Maverick Citizen

INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY OP-ED

Less talk, more action — the SA government must do more to ensure women are not excluded from the green transition

International Women’s Day is a chance to reflect on the extent to which women’s voices are meaningfully heard, and their needs meaningfully considered. (Photo: Gallo Images / City Press / Lucky Nxumalo)

Each year, 8 March is marked as International Women’s Day. This year, UN Women has chosen the theme, ‘Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow’, with a call for climate action for women, by women.

UN Womens’ focus for 2022 will be on driving global action and investment and financing for gender-just climate solutions, increasing women’s leadership in the green economy, building women and girls’ resilience to climate impacts and disasters, and increasing the use of data on gender equality and climate. As they explain

“Gender inequality coupled with the climate crisis is one of the greatest challenges of our time. It poses threats to ways of life, livelihoods, health, safety and security for women and girls around the world.”

It is well known that South Africa has huge potential in terms of the green economy, with President Cyril Ramaphosa mentioning green hydrogen, solar and wind resources in this year’s State of the Nation Address, and suggesting that, if “properly managed, the energy transition will benefit all”.

The government has also signed on to recent efforts to address climate change and to respond to gender inequality in an integrated way, including the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development goals. Both of these landmark agreements set clear targets for states to respond to the climate crisis with intersectionality and inclusivity as core principles. 

This is vital, because an exclusionary response to climate change risks worsening conditions for the most vulnerable South Africans, particularly poor and rural women.

The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report states that: 

“Vulnerability at different spatial levels is exacerbated by inequity and marginalisation linked to gender, ethnicity, low income or combinations thereof (high confidence), especially for many Indigenous Peoples and local communities (high confidence).” 

In short, some people will be more vulnerable to climate change and its impacts, with research showing that 80% of people displaced by climate change are women, and that women do not have easy or adequate access to funds to become resilient to and adapt to climate change.

Yet, as it stands, the South African government should be very concerned about its ability to respond to climate change in an intersectional and responsive way, not least because of its continued commitment to coal power and its failure to develop gender-responsive plans, and to implement existing gender plans such as the gender responsive budgeting framework.

South Africa is a significant contributor to climate change and its actions to mitigate its contribution have been insufficient. In addition, South Africa’s efforts to develop a gender-responsive climate change response have been limited, as shown in research published by The Climate Reality Project and others in 2020. 

Thus, the status quo will worsen gender gaps and economic inequality, and endanger women’s health and livelihoods.

women green transition climate ramaphosa
It is well known that South Africa has huge potential in terms of the green economy, with President Ramaphosa mentioning green hydrogen, solar, and wind resources in this year’s State of the Nation Address. (Photo: Elmond Jiyane / GCIS)

The IPCC report provides clarity on how to respond to these gendered vulnerabilities, showing that reducing them is possible through “carefully designed and implemented laws, policies, processes, and interventions that address context specific inequities such as based on gender, ethnicity, disability, age, location, and income (high confidence)”. 

The report recommends multi-stakeholder co-learning platforms, transboundary collaborations, community-based adaptation and participatory scenario planning, focus on capacity building and meaningful participation of the most vulnerable and marginalised groups, and their access to key resources to adapt.

The lack of inclusivity in policy is not surprising given the fact that decision-makers in key departments responsible for the green economy, green jobs and for ensuring that South Africa can adapt to and mitigate climate change are mostly men, as a quick scan of key departments (Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development; Forestry, Fisheries, and the Environment; Tourism; Mineral Resources and Energy; Water and Sanitation etc) shows. 

The Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment is a notable exception, with more than half of top management posts filled by women. Positively, the Presidential Climate Change Coordinating Commission has better women’s representation, with 11 female commissioners out of 21.

However, overall (when ministers are taken into account) the commission is majority male, as is its secretariat. If those with the power to develop South Africa’s response to climate change are not representative of South Africa’s population, South Africa risks entrenching existing inequalities and increasing women’s vulnerability to the effects of climate change.

Last month the Commission released its draft Framework for a Just Transition in South Africa for discussion. It is pursuing a number of community consultations to ensure that the relationship between climate risks and the just transition are fully explored and how “specifically, and practically, the poor, women and the youth can be empowered through this transition”. 

The vision of the draft document includes a commitment to including the voices of the marginalised, but progress on this is yet to be seen.

International Women’s Day is a chance to reflect on the extent to which women’s voices are meaningfully heard, and their needs meaningfully considered. 

Over the next year, it’s clear that the government needs to take urgent action if it intends its alleged commitment to a just transition to be more than just words. DM/MC

Jennifer Smout assisted with the research produced by the Climate Reality Project.

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