Gender and Climate Change: Namibia Case Study - Climate Change

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By Margaret Angula

There is a strong relationship between gender, livelihood and poverty. This relationship has been explored by many researchers, and significant to their findings is the relationship between climate change and people’s livelihood, which is dependent on natural resource base and poverty. The subordinate role of women in societies plays a critical role in determining peoples ability to cope (Wamukonya and Rukato, 2001; Banda, 2005). Recognised in studies of this link is that the majority of the poor, worldwide, are women because of existing gender inequalities. Despite this established linkage, gender issues have not played a major role in climate change discourse. This has inevitably affected both policy and planning for sustainable development in many developing countries. However, focus on gender differentiated impacts of the climate change and gender nexus has only recently gained momentum around the world. It is also noted that communities in developing countries that are highly dependent on local natural resources are likely to be vulnerable to effects of climate change (Tandon, 2007).

Gender analysis in disasters and risk studies provides a benchmark for understanding gender differentiated impacts of climate change. Gender analysis focuses on understanding the relationship between men and women, gender household relations, empowerment, access and control, and participation in decision-making at all levels (Meena, 1992 and Iipinge and Williams, 2000). Gender relations are socially constructed power relations between women and men in society. They determine the benefits that women and men can derive from natural resources (Watson, 2006). Climate change on the other hand refers to any change in climate over time, whether as a result of human activity or due to natural variability (IPCC, 2001). With regards to climate change, the rationale for differentiating impacts on men and women is the different roles, and responsibilities that the two gender play in different societies. The key issue is whether women and men are impacted by climate change differently (Banda, 2005). Because of this, vulnerability and adaptation to climate change concepts are social issues that are extremely important for policy and programme intervention.

Southern African countries differ in geo-physical, economic, social, cultural and political characteristics. Nonetheless, the largest share of these countries’ population lives in rural areas and is heavily dependent on subsistence, rain-fed agriculture (Wamukonya and Rukato, 2001). According to the GCA report (1999), agriculture plays an overall role in the SADC economy. Although the SADC region contributes only 2% to global emissions, it is more vulnerable to impacts of climate change (Wamukonya and Rukato, 2001). Historically people in southern Africa were nomadic and could withstand impacts of natural climatic variability. Due to changes in settlements and population growth in the last century, balancing vulnerability and risks in subsistence agriculture is no longer easy. This makes coping with anticipated climate change difficult in southern Africa.

In the context of southern Africa, Wamukonya and Rukato (2001) argue that the dependency on natural resources by women for their livelihood has come about due to the limited opportunity that exits for them to forge a decent livelihood. Recognised by Wamukonya and Rukato (ibid), is the lack of concrete data to enable gender and climate change policy making and planning in southern Africa, particularly as regards differentiated impacts of climate change in the region (ibid).

It is against this background that, the Heinrich Böll Foundation (HBF) commissioned a study in southern Africa to understand the relationship between gender and climate change. This study aims to provide new information in this area to influence policy and decision makers to take into account the gender aspects of climate change at all levels. Taking into account the aforementioned considerations, the aims and objectives of this study were to answer the following research questions:

  • Are women and men in Southern Africa differently impacted by climate change?
  • How are women and men differently impacted?
  • What are the physiological, political, economic and societal causes for the differences experienced, if any?
  • What are the current coping and adaptation strategies and capacities?
  • How can the capacity of women and men be strengthened to better adapt to climate change and climate variability?

HBF commissioned studies in Mozambique, Namibia, Botswana and South Africa. This report focuses on the Namibian case study. Due to the fact that climate change and gender has strong links to poverty, and that the majority of rural poor are women engaged primarily in subsistence agriculture,  the research primarily examined rural communities of Namibia. Fieldwork was carried out in Epyeshona village located in northern-central Namibia and Daures Constituency in the Northwestern region.