Gender and Climate Change: Botswana Case Study - Climate Change

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Executive Summary

By Kulthoum Omari

The disadvantaged position of women means greater difficulty in coping with disasters, environmental change and climate variability. Gendered divisions of labour often result in more women represented in agricultural and informal sectors, which are more vulnerable to environmental variability and climate change. Women in general are also responsible for reproductive tasks such as food and energy supply for the household as well as many care-giving tasks, such as caring for the children, sick and the elderly. Women’s responsibilities and vulnerabilities are often amplified by environmental and climate change. Climate change therefore magnifies existing inequalities, reinforcing the disparity between women and men in their vulnerability to and capability to cope with climate change.

This has prompted The Heinrich Böll Foundation (HBF) to commission a study to investigate the gender differentiated impacts of climate change in Southern Africa; specifically Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa. This report presents the findings of the Botswana case study, conducted between July and November 2008.

The general objective of this report was to analyse differentiated impacts of climate change and climate variability. Furthermore, it was to examine the gendered dimension of climate change, its impacts and women and men’s responses, with the aim to develop and inform around gender sensitive mitigation and adaptation policies. The central research question that the study sought to answer was ‘Are women and men in southern Africa affected by climate change differently?’ To answer this question, a detailed understanding of women and men’s interaction with their immediate environment (natural and social) and their perceptions on the use of climate sensitive resources is critical. This requires a deliberate gender differentiated enquiry into the experiences of these men and women in order to understand how they experience their lives, especially around their different roles and responsibility. The methods used for this study were therefore qualitative social research methods that involve the field research approach.

Two villages in rural Botswana were selected to form the two case studies for the research. For the interest of comparison, the study chose the two villages because of their different environmental conditions, political landscape and socio-economic profiles. Seronga was selected because its people are almost entirely dependent on the goods and services derived from the Okavango river basin, it has rich biodiversity, rich ethnic diversity and is located in a wetland system that is of national and international importance (Ramsar site), located in the north-western part of Botswana. Chobokwane, in contrast, is located in the extreme arid (desert) environment of the Kalahari in the south-western part of the country. With the exception of veldt products, the people of Chobokwane derive little goods and services from the Kalahari system.

The general perception of the communities consulted is that over the years, there has been a steady increase in temperature, particularly during the summer season. The rains have also been less frequent and more sporadic, and since climate status is the single most important determining factor for arable rain-fed agriculture, reduced rains have led to reduced rain-fed agricultural yield for the farmers. The rainy season has also changed causing confusion to the farmers regarding first rains and planting times. In the case of Seronga, the elderly have experienced a receding flood plain over the years and extreme drought in some years. All these changes, perceived or real, have led to reduced agricultural yield, particularly in Seronga where the majority of its people are engaged in agricultural activities. In the case for Chobokwane, increased temperatures and reduced rainfall has been blamed for the few and isolated cases of cattle death in the village.

The study also revealed the following specific findings: Climate variability has had an impact on arable farming. In Seronga, it was reported that yields from rain-fed agriculture have been very low in Seronga and this was attributed to the low, erratic and unpredictable rains in the recent past. Women are most affected by this as arable farming is predominantly a female activity. In contrast, climate variability is not likely to affect the Basarwa in Chobokwane when it comes to arable farming as they are traditionally hunter-gatherers and do not engage in subsistence arable farming. Yet it is noted that drier climate may affect animal population, and patterns of migration impacting on hunter gatherer life.

Ecosystem resources from the Okavango River and Delta play an important role in shaping the livelihood activities of the people living along the river. The collection of reeds and grass, the making of baskets and fishing are three of the most important activities undertaken in the Okavango through the direct use of natural resources from therein. These activities are also some of the most gendered activities found among the Okavango Delta inhabitants. The impact of climate change on these ecosystem goods and services could not be established; however, noted changes to these ecosystems will certainly impact on people’s livelihood given the current challenges of climate change and climate variability. These are seen as additional stressors that will impact on people’s livelihood options. More research needs to be conducted to assess the impact of climate change on the availability of natural resources.

