The recently concluded COP21 climate talks resulted in the Paris Agreement, where more than 190 nations acknowledged the risks to climate change, that the fossil fuel industry will have to end, and a 1.5 degrees C threshold in global warming. However, there is an inadequacy in the text in addressing the concerns of the most vulnerable, including women.
According to CIDSE, an international alliance of 17 Catholic development agencies, “there is no guarantee that the future financing needs of the most poorest and vulnerable will be matched and met.”
CIDSE followed the official negotiations and engaged and mobilized its members and partners, jointly with the civil society, through several side events. The Jesuit European Social Centre and Ecojesuit joined CIDSE in several of these activities during the last week of the negotiations. CIDSE also wanted to pay special attention to the gender issues linked to climate change, highlighting the increased vulnerability of women to the devastating impacts of a changed climate.
One of the most harmful impacts of climate change is the added pressure on already vulnerable groups such as women and children. Impacts on groundwater availability makes access to water much more difficult. Living in riparian habitats puts them at the frontline of natural disasters. Noise and dust pollution increases dramatically the suffering of respiratory diseases. The transformation of landscapes through the pollution of soils and desertification reduces the possibilities for farming and deforestation makes more difficult the access to firewood.
In a joint press release, CIDSE and Caritas Internationalis noted the absence of the protection of human rights at the core of the Agreement, running the risk of climate-related projects violating human rights and vested interests prevailing over the common good.
CIDSE organized a round table discussion on “Women’s movement building for ecological and climate justice” with allies and partners such as WoMin, the African movement of women against destructive resource extraction. It was a privileged occasion to know about the situation of women in the most affected areas in South Africa with mining activities.
Ms. Pinki Langa, who works with Women from Mining Affected Communities United in Action (WAMUA), explained how coal extraction in Mpumalanga, a province in eastern South Africa, turned the area into one of the most polluted in the country. Ms Langa referred how in Witbank (also known as eMalahleni), a city located on the Highveld of Mpumalanga, many women are hired for labour and there is physical exploitation.
Ms. Langa also shared that “we have many challenges when trying to empower women. For instance, how do we support women collecting water when there is simply no water? We try of course to support them in other ways.” They also acknowledge that they also need to work with the men but this is not always easy as there are occasions during meetings or assemblies where men prevent women from participating. “We’ve been trying to operate separately but now we try to involve also the men.”
WoMin is a regional feminist alliance that brings together African women in the fight against resource extraction that destroys land, ecosystems, livelihoods and lives. For these women, it is an important opportunity to share their stories, exchange experiences, to offer solidarity and hope, and to share experiences of how women could be mobilised locally.
According to Maitet Ledesma of the International Women’s Alliance (IWA), “women, especially those from marginalized groups and grassroots communities, bear the disproportionate brunt of the injustices of climate change.”
There is also the call for a systemic perspective in highlighting the extent of women’s struggles in climate justice. Aspects of this perspective include the “innovative analyses on cross-cutting issues that involve gender, climate change, and other focal points (for example health or conflict); the matter of gender-responsive budgeting and resources allocated to women, ensuring balance between mitigation and adaptation strategies; capacity-building among women in order to reintroduce the notion of ‘power’; and … the sustainability of development as it relates to democracy.”
There are still many countries in the world where women are excluded from decision-making circles and often lack access and control to natural resources, limiting their ability to adapt to a changing climate. This is the fundamental concern by groups espousing greater participation of women in decision-making and mobilization and must be integrated as action plans are reviewed and developed to animate the Paris Agreement in each country.