A recent forum held by the Addis Ababa Office of the Baha’i International Community (BIC) explored the disproportionate impact of the climate crisis on women, emphasizing the principle of equality of women and men as essential to addressing climate change.
“Climate change is largely acknowledged as an amplifier of existing socio-economic inequities, including gender inequalities,” said Atieno Mboya, professor of International Environment Law and Gender at Emory University and member of the Baha’i community.
“While legislative and legal processes are critical in promoting gender equality, the bigger issue is one of ontology and how we see ourselves as human beings,” said Dr. Mboya, as she explained that environmental degradation is an outcome of a purely materialistic approach to life without considering social, moral, and spiritual implications.
“How do we see ourselves as human beings? What is our reality? Are we just material, self-interested beings?” asks Dr. Mboya.
“We have a spiritual reality, a soul that has no gender. Operating in the world from this standpoint can enable us to adopt new values, new social norms, and new institutional arrangements that promote gender equality and harmony with nature,” she said, referring to the Baha’i teachings on the advancement of civilization.
In this light, participants examined how climate-related issues, such as disruptions to food security caused by changes in rainfall patterns and migration brought about by environmental degradation, tend to affect women more than men.
Dr. Mboya explained how, for instance, the migration of men from rural areas in order to support their families places greater labor demands on women.
“This means that there is increased pressure on women’s time,” she said. “There is reduced time for childcare and food preparation. Girls’ schooling can also be interrupted when they help their mothers.”
Even when migration is not a factor, climate change still has a greater impact on women than on men because of gender inequities, such as reduced work opportunities for women defined by their economic status and societal norms.
Despite these struggles, women in Africa are at the forefront of climate action, participants noted.
“We’re doing so much. We’re not waiting… for somebody to come and save us,” said Musonda Mumba, Director for the Rome Centre for Sustainable Development of the United Nations Development Programme.
Dr. Mumba spoke about a new network of women environmentalists in the Sahel region, Mali, and Southern Africa, which coordinates grassroots climate action across these regions. This initiative, she said, is an example of the countless actions taken by women in Africa to mitigate environmental challenges.
In further comments, Dr. Mboya emphasized that climate change issues need to be addressed by new approaches and patterns of community life “capable of unlocking human capacity for promoting social progress.” She added that this calls for humility on our part as human beings when we interact with nature, if we are to mitigate environmental degradation.
This forum took place as part of a series of discussions being held by the Addis Ababa Office in the lead-up to the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP27, and is part of the BIC’s contribution to the discourses on climate change and the equality of women and men.