Climate Change: Challenges Facing Nigerian Women
Statement - 12th June 2012 - Brown Button Foundation
Climate change is an issue, unfortunately, not very high on the agenda of most African governments, including Nigeria.
Here, people are more concerned about food, shelter, clothing and healthcare facilities and would use any measure to provide them; not minding whatever effect it might have on the environment. The government, which is supposed to be the regulatory body, is still unaware of the challenges facing it, and this can be attributed to a number of reasons. These reasons may include corruption, lack of technological know-how, misplaced priority given to elephantine projects on the part of the government, ignorance, and to a large extent, lack of commitment towards the nation- building.
In a traditional African setting, women have always played a central role the commerce and trade of most rural areas.
A typical woman in rural parts of Nigeria is involved in activities such as farming, animal husbandry, palm oil extraction, soap making, basket making, pottery, and shea butter making. Women play very prominent roles in all the aforementioned sections of societal life. They also have to market the finished products and make sure the leftovers are kept and preserved for future use. All these do not affect the role of the woman as a homemaker, as she has to take care of her immediate family (husband and children if any) and extended family (which is characteristic of most Nigerian families), ensuring food is ready when it should be, collecting water for domestic use, firewood for cooking – as well as the state of the home: clean and habitable for the inhabitants.
From the above mentioned facts, it is clear that climate change of any sort will adversely affect the Nigerian woman. It could be a mitigating factor for them in rendering their productive and commercial functions in the society.
Women are the ones that are most affected by climate change, yet they are the ones who would be ignored by the politicians, because they believe women should be represented by men.
Inequalities between men and women combined with climate change will continue to increase the vulnerability of women and girls in Africa.
Looking at climate change in Nigeria for example, there is tropical climate with variable rainy and dry seasons depending on the location. The length of rainy seasons decreases from south to north. Thus the different zones will experience varying effects; while some areas suffer serious precipitation, desertification will be increasing in some other areas. As a result of all these changes, there will be several impacts. One example is salinization; that is, increased, unpredicted rain which will affect agricultural products adversely. For example, new yam that normally comes out in May every year in Nigeria, may not come out until July this year because of the irregular rainfall. The heat has also destroyed most of the yams planted under the ground, which means yam output will be reduced drastically this year. These all suggest that food security conditions may become more tenuous under climate change, since agriculture remains the main source of food for most of the Nigerian population.
The excessive heat is making it more difficult for many of the crops to thrive. With the heat, the weather is conducive for insects to breed, and as a result of this, both the grains, crops, and even the farmers will be affected. The grains with crop pests – the crops like yams, lose their viability and their level of productivity is affected. Due to higher temperatures, humidity, increased flooding and reduced fresh water availability, there will be increased diseases, dehydration, and worsening sanitary and health facilities as the little resources that women do have will be diverted to buying drugs, in addition to an increase malnutrition due to food shortages.
Climate Change is expected to increase the frequency and intensity of severe weather events. Unfortunately, many developing countries lack the infrastructure necessary to respond adequately to such events. There should be a way to help these developing countries and as this is done, vulnerability of women will be reduced. For example, rainfall patterns could devastate rain-fed agriculture on which so much of the population depend to survive. With early warning, farmers would be better prepared for when there would be rainfall and to plan their planting accordingly.
In Nigeria, food production increase has not kept pace with population growth resulting in rising food import and declining levels of national food self-sufficiency. The burden to get enough food for the family is on the women and girls; this burden will be reduced if there is high mechanization, enough small scale holdings and if women have free access to land.
Women and Girls are Most Affected
The men, on the other hand, should be fully involved in the activities of food production, getting water and firewood in the rural places to alleviate the burden of the women. The culture of silence and patriarchy, which is making gender equality harder and harder to achieve in Nigeria, should be discouraged. Women should be empowered economically for their voices to be heard in the society. Many women cannot say no to their husbands' sexual advances even when they are very tired, or know that their husbands have lovers outside of the matrimonial home; thereby, increasing the risk of the women being afflicted with HIV/AIDS or other STDs, due to the culture of patriarchy that is very much on ground in Africa, and Nigeria in particular. Africa - Nigeria included, still believes that women are part of possession of their husbands and that whatever the husband says is binding on the wife.
Men, especially in Nigeria, are allowed as many wives as they choose, so as to have a big farm – because the more wives a man has, the bigger his farm. It is the women who will be cultivating and harvesting the crops, and they must not complain. Women - through equipping them with a good educational background, would be encouraged to speak out and say “no” to any form of oppression. More women should be encouraged to be involved in the politics of their communities, so that the lack of leadership that continues to plague them would be reduced as they are more represented in government, and be more involved in the policy-making of their countries. This will help the women to bring about policies that will combat the expected climate change, which will thereby reduce the vulnerability of the women and girls.
Climate change is making the struggle for women’s rights in Africa become more and more difficult. As the workload becomes too much for the mother alone, daughters are forced to abandon school to help at home - which means the girls will not have education. And as a result of this, in the future they will not be able to earn a living and will be dependent on their husbands, and will be vulnerable to abuse.
Also, in most countries where climate has the most consequences, women are marginalized and excluded from most debates on climate change. For example, in Nigeria's house of senate, out of the 109 seats, we had only nine women, which has now been reduced to seven in the last election.
Deforestation and desert encroachment continue to eat many parts of Nigeria. In Nigeria, women continue to travel up to tens of miles looking for water and firewood for the family's needs, which is believed to be their sole their responsibility. When there are floods, women and children are much more affected: they are rendered homeless and therefore, exposed to all kinds of danger: from diseases to sexual harassment.
What Can Be Done?
Government, communities, individuals, and NGOs should be encouraged to plant woodlots to fight deforestation, to check erosion and to combat the main polluter, which is the carbon dioxide.
Strengthening the health care delivery system and developing public awareness on health issues to reduce diseases and mortality rates is essential.
Women should be educated to take proper rest; many will work and work until they cannot not lift their hands again. They should be encouraged to seek a medical check-up from time to time.
Brown Button Foundation Actions
Brown Button Foundation is committed to alleviating the suffering of rural women in Nigeria, as our major task is ‘saving mothers to save lives’.
We are committed to improving the life of the everyday Nigerian woman. To this end, the women of Illishan Remo Community, in Ogun state, Nigeria, are the first beneficiaries of our drive to alleviate the plight of women with the changing climate. The community had no water borehole, which meant they had to fetch water from streams – not just for domestic use, but also for use in the health centre in the community. Relatives and friends of a patient had to fetch water from the stream to be used in the hospital. You can imagine what expecting mothers went through in such a community, the heat from walking miles daily to provide water and firewood for use was deplorable.
To put smiles on the faces of the staff and residents of the community, Brown Button Foundation in March 2012 completed and donated a water borehole supply to the hospital. This we see as a reactive step, although the government should take the lead in alleviating the plight of women caused by climate change, other NGOs need to do more to touch the lives of women in rural communities in Nigeria.
At the international level, all the stakeholders should be educated and encouraged to accept the reality of climate change.
They should be made to realize that climate change should be expected and prepared for. Many African countries are not prepared for the changes; this is why the effects are being felt more in Africa.
Above all, women's empowerment must be a priority globally, because most of the problems facing women are a result of inequalities that can be tackled if women have economic power.
Women will be independent at heart with economic power, but in a situation whereby they hardly do anything on their own, they will be dependent on their male counterparts for almost all their daily needs, thus exposing them to further exploitation and hardship.