It is harvest season here in the fertile plains of Chapananga in Chikwawa District.
A mother of six and a widow, Esnath Lunje, reluctantly walks with an empty basket clung to her armpit—heading to, at least, salvage something from her garden.
She is one of the thousands whose maize crops were washed away by the raging floods that affected the country early this year.
Though, just like everybody, Lunje replanted after the flooding terror, rains recoiled for good and her plant wilted under the raging slap of the scorching sun.
Yet that morning, though reluctant, Lunje thought, at least, she would harvest something—just something that could relieve her for, perhaps, a week. But she came back empty-handed.
“It was a blind hope I should say. To be honest, I knew what would follow but I hate it was true,” she told The Nation last week, just a day after the painful experience.
For locals like Lunje, poor and widowed, survival has been a hard nut to crack. In fact, it still is.
“As a woman you cannot easily find a ganyu as men do. They say it is demeaning. I was relying on village savings loan (VSL) but, due to floods, almost all my savings were channelled to subsistence. I was left with nothing to participate, in fact, our group disbanded because almost everybody had used their savings on subsistence,” she says.
With eyes always fixed on the road where relief food would come from, Lunje is one of the women in the country whose poor livelihoods have been complicated by the floods.
The floods are just one of the effects of climate change which Malawi continues to grapple with.
Studies have shown that women disproportionately suffer the impacts of disasters, severe weather events and climate change because of cultural norms and the inequitable distribution of roles, resources and power especially in developing economies like Malawi.
Women in Malawi make up the majority of the poor and, often, are more dependent than men on natural resources for their livelihoods and survival. Women tend to have lower incomes and are more likely to be economically dependent than men. The challenge doubles up for women like Lunje who are widows.
Experts argue that one way to help women like Lunje adapt to climate is to ensure that governments, the world over, finance and invest in flexible and long-term funding mechanisms for climate resilience that promotes the rights of small-scale women producers and vulnerable communities to address food security by 2020.
However, the challenge of financing such strategies is that governments have always fallen short of commitment. There is always lip service.
It is against this that Oxfam and partners—Civil Society Network on Climate Change (Cisonecc)—have come up with a women-focused, Africa Climate Resilience for Food Security Campaign.
The campaign—according to Carol Kulemeka, Oxfam livelihoods resilience manager—builds on the ongoing programme work of both partners and Oxfam, and focuses on climate resilience which has been identified as one of the key priorities by most African countries in the current Oxfam Country Strategies (OCSs) and in partners’ strategic plans.
“It aims to address broader structural inequalities and power imbalances that are major barriers to the resilience of people, in particular women, who live in conditions of poverty,” she says.
She adds that an Africa-wide campaign provides a timely opportunity to enhance and support what organisations in each individual country are attempting to achieve, to affect changes at a much bigger scale.
“Both the extent and level of cooperation in this campaign will unify and boost the voice of Oxfam country teams, Oxfam regional teams and partners across the continent, thereby boosting the effectiveness of our national work,” explains Kulemeka.
She notes that 2015 is an opportune time for influencing action on climate change and the resilience agenda both in Africa and globally.
“In the light of the huge challenges faced by African nations to address poverty, the African Union has declared 2015 as a Year of Women’s Empowerment.
“This offers an opportunity for countries on the continent to put a concerted effort into addressing the issues that hinder women in their efforts to build their resilience in a changing climate, including women small-scale food producers.
“We will work together across Africa to mobilise women and youth in a campaign that will amplify their voice to ensure that commitments made by African governments are translated into action and tangible policy shifts that will benefit women.
“The AU Summit in June is the first focus moment where the agenda of women small-scale producers (farmers and pastoralists), can be advanced,” she says.
Kulemeka also advances that resilience and food security in a changing planet are also on the agenda of global institutions.
An important window of opportunity on climate change coming up in 2015 is the UNFCCC COP in Paris, she notes.
“Of utmost interest for African countries is climate finance that can be used as a contribution for climate change adaptation and to build the resilience of small-scale producers.
“Year to year, Oxfam and other civil society organisations across the continent accompany their governments to participate in such negotiations.
“However, our participation at African level tends to be limited as we lack appropriate evidence and a coordinated response that will inform our engagement for a lasting change,” she says.
The aims to task African governments and the world to finance and invest in flexible and long-term funding mechanisms for climate resilience that promotes the rights of small-scale women producers and vulnerable communities to address food security by 2020.
It wants to do this by making sure that national governments will be held accountable to develop, integrate and implement Climate Change Adaptation (CCA), Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and resilience policies. The African Union (AU) climate strategy will strengthen African commitment to this and a platform will be created to influence global agendas on climate resilience, food security and the rights of small scale women producers.
Through the campaign, says Kulemeka, it is envisaged that civil society, particularly women small-scale producers, will be informed and mobilised to take strategic and coordinated action lobbying African governments, regional economic communities and the AU to put in place specific and transparent finance and invest funding mechanisms for climate resilience that promotes the rights of small-scale women producers and vulnerable communities to address food security by 2020.
“The campaign will use research, advocacy, public mobilisation, online media and coalition building to create a critical mass of public support in support of its core demands,” she explains. n