The Role Of Women And Girls In Addressing Loss And Damage

Written by
Brenda Mwale
Published on
February 24, 2024
Brenda teaching with Green Girls Platform

Image Credit:  

How are women and girls impacted by the climate crisis?

The adverse impacts of climate change continue to overly burden the poorest and the most vulnerable, especially women. Despite growing recognition of the differential vulnerabilities as well as the unique experiences and skills women and men bring to the development and environmental sustainability efforts, women still have less economic, political, and legal clout and are hence less able to cope with – and are more exposed to – the adverse effects of the changing climate. On the other hand, women are powerful agents of change and continue to make increasing and significant contributions to climate action, despite existing structural and sociocultural barriers. Girls on the other hand, in periods of crisis, for example, hunger due to droughts or floods, drop out of school to help their families make money, do domestic chores, or look after their siblings. Being out of school, means they are less likely to learn about climate change or understand any climate change-related concept and issues such as loss and damage in particular, and how to deal with the effects. When families’ income and ability to survive are put at risk, child marriages can be seen as a way to reduce the financial burden or take care of girls. In a number of documented cases in Malawi, girls have been exploited and faced gender-based violence including sexual and physical abuse which escalates when fetching food, water, and shelter. Extreme weather events such as floods may destroy public infrastructure such as health facilities and this may result in an increase in unplanned pregnancies and sexual and reproductive health problems.

Loss and damage associated with adverse impacts of climate change is one of the most contentious issues because of the question of responsibility for covering the costs. From super typhoons, hurricanes, flash floods, and massive bushfires, countries hit by climate-related disasters have struggled to find resources to respond to the challenges of rebuilding and meeting the needs, especially of the affected poor and marginalized communities. Over 80% of people currently displaced by climate-related events are women and girls (UN,2022). Women, especially across the Global South, are hugely impacted due to the structural inequalities they face. Current and projected costs to address loss and damage are enormous with a projected economic cost in developing countries to be between 290 billion and 580 billion USD annually by 2030 (Markandya and González-Eguino, 2017).

Girls and women have been at the front lines of the fight against climate change and are often the first to respond to protect their families and communities. They are innovators and changemakers, they contribute to decisions related to the daily consumption of resources; play a key role in agricultural production and land conservation; procure and consume water, cooking fuel, and other household resources; and constitute the majority of climate migrants. As such, girls and women are not only well suited to find solutions to a changing climate through adaptation or mitigation but also to prevent loss and damage associated with adverse impacts of climate change because they have a vested interest in doing so. Therefore, the first step toward sustainably tackling loss and damage is to ensure that girls and women are recognized for their progressive and forward-looking solutions for both people and the planet and have a seat at the decision-making table.

How are women and girls tackling loss and damage?

Women in activism

Across the world, from boardrooms and government offices and local communities, from science to activism, women everywhere are using their voices and varying capabilities to take leadership roles and call for action on climate change, loss, and damage in particular. Many of the most outspoken climate activists and land and environmental defenders, from Christiana Figueres who successfully steered world leaders to reach the Paris Agreement in 2015 which includes Loss and Damage to Ineza Umuhoza Grace from Rwanda who is the co-founder of Loss and Damage Youth Coalition (LDYC), fighting for climate justice including calling for world leaders to address loss and damage associated with adverse impacts of climate change. The Coalition has engaged in research, and advanced different forms of advocacy such as storytelling, holding side events at COPs and sending out open letters to top polluters and COP Presidencies to push for climate-related issues including Loss and Damage.

The Green Girls Platform has recently emerged as a grassroot female-led organization that works with girls and women to provide a platform where women and girls can meaningfully be engaged in climate action. Among other activities, the platform engages in awareness, capacity building, and advocacy on loss and damage at the district and community levels in Malawi. The organization has managed to train 120 women from these districts on climate change and Loss and Damage, leadership, disaster risk management, entrepreneurship as well as policy learning. The trained women have formed community clubs where they are now involved in different green entrepreneurship and climate-smart agricultural approaches. The women are empowered economically through the enhancement of their livelihoods. The Green Girls Platform has also linked women and girls with local organizations and grassroots women’s associations to co-create and implement community-based solutions that respond to Loss and Damage associated with the adverse impacts of climate change at the local level.

Afro Green is another organization led by Malango Kayira, a passionate young woman, which provides loss and damage education in schools. Her initiative at Nalikule College of Education has trained 30 young people to understand what Loss and Damage is, how they can be effective change agents in their communities and be the voices for many others as well as come up with different innovative ideas to help recover and build resilient communities from loss and damage as a result of the adverse impacts of climate change. This training has been cascaded in five schools around the institution.

The Women and Gender Constituency has been at the forefront, providing capacity and mentorship training to women and girls who have taken a stand during negotiations and side events to push for Loss and damage finance. The Constituency has been submitting interventions on their demands on Loss and Damage. The Constituency has, in the run-up to COP27, made strong demands to put loss and damage finance on the agenda. These interventions contributed to the achievement of successful outcomes at COP27 where Loss and Damage Finance was adopted as sub agenda under climate finance.

Women as climate leaders

Women and girls are taking up different leadership roles in their communities and they mobilize their communities to take action towards loss and damage. Patricia Chibaka is a 22-year-old Malawian young woman based in Karonga, the northern part of Malawi, she supports her community to understand and take action in addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse impacts of climate change. Communities train each other on different climate-related issues including community-based early warning systems and creating safe spaces where girls and women can share experiences and knowledge on how to cope with the adverse impacts of climate change.

Women and girls in Malawi are contributing to advocacy on climate justice policies, laws, and regulations, that protect the rights of women and girls around the world as part of the international civil society movement. Green Girls Platform provides a platform for training and education on gender but also provides policy and advocacy orientation to the women and girls in Salima. This is done to create an informed movement of women and girls that advances Loss and Damage policy advocacy and ensures that policies and laws are inclusive of vulnerable communities, particularly vulnerable women and girls. Following the policy and advocacy training in Salima, the group of 38 women and girls was empowered to do an advocacy campaign led by the Green Girls Platform. The group was calling for the government to mainstream gender in the implementation of the Climate Change Management Policy by all key stakeholders championing climate change.

Co-ordinated support is needed to prevent as much loss and damage as possible, particularly to ensure that risk management remains a priority, concerning adequate and predictable finance.

More understanding is needed of options for the assessment, compensation, or rehabilitation of non-economic losses in the context of climate change. Furthermore, gender dimensions are relevant for work on Loss and Damage under the UNFCCC and within countries and communities. Recognizing the work that women and girls are doing and promoting with coordinated efforts will take towards our vision to deal with loss and damage, especially for developing countries that are highly affected.

Brenda Mwale is a Malawian climate change activist currently working with the Green Girls Platform and is also a member of the New Generation of negotiators and a junior climate change negotiator for Malawi who has been following Loss and Damage since COP26. She is a member of the Loss and Damage Collaboration and a passionate farmer and the founder of Glow Foods.

This blog was first published on the website of the Loss and Damage Collaboration. You can find the original post here.