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Realizing Women’s Power in the Face of Climate Change: Stories of Resilience from Afghanistan and Nigeria

Gender inequality, political instability, and poor health systems are some of the factors that affect the daily safety of millions of women across the globe. Recently, climate change has emerged as another critical barrier to women’s empowerment.

Khatera Haleem, a staff member of Women for Women International’s in Afghanistan describes how women are disproportionately affected by climate change, impacting agricultural productivity and personal health:

"I'm originally from Afghanistan, which is ranked the sixth most vulnerable country to climate change. Recently, we have witnessed heavy rains and flash floods resulting in significant human and financial loss in the northern region. According to a report by the natural disaster management department, more than 40 people were killed, dozens more were injured, over 1,000 houses were destroyed, and thousands of acres of agricultural land were flooded."

Rising Temperatures and Health Risks

On an individual level, rising temperatures increase the risk of heat-related illnesses such as malaria, fever, and meningitis, especially among children and pregnant women. Poorly ventilated homes and overexposure to the sun leave people particularly vulnerable.

Impact on Agriculture and Food Security

On a larger scale, high temperatures are accompanied by irregular rainfall, leading to soil degradation and drying up water sources. This makes it harder to grow crops and forces people to travel long distances to overcrowded, often contaminated water sources.

Extremely hot temperatures also force insects like scorpions and snakes to come out of hiding and attack livestock, causing food shortages and malnutrition. In Nigeria, delayed rainfall has postponed the farming season, affecting millions, including Women for Women International program participants. Most women living in Plateau State are farmers relying on small-scale, rain-fed agriculture. This year, many lost their planted seedlings due to lack of rainfall, and as it continues to be unstable, crops may not survive. As one participant says:

"Food insecurity is a real threat right now unless there is a miracle from Heaven." 

Economic Strain and Daily Challenges

For families dependent on natural resources, the economic strain is even worse, with limited and expensive food and electrical power supply. Individuals trying to grow crops and sustain businesses under difficult conditions take on a heavier workload, high stress levels, and have less time for personal pursuits and time with loved ones. Women, who are also responsible for taking care of the household and raising children, are seeing their daily lives increasingly harmed by the effects of climate change.

Innovative Solutions and Resilience

However, women are also finding innovative ways to fight climate change and support their families. In Nangarhar and other provinces of Afghanistan, our program participants have made basic changes to adjust to high temperatures, such as storing clean water in handmade clay pots to keep it cold and waking up early to finish their work before sunrise. At night, some sleep on roofs or use traditional charpoy beds. Many women carefully reuse mosquito nets and avoid cooking with expensive resources like oil.

In Nigeria, women are planting climate-resilient crops and practicing conservation agriculture. For example, planting more sweet potatoes helps ensure stable yields because they require little water and are typically ready for harvest within three to four months of planting. People are also planting more trees and investing in livestock farming to improve soil health, reduce erosion, and provide additional sources of income and food.

Role of Women for Women International

Women for Women International helps participants generate innovative methods and identify alternative income sources. Students participate in vocational skill training and develop skills in non-agricultural activities such as small-scale trading. They also learn about microfinance, and some students in Nigeria have accessed loans from Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) groups, enabling them to invest in fertilizer, develop new adaptation strategies, and finance small businesses. Another important aspect of our programs is the connection among members:

"...because we are all facing the same challenges as a result of climate change, it is easy to offer each other support and advice when we come to class or meet as groups in the community. This relieves a lot of stress and provides support networks to cope with stress and anxiety."

Creating Awareness and Promoting Action

Situations change when awareness of them grows. In our program communities, social empowerment trainers create and raise awareness about climate change and its impact at all levels, promoting individual and collective actions to reduce emissions and support sustainable practices. Outside of our programs, we encourage all individuals to look closely at some of the everyday luxuries we take for granted: easily accessible clean water, safety, healthcare, and access to education, and join us in making them universal rights.

By highlighting these stories of resilience and innovative solutions, we aim to inspire action and support for women facing the challenges of climate change. Together, we can help women to overcome barriers and build a more sustainable and equitable future.

To delve deeper into these issues, we encourage you to read our recent report, Cultivating a more enabling environment: Strengthening women’s resilience in climate-vulnerable and conflict-affected communities. This report elevates the perspectives and experiences of women survivors of war and conflict, highlighting the effects of extreme weather, environmental degradation, poverty, violence, and conflict on their lives.

south sudan woman in field
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