“Women are important voices in today’s society. Sometimes we are too machista and we don’t make room for women. Women are able to see things differently than men, and they ask questions that men don’t just get.”
The foregoing, which is one of Pope Francis’ famous quotes, describes a major folly afflicting mankind today. The pontiff said the reason the world seems stuck in a myriad of social, economic, environmental and even political challenges is because it has continued to ignore an integral part of society that could offer the panacea.
In essence, we are trapped in the old way of doing things, thereby ignoring ingenious and innovative solutions to old, current and emerging problems.
This also includes ignoring the value of empathy—emotional intelligence—that women bring to a situation and resilience in bearing and overcoming crises. Women, especially those in rural areas, are in touch with the environment everyday.
As the ‘beasts of burden’, women till the land, fetch water, collect firewood for domestic purposes and exploit the land for both domestic and commercial purposes.
Therefore, as ‘early warning systems’ to potential natural disasters, women should be considered first in efforts aimed at both environmental conservation and sustainability. However, their personal initiatives must be strengthened and entrenched by formulating and implementing gender responsive policy interventions.
In agriculture, for example, the government should support women to feed families and generate income from farms. This would include helping them to, among other things, reduce reliance on rain-fed agriculture, and avoid farming in riparian areas and encroaching on forests.
It involves empowering women to act as decision makers from the lowest to the highest levels in society, particularly on environmental matters.
Taxes on both farming and green energy technologies must be reviewed downwards in cases where they act as a hindrance to climate smart agricultural practices and carbon-free sources of power. Such incentives would enable them to continue being effective custodians of our biodiversity.
Like in most countries, the youth comprise a big chunk of Kenya’s population, at about 35 per cent, or at least 15 million people. Similar to women, the strength of this young and restless demographic group lies in its vulnerability.
In addition to being hard hit by disasters, the youth are more susceptible to change and easily start and adopt trends.
Contrary to the older generation who are more engrossed with the future, the youth live by the day. Therefore, educating them about global warming and its consequence—climate change—is crucial to curbing the scourge.
For instance, the youth need to understand that spiralling unemployment, which currently stands at 67 per cent, is a factor of an environmentally-dependent shrinking economy. Further, climate change is a threat multiplier