Women bear worst bruntof climate change


Pale and visibly weak, Dorica Tembenuka braves the Nsanje heat every morning to look for nyika (water lilies) which has become food for her family.

The 37-year old says the family works hard in their field but their one-acre piece of land produces very little maize to see them throughout the year, hence her falling back on the water lilies.

“ I am tired of water lilies,” she says. “I yearn for a moment when we would eat nsima throughout the year.”


Tembenuka who hails from Nsamba village in Traditional Authority Chimombo in Nsanje says searching for food is not the only hassle for her family.

Water is also a problem such that it consumes a lot of time for her to get it from Nyachipere River which lies some distance away from her village.

“In the summer, the river is almost dry and women are forced to fight for a few spots where they dig shallow wells,” she explains.


Tembenuka believes that though climate change affects everyone, women in the country are the hardest hit because of the nature of the tasks they perform daily.

Studies on how climate change is driving extreme weather in the developing world recognise that women are among the most vulnerable groups among rural communities, alongside children, female – headed households and the elderly.

Women, the experts say, are differently affected by climate change and climate variability related disasters because they are already considered as marginalised in socioeconomic, institutional, cultural engagements and political participation.

A 2013 study by Leadership for Environment and Development Southern & Eastern Africa (Lead Sea) titled ‘Linkages between Population, Reproductive Health, Gender and Climate Change Adaptation in Malawi’ also says women are disproportionately affected by impacts of climate change.

“Women have the responsibility to source water, firewood, food and look after the sick in their families. With climate change they may have to walk longer distances to fetch water and dry spells and erratic rainfall will affect their ability to source food including wild fruits and vegetables, medicinal and plants,” reads the study in part.

According to the United Nations, on the issue of impacts of climate change, women, particularly those in poor countries like Malawi, are affected differently than men.

“When floods, droughts, famines, disease and other crises result from climate change, women often face the worst consequences,” says the UN in a 2009 report.

It adds that women comprise 20 million of the 26 million people estimated to have been displaced by climate change.

It also says poverty and discrimination render women 14 times more likely than men to die in a climate-related disaster.

The Malawi National Gender Programme (2004-2009) for the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare indicates that women provide 70 percent Malawi’s agricultural labour force and produce 70 percent household food apart from performing between 50 and 70 percent of all agricultural as well as other tasks.

At national level, gender is recognised in key national policies on environment and climate change, policies and strategies including in the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy 2 MGDS 2, Draft National Climate change policy, Forestry Policy, National Climate Change investment plan and in Malawi’s submissions to the UN in international climate change negotiations and others.

Yet, there has been limited financing towards climate change initiatives aimed at cushioning women from effects of climate change, notes Heather Maseko, Assistant National Coordinator for Civil Society Network on Climate Change (Cisonec).

That is why Lucy Silumbu, a small scale farmer in Masese village, Traditional Authority Mwaulambya in Chitipa urges authorities to put in place measures targeting women in the face of climate change. She calls for properly financed programmes that would enable women fight climate change impacts.

Women themselves have been taking some action to draw the attention of the authorities to their plight in connection with climate change.

In a petition presented to Minister of Gender, Children Disability and Social Welfare

Patricia Kaliati as the country commemorated World Food Day this year, close to 500 women farmers called for support from government towards climate programmes that would create resilience.

“We recognise that our government has been making strides towards allocation of more than 10 percent towards agricultural budgets, and current budget has 20 percent allocated to agriculture.

However allocation towards climate change remains insignificant.

“We call upon government to among others increase budget allocations to climate change, and priorities climate smart strategies that have direct impact on women farmers’ productivity, and these are agriculture extension, adaptation and mitigation in agriculture targeting the women, increased allocation to technology generation and even adoption,” reads the petition on part.

Cisonec’s Maseko queries why there has been few investments targeting women and small scale women farmers in particular.

“Gender-blind planning puts women at risk of not accessing climate finance. They have various roles in society and needs, which if not taken into account may render efforts in financing women fruitless.

“Women that are vulnerable to climate change are not represented in decision making platforms where decisions on utilisation of climate finance are made,” she says.

She adds: “Most of them are very poor, they manage big households, and are illiterate with few resources or capital such as land and finances. They are therefore sidelined in climate change programmes in favour of populations that will register higher benefits.”

Minister Kaliati however says government is keen on timely implementation of the already existing policies apart from putting in place deliberate measures to ensure women also achieve further resilience.

“If we are to be able to produce and feed the nation, women deserve better protection from the effects of climate change,” says Kaliati.

Civil society programmes such as the Lake Chilwa Basin Climate Change adaptation programme (LCBCCAP), Ehancing Community Resilience Programme (ECRP) and Ready for Anything project have a gender perspective in their interventions for the promotion of climate finance and creation of an enabling policy framework.

On his part, Minister of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining Bright Msaka says government is taking measures toward mitigation, adaptation and creating a resilient community in relation to climate change.

He says the new climate change policy which is expected to come into effect next month will ensure that issues of climate change are mainstreamed in all government departments.

“Every department will be mandated to take into account issues of climate change and that they are factored into government expenditure,” says Msaka.

He says the policy ensures that women are taken care of through programmes that mitigate climate change impacts.

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