Dinesh Napal and fellow Development Forum Student Committee members at the School of Oriental and African Studies (London, United Kingdom) invited Muzvare Makoni to give a keynote speech on energy, environment and gender. The SOAS African Development Forum 2017 was held at the Khalili Lecture Theatre at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), Bloomsbury, London on Saturday 18 March 2017. Her speech was well received and those who attended said they felt energised to go out in their careers and leadership positions and impact lives.
I am delighted to join African Development Forum in this annual conference whose theme is “Energy and Agency: Fuelling Africa`s growth.” My keynote address focuses on link between gender and the environment. I will unpack how climate change affects women and girls. Climate change leads to unpredictable weather patterns like violent storms, droughts and harsh weather (extreme cold or hot). This consequently affects food security. Girls are affected by age and gender. Since girls are considered inferior to boys there are consequences of early forced marriages of convenience for food security. Women and girls are abused for food and they get sexually exploited. I will therefore also look at gender based violence like sexual abuse, forced marriages and other harmful cultural practices post natural disasters. There is a link between climate change and gender based violence. When there are natural disasters women and girls suffer more due to displacements, poverty, disease, loss of livelihoods and lives and marginalisation. I have witnessed women and girls falling victim to all forms of violence because that post natural disaster period has no holistic interventions.
As you are aware, Africa has a population of over 1.2 billion people and it is the world’s second-largest and second-most-populous continent. As you are aware 6 countries face feminine and even my country of origin had devastating cyclone that left many women and children homeless and displaced in mostly rural areas. Climate change has adversely affected livelihoods and as you are aware most rural women depend on livelihoods. Per “Our Poverty Africa Organisation” poverty has sharply fallen in other parts of the world from 40% to 20%. However, in Africa over 40% of people living in sub-Saharan Africa live in abject poverty.
I grew up an environment where women were second class citizens and the gender injustice they suffered was to do household chores where hard labour was needed daily. I used to wonder how much household work I had to do compared to my brother. I had to fetch water in the morning, firewood in the afternoon and the whole day I spent cooking and washing dishes. Males simply knew how to eat the food whilst I had to know how to prepare it and then serve them. In situations of natural disasters, girls and women are This is what gave me the vision to start Girl Child Network so that we catch girls whilst young.
For centuries, African women have relied on tilling the land, fetching water, washing clothes and their bodies by the river side, fetching fire wood and gardening. Women co-existed with nature and learnt how to sustain the food and energy it gives. Women have exceptional knowledge on seasons and they interact with normal seasons as part of their life pattern. But with climate change, many have not been able to cope as natural disasters like what recently happened in Zimbabwe and Mozambique left them homeless and helpless. Natural disasters exposed women and girls to trafficking, prostitution, slavery, and sexual exploitation. According to the Guardian, there are many issues to do with deforestation as energy needs arise and global warming continue to be worse because of emissions from agriculture and forestry.
As you are all aware, Africa largely depends on donor aid which comes in pilot projects, two year projects or projects that last a few days. These are not owned by the women and girls but by donor aid workers who fund them. There has never been clear impact of how these projects support women and girls’ empowerment post natural disasters. Not many of them have a theme on energy or climate and yet these two affect women and girls daily. The post natural disaster time is not the priority of most governments either. Most of Africa is struggling more with leadership than resources. Leadership in the continent is male dominated and traditional gender roles of women are still very strong in some countries or where they are addressed, it is just piece meal. Not many women occupy government positions for food, climate and security even if ironically most women make the food. Therefore, there is not only crisis from natural disasters but there is more crisis when those most affected by such natural disasters have no solutions or are not provided resources to help them rebuild their lives.
As it is now, renewable sources of energy are being developed in Africa. Energy revolution in Africa does not have the involvement of women. Solar energy is a huge resource that could bring clean energy to save women from hard labour and lung diseases because of inhaling too much mono oxide in closed huts. The design and production of solar energy has not reached women. That could cut down a huge portion of trees burnt to bring energy to cook. River banks could be developed to provide irrigation. New figures from the UN’s World Food Programme say 40 million people in rural areas and 9 million in urban centres who live in the drought-affected parts of Zimbabwe, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia, Malawi and Swaziland will need food assistance in the next year. Per the Guardian at the current rate of progress some 637 million people, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia will still not have enough to eat in 2030.
There are some specific energy issues I wish to focus on. The main sources of energy in Africa for domestic use are firewood, agricultural waste, coal and paraffin. Women and girls in Africa have the responsibility to ensure availability of primary energy source. They walk long distances to fetch firewood. In addition to fetching firewood, there is burden placed on women and girls to cook. Cooking in closed huts results in women and girls inhaling smoke resulting in respiratory diseases. If men are more involved in roles traditionally done by women joint efforts could lead to better solutions.
All hope is not lost as there are solutions. Improved stoves are already developed. There is less use of firewood and less labour to fetch firewood. However, there are challenges that not many want to eliminate the traditional open fire place as it also provides heat and lightning. Fireplaces are considered inefficient due to massive heat loss. Fireplaces have a traditional value and sometimes women and girls are forced to conform to traditional values. There could be community solar schemes for battery charging to provide lightning. The use of biogas digesters to provide gas for cooking and lighting using agricultural waste like cow dung could be a solution even for displace families because of natural disasters. Governments in Africa should make electricity accessible for domestic use and agriculture. There needs support for women and girls as decision matters in such energy revolution projects. As it stands, gender inequality and gender based violence hinder mitigation of effects of climate changes by women as they are not in decision making positions even though they are the most affected.
In conclusion, policy needs to address the role of women as decision makers in energy issues and climate change. As it stands, women are not considered as adding value to energy issues yet they put in more labour effort than men. The women
s true value and economic value is not recognised. Men tend to be decision makers in energy issues without considering inputs or concerns of women or understanding womens role in energy security. Central governments in Africa tend to look at “bigger” energy issues like electricity without considering energy issues affecting rural people who are majority in Africa. It is time issues of gender equality be challenged at every level of society and ensure sufficient/equitable representation of women at all levels of policy/ decision making in society.
Full Programme of the day and a list of speakers and panellists
11:00- 11:10– Opening address (Mashood Baderin TBC)
11:15- 12:30– Women’s agency panel (Chair person: Colette Harris, Panelists: Rainatou Sow, Awino Okech and TBC x1)
12:30- 13:30– Break (arts and crafts stalls in JCR, food stalls outside)
13:30- 14:45– Resource conflicts panel (Chair person: TBC, Panelists: Tomi Oladipo, Lily Kuo, TBC x1)
14:45- 15:00– Break (arts and crafts stalls in JCR, food stalls outside)
15:00- 16:15– Climate change panel (Chair person: Harold Heubaum, Panelists: TBC x3)
16:15- 16:30– Break (arts and crafts stalls in JCR, food stalls outside)
16:30- 17:30– Keynote speaker (Betty Makoni in conversation with Tomi Oladipo)
7:30- 18:30– Reception (musical performance and drinks in area outside KLT)