, intermediary organisations and self-help groups can adopt a range of interactive workshop methods (like the sessions organised by ESPA researchers in remote rural Madagascar, described on the P4GES website here) and can use imaginative graphics and animations (like the CDKN products to describe the relation between extreme weather and climate change on our climate risk pages). They can also organise people to record the impacts of climate change in the field, such as flood and erosion risks, as an immersive and participatory way of understanding environmental change.

Our guide describes a range of successful projects that engage communities in climate impact monitoring, and public discussion of the results, and implications – as a springboard for creating solutions. The ESPA Mountain EVO laboratory, Peru  and Climate sin riesgo (‘Climate without risk’) project in Lima, Peru are both great examples of this.

When it comes to enhancing people’s capacity to act, intermediary organisations and self-help groups can mobilise and provide:

  • Advocacy training, legal rights training;
  • Help with understanding the gaps between law (for example, gender equality in law and laws banning gender-based violence) and its implementation;
  • Empowerment and confidence building especially for women, ethnic minorities and indigenous people (recognising that language barriers can prove an initial challenge).

As for instilling in community members the confidence to speak up and be heard regarding their views and experiences on tackling climate change, there is a role for self help groups and for intermediaries who can spot opportunities to engage with politicians and provide or facilitate access to communications channels. We note that it is the responsibility of intermediary groups to identify how and when people may need support (protection, safeguarding) when thrust into a larger and more political domain. Intermediaries may help people to manage any physical, security and psychological risks they confront through gaining public exposure.

Bibian’s Nigerian story illustrates beautifully how all these forms of partnership and mutual support can come together – in a well-functioning relationship between communities and an intermediary organisation – to make the leaps from community experience in to policy, and to mobilise external funding to assist local adaptation actions.

Empowering women from Nigeria’s rural communities to speak to politicians

The Women Environmental Programme in Nigeria is a women-focused NGO with deep experience of working at grassroots level on climate and development projects – and ultimately influencing national policy.

WEP received funding from the Kingdom of Netherlands Accountability Fund-NAF to implement a project “Ensuring Effective Implementation of Programmes, Policies and Legislations, that Contribute Towards Achieving Gender Equality in Nigeria by 2030” in Benue and Zamfara States of Nigeria.

The project objectives included capacity-building of community organisations, budget monitoring and information sharing. To do this, WEP trained women-focused community organisations on the content of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and gender-responsive legislations, policies and programmes. Eight local organisations were selected as subgrantees.

We worked to strengthen the capacities of community organisations to build bridges with the Ministries, Departments and Agencies, community leaders, religious leaders and legislators through effective advocacy activities – which they did.

The community organisations engaged 1,200 women from 24 communities of the two states in interactive meetings where the women debated their priorities for the following year's government budget. Specifically, they requested funding for: access roads and bridges to transport their farm products and for ease of access to other communities, primary health care centres, portable water for their communities, cottage industries for the processing of their farm products to curb wastage, fertilisers to support their agricultural yields – which have been affected by climate change – and improved access to education for their children.

The needs they agreed were collectively presented to State government ministries for inclusion in the budget. The budgets were allocated – and now the community organisations are monitoring implementation with the women. As a consequence:
1. Community organisations have built bridges with decision-makers and grassroots women, which is expected to continue even when the project winds up;
2. The interactive meetings have marked a step towards elevating the role of women in decision-making processes in their communities;
3. The interactive meetings played a role in exposing community members to the notion of demanding accountability from the various State governments. Community organisations are now involved in States’ budget formulation processes.

Women's increasing confidence to navigate government processes bore further fruit. When Benue State legislators later refused to domesticate the Violence Against Person (Prohibition) Act VAPP Act - a national law - in the State, community women from Benue State staged a protest in collaboration with WEP and FIDA.* The Act was finally signed into law – thanks to their persistence.

From the engagements with key ministries, the project team understood that State Ministries of Finance and Women Affairs must be involved in order to achieve the project's aims. We also saw that joint advocacy by community organisations was effective and more likely to be impactful. Now, community organisations are encouraged to build coalitions together, to achieve more effective engagements with relevant Ministries, Departments and Agencies.

*FIDA is a Spanish acronym, which stands for Federacion Internacional de Abogadas (FIDA), which means The International Federation of Women Lawyers (IFWL). It is an international non-governmental organisation (NGO) that enhances the status of women and children by providing legal aid, legal literacy and education programmes, and through advocacy, law reform, research.


Image: Nigerian women, courtesy World Bank.

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