Climate Justice: an African Woman farmer’s perspective

Climate Justice: an African Woman farmer’s perspective

Climate Justice: an African Woman farmer’s perspective

By Joan Leon - Programme Manager, RLS East Africa Office

In recent decades, climate change has increasingly had a significant impact on the livelihoods and well-being of the global human population. It is further expected that, in tropical countries, increased heat stress, drought, loss of fertility on land and soil erosion will further lower food production come 2050. The level of damage from such impacts are adversely felt in the countries of the Global South whose inability to prepare for and respond make them far more vulnerable. Yet still, even in these countries not all experience these effects in the same way.

In most African countries, for example, the majority of communities depend heavily on subsistence farming and livestock keeping and women – young and old – make up the majority of farm food producers. Considering that farming in these communities is dependent almost entirely on rain and other natural weather patterns, women are the group that suffers the most when it comes to experiencing climate change in African countries. They bear the responsibilities of food production and feeding families - all this with their lower socio-economic position. A report from the UNDP (2021) attests to this stating that the crisis of climate change, pollution, and natural loss impacts the very right to life, while women’s rights are unequally at risk and threatened. Women, particularly those living in crisis-stricken areas and rural areas or those belonging to Indigenous groups or a minority, are disproportionately affected.

Concurrently, there are promises from the myriad of local and global processes and initiatives all meant to address climatic changes and their effects on ecology and human life at large. These include the landmark legally-binding Paris Agreement that came into force in 2016, the African Climate Action Summit, Loss and Damage Fund, Green Climate Fund, to mention a few. Interestingly, the discourse on climate globally has increasingly taken a justice perspective – where more and more actors are addressing climate issues from a point of view of human rights, just division, fair sharing, and equitable distribution of the burdens of climate change, its mitigation and in bearing the responsibilities to deal with it. Climate justice has even been made a global aspect of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 13 under UN Agenda 2030.

Towards climate justice

One question that arises from such a shift in discourse is what exactly does climate justice mean for the ordinary African woman working on the farms for her own livelihood? A woman on whom many in her family and community depend? A woman who has had to endure many more other systemic cultural, social and economic forms of injustice way before climate change came to exacerbate her suffering?

First and foremost, for such a woman, whose general way of life makes the least contribution to emissions but yet suffers the most from climatic changes, justice means not being made to pay for a crisis she never created in the first place. All data points to the fact that the current climate crisis is majorly an outcome of industrial developments in the developed world – especially in the past century. But the effects of such developments which led to massive emissions of greenhouse gases responsible for the climatic changes are not just felt or limited to the Global North. In fact, it is the poorest of the poor in the Global South – mainly women – who bear the brunt of it all. This is injustice. For a woman suffering from the harsh effects of climate change, global and local climate justice strategies and interventions should first and foremost put an end to this form of injustice.

In the same line, climate justice for African women must also provide for protection from the effects of climate change and compensation from them. As noted above, African women are victims of a crisis they rarely participated in creating. For an ordinary African woman, climate justice can only be said to have been served if there is protection and compensation from the losses she incurs from such climate shocks. Justice needs to manifest in a form of someone taking responsibility for the calamities and dangers she endures. This responsibility should mainly be borne by the developed countries and the international funding mechanisms.

The deserving space

Furthermore, climate justice means women having a seat at the decision-making tables at all levels - local, national, regional and global. One of the key forms of injustices that African women have suffered – particularly when it comes to deliberating and deciding on climate is being overly and systematically left behind.

African women need to be at the centre of finding lasting solutions. This is the kind of justice that all African women deserve! The knowledge and leadership role of women in Africa must be central in all climate processes if the interventions are to be judged to be just in any form. The world has to recognize the need to fundamentally turn over and transform colonial and patriarchal structures in order to achieve climate justice. Women have to be at the centre of the response to prevention and tackling of climate crisis.

Female leaders are also known for helping their communities to better manage their natural resources. As can be testified by Agnes Kirabo,[1] when women are engaged as decision-makers their communities tend to do better at managing resources and thereby protecting against climate shocks in a broader way. From her experience in Ngora and Amuria districts in Uganda, facilitating women’s leadership in development initiatives also builds a sense of confidence and empowerment apart from the achievements that they make. Space must be created to accommodate the active involvement of women in the design and implementation of local level projects, and to facilitate sharing of their experiences.

Different actors including governments, the private sector and civil society organisations should also (continue to) develop programmes that give women the space to make decisions and implement them. Civil society organizations in particular are the representatives of community/social groups including women and therefore should be in the fore front in promoting the active role of women decision making.

In Tanzania, for example a number of civil society organisations[2] have developed a climate-resilience planning toolkit to support inclusive climate resilient planning for different community groups. Its aim is to enable all voices and priorities within a group to be heard and to facilitate the collective identification of solutions to climate change and day-to-day business challenges facing all members. It has been designed to be used by cooperatives and organisations that support them including NGOs, community-based organisations, academia, financial institutions, and national and local governments working with cooperatives to support achievement of these aims.

Another sphere in this conundrum is that African women experience climate change effects in food production than in any other area. Food production in this context means access to and the right to own and use land for production. For generations, women in most African societies have never had or enjoyed tenure rights. To be able to implement any farming responses to climate change, women need to have tenure rights in their hands.

Experience from Ngora and Amuria districts in Uganda mentioned above shows that strengthening women’s land and resource rights has a striking and positive impact on women’s empowerment, allowing them to play a leading role in mitigating and adapting to climate change and achieve women’s resilience to climate shocks. Climate justice for African women means securing tenure rights. To equip women to lead on climate change, programs and interventions by all actors must invest in ensuring women have equal and secure rights to land and other natural resources within their communities – as a basic right.

For example, an analytical field study done by Food Rights Alliance in Uganda[3], states that there is need for sensitization on land ownership and security of tenure that especially focuses on women. A provision of adequate funds to endure effective operation of local level land administration is essential for the realization of objectives related to security of land tenure by women.

Conclusively, it is on a positive edge that the discourse on climate change has taken on a justice perspective as well. However, it is imperative that a critical analysis is made to define what such concepts mean to different intended beneficiary groups – like African women farmers in this case. This is an important step in making sure that the eventual outcomes of the deliberations and the decisions to be made out of them are not merely political and academic but practically speak to the real needs of the most affected groups in society. All actors in the climate discourse need to actively integrate the needs and concerns of the most vulnerable groups.


[1] Agnes Kirabo is the founder and Executive Director Food Rights Alliance (FRA) in Uganda, a former partner of RLS East Africa

[2] Pastoralists Women Council, BAWAKIMO, HAKIKAZI Catalyst, Pamoja Youth Initiative and Zanzibar Climate Change Alliance

[3] Bearing the Brunt of Women’s Exclusion in Agriculture, 2018