The impact of climate change on work could only be established if work means women meet both productive and reproductive responsibilities. It is then established that women’s workload for reproductive and productive needs will increase tremendously and families get poorer. It is expected that with reduced natural resource based livelihood options, more people will be looking for employment in order to supplement their income/livelihood. In many cases, particularly in Seronga, men are more likely to be employed in a village setting, as the women end up staying at home taking care of the children, elderly and the sick.

Malaria, HIV and AIDS and cholera are the existing health challenges faced in Botswana. These affect men, women and children, especially children and those that have a compromised immune system such as HIV positive people. However, with reduced livelihood options, climate induced poverty and lifestyle changes, women get poorer and they cope through prostitution to sustain families. This leads to increase in HIV and AIDS cases and other related sexually transmitted diseases. It is also expected that with increased temperatures due to climate change, the prevalence of Malaria carrying mosquitoes will likely increase, not only affecting the most vulnerable group being women and children, but also increasing the burden of women caring for the sick.

Most women are engaged in the utilisation of veldt products as a source of not only food but income generation. They are therefore most vulnerable to drier climate and variable rainfall patterns.

The main policy recommendation from this study is that Governments should mainstream gender differentiated perspectives around climate change into their national policies, action plans and other measures on sustainable development and climate change. This can be done by carrying out systematic gender analysis, collecting and utilizing sex-disaggregated data, establishing gender sensitive indicators and benchmarks and developing practical tools to support increased attention to gender perspectives. Consultation with and participation of women in climate change initiatives must be ensured and the role of women’s groups and networks strengthened. Some of the specific recommendations of the study include: Government interventions on arable agriculture should not only focus on provision of farming inputs and technological packages but should include mainstreaming of gender and HIV and AIDS. Women and youth should particularly be targeted through focused programmes such as provision of draught power to women and the most vulnerable.

Access to credit becomes very important in instances where women do not meet their needs. However, the prerequisites and processes for accessing these credit initiatives are sometimes exclusive and therefore exclude certain members of society, particularly women, from accessing them. These credit programmes should be reviewed specifically to mainstream gender and allow equal access to related training, credit and skills-development programmes to ensure women’s full participation in climate change initiatives.

There is limited available survey data to clearly expose the disparity between female and male energy needs, use and how the gender groups are performing in terms of accessing modern energy sources/fuels. It is recommended that research/ surveys in this area be conducted to inform energy related policies. Women still have to travel long distances to collect water. Water supply services need to be improved to provide reliable access to clean, potable water for basic needs that can also be used for productive purposes.

The need for skills among women to engage in economically productive activities such as basket weaving and commercial fishing is high among rural villages. Programs geared at training and capacity building in all areas of business (such as marketing and book-keeping) as well as the development of the skills of those interested in learning weaving and fishing skills is needed. Development of reliable markets for local produce would go a long way in making local economic activities such as fishing and basket making economically viable. Support for women’s groups to share experiences and exchange lessons in what they engage in should also be promoted. Programmes on domestic violence on women should be promoted

A study of this nature requires extensive time resources in order to fully appreciate and capture the experiences and perspectives of the subjects and issues under investigation. Insufficient time was therefore one of the main issues that presented challenges to the fieldwork/data collection aspect of the research. Language also became a challenge, especially in the Chobokwane study area.

Another major limitation to the study is the lack of available and relevant climate change data. The study aimed to draw conclusions on the possible impacts of climate change on both women and men, but that proved to be a challenge because of lack of climate change data over a long period of time and lack of gender disaggregated data. In dealing with this challenge, the study made an assessment of existing livelihood challenges faced by both men and women, particularly as it relates to climate sensitive sectors and concluded that climate change will become an additional stressor in an already complex system.