hen Cyclone Idai struck her native Zimbabwe in 2019, Namandla Mpunganyi said women took to the frontline of relief efforts, taking care of the sick, removing gravel and rocks and burying the dead. Much like their routine unpaid labor, which includes walking long distances to fetch firewood and water, Mpunganyi pointed out that women did not receive compensation for their work during this catastrophic climate event.
In countries like Zimbabwe, in the Sub-Saharan Africa region, the impacts of climate change disproportionately affect women and girls, who must not only walk longer distances in search of water in drought-stricken areas, but have less access to sexual and reproductive health services, education, and fall prey to food insecurity and gender-based violence.
“Women are the ones who need to be taking a front seat, even in coming up with ideas and implementing things that will bring solutions to the table…The people who are coming up with policies are not the people who are mostly affected by what is happening around climate change. If we have women, if we have young people at the forefront of that, it will be very beneficial,” said Mpunganyi, a young leader and researcher at Restless Development Zimbabwe, during the fourth Youth Adaptation Dialogue organized by the Global Center on Adaptation (GCA) together with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
With an inspiring multigenerational panel of youth and gender experts from around the world, the fourth Youth Adaptation Dialogue explored the nexus between gender and climate change adaptation. The dialogue included speakers from Nepal, Zimbabwe, and Bangladesh and from GCA’s partner organizations, the Ban Ki-moon Centre, the Climate Smart Agriculture Youth Network (CSAYN) and the International Association of Students in Agricultural and Related Sciences (IAAS).
GCA’s Interim Senior Advisor and Director of Programs, Jaehyang So, opened the event by sharing the valuable lessons she has learned as a woman in the field of climate adaptation.
So, who was the first Korean woman director at the World Bank, said, “It’s very important to learn about issues, but it’s even more important to do something about them. In climate change, we often talk about the disproportionate burden of climate change on women and girls. I want all of you, not only to learn about this burden and the impact that it has, but more importantly, to become leaders in implementing climate adaptation action. We are in a climate emergency, your voices and your actions matter.”
Dr. Renata Tallarico from UNFPA, explained that climate change is a multisectoral challenge, and as such, no sector is immune from its impacts. Climate related emergencies cause major disruptions to access to sexual and reproductive health services, which, as Tallarico stressed, are lifesaving services that can prevent maternal deaths and address violence against women and girls.
“If we narrow it down to the East and Southern Africa region, for instance, I’ll give you one example of how climate change is impacting sexual and reproductive health. In Malawi, an estimated 1.5 million girls are at risk of child marriage owing to the impacts of climate change including flooding and droughts, which have severely affected the livelihoods of families and made it more difficult for parents to take care of their children,” said Tallarico, UNFPA’s Safeguard Young People (SYP) Programme Regional Coordinator for East and Southern Africa.
Tallarico also cited a report published by the Malala Fund, which estimates that in 2021 climate related events will prevent at least four million girls in low- and lower-middle-income countries from completing their education.
“Allow me to say, that is actually a tragedy. We all know how education is important in the lives of people in order for them to achieve their full potential, especially adolescents and young people,” said Tallarico.
Keynote speaker Dr. Angela Baschieri, Regional Advisor on Population Dynamics for UNFPA’s East and Southern Africa Office, shared new evidence about the impacts of climate change on women.
In terms of maternal health, Baschieri explained that not only does heat worsen maternal and neonatal health, but global heating impacts vector-borne diseases such as malaria, which can cause maternal illness and low birth weight. Climate change also worsens maternal nutrition, and leads to increased poverty and food insecurity driven by the loss of livelihoods.
“We also know that climate impacts increase gender-based violence,” said Baschieri. Gender-based violence, child, early and forced marriages, and trafficking have been seen to increase after disasters and extreme weather events.
Adriana Valenzuela, GCA’s Youth Leadership Program Lead and Emily Vernall, a member of GCA’s newly formed Youth Advisory Panel, co-moderated the dialogue. Vernall ran a poll among participants of the dialogue to gage their understanding of the topics under discussion, revealing that as well as seasoned experts, the dialogue included people with no prior knowledge on the subject of gender and climate change adaptation. She also led a question and answer session at the end of the event.
Regarding the objective of the dialogue, Vernall said, “We want to raise the voices and agency of young people on topics around the climate emergency that directly affect their futures and livelihood,” noting that today, the world is home to the largest generation of youth in history, with 1.8 billion youth worldwide, and 90 per cent of young people living in developing countries, often on the frontlines of the climate emergency.
The next Youth Adaptation Dialogue will take place on 20th October, and explore the topic of Climate Resilient Cities.
For more information about GCA’s Youth Adaptation Dialogues and how to participate, contact Valenzuela at firstname.lastname@example.org.