Initiative elevates women’s key role in climate adaptation

Egypt’s COP27 presidency launched the African Women’s Climate Adaptive Priorities (AWCAP) initiative for promoting the integration and involvement of women in finding smart and innovative solutions to the consequences of climate change and to ensure a green transformation in Africa.

“I applaud Egypt as COP27 presidency for launching the African Women’s Climate Adaptive Priorities (AWCAP) Initiative. It is particularly gratifying to see an African initiative such as this one showcasing African leadership in realising the gender division in climate action,” Sima Bahous, the under-secretary-general and UN Women executive director, said in her remarks entitled “Focus on gender equality as central to climate action with concrete solutions”.

She spoke at the AWCAP launch event on 14 November during ‘Gender Day’, held on the sidelines of the 27th session of the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP27) taking place in the Egyptian Red Sea city of Sharm El-Sheikh until 18 November.

“The impacts of the climate crisis have a distinctly female face. 80% of all people displaced by climate emergencies are women and girls,” Bahous pointed out.

“And where the climate crisis brings poverty, women offer a solution. They are leading efforts in sustainable energy and, where barriers are removed, [they are] playing a crucial role in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and the blue and green economies.

“Unfortunately, women continue to be under-represented across the board in leadership positions. We must all strive to change this. Representation matters,” Bahous indicated.

“UN Women is here at COP27 to challenge the world to focus on gender-equality as central to climate action and to offer concrete solutions.

“Let us make sure women, in their diversity, have an equal say in decisions around climate policy. They must be at the heart of climate action,” Bahous concluded.

The AWCAP initiative

The AWCAP initiative indicated that African women comprise more than 50% of the continent’s population.

According to the AWCAP initiative: “In the wake of disasters, women and children are 80% of those needing assistance while poor women are 14 times more likely to die during a natural disaster.

“Almost 40% [of the] agricultural workforce in 46 of 53 African countries is women. They represent just 15% of landholders, and 70% of the continent’s food is produced by women.

“Existing inequalities facing women and girls limit sustainable and equitable transition to resilient water-energy-food systems, especially in the most climate change prone areas.

“The typical barriers for women, such as access to education, limited mobility, and norms and misconceptions, have prevented women from pursuing jobs in more male-dominated fields, such as the energy industry and technologies for adaptation.”

Thus, the AWCAP activities include, among others, enhancing investment in women, especially in education in certain fields such as STEM fields, as the percentage of African women working in STEM currently stands at 36% and the gender gap in information, communication and technology (ICT) in Africa is 23%.

The AWCAP activities also include facilitating exchange of experiences, enhancing knowledge production, and increasing the provision of climate information technologies along with data generation and research on women and climate change.

Besides enhancing mobilisation of support for women-led climate projects/start-ups and technologies along with enhancing women’s access to financial and technological resources, the AWCAP activities include increasing opportunities for women in the just transition to a green economy, and promoting gender-sensitive perspectives in adaptation and mitigation as well as promoting educational and behavioural change on women and climate change.

The AWCAP initiative is aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), pursuing: gender equality (SDG 5); affordable and clean energy (SDG 7 ); decent work and economic growth (SDG 8); responsible consumption and production (SDG 12); and climate action (SDG 13).

Women agents of climate action

Dr Birgit Schreiber, an associate member of the Higher Education Leadership and Management (HELM) programme at the membership organisation Universities South Africa, welcomed the launch of the AWCAP initiative.

“Higher education in Africa needs to expand and promote wider access of women to embolden women to be more active in climate action – women who are empowered, be that via degrees and further studies, or being an employer or entrepreneurs in Africa are much more ready to engage in climate action,” Schreiber told University World News.

“We need to start at schools. Education for sustainable development needs to start early and if we get girls into the schools in Africa – that is widen access and ensure improved gender equality – then we are likely to have women [who can act as] agents for climate action,” indicated Schreiber, who is also a member of the Africa Centre for Transregional Research at the Albert Ludwig University of Freiburg in Germany.

HE as key driver of change

Salwa Thabet Mekky, a professor of public administration and the director of international affairs at the Future University in Egypt, told University World News: “Gender equity and climate change are two interrelated issues that should be at the top of African governments agenda with specific focus on higher education institutions as key drivers of change.

“This is because empowering women, increasing their representation and participation in their local communities drive better environmental outcomes, especially as women always consider their families and community in decisions.”

According to Mekky, raising awareness among university students with respect to climate change causes, consequences and prospective solutions are crucial in stimulating climate action, especially by women in vulnerable communities.

“Equity-based solutions are as important as technology-based ones as women’s active participation is the main player in promoting sustainability.

“Disseminating a culture of volunteerism among youth, especially university students, is a key pillar to eradicate climate illiteracy, especially in those areas suffering high levels of poverty and menacing climate change risks,” Mekky pointed out.

She emphasised the importance of curriculum development, not only with respect to upgrading knowledge and skills required to generate innovative solutions, but also to drive behavioural shifts needed by initiative.

“Hence, we need to integrate more behavioural sciences as well as interdisciplinary topics such as cultural engineering. Interdisciplinary learning approaches would definitely broaden competencies indispensable to producing a rather holistic approach towards taking effective climate action.

“No doubt, indigenous women in Africa are guarantors of their communities’ survival. Hence they have to be empowered by higher learning institutions and engaged in decision making, economic activities and community outreach if climate action is to succeed,” she concluded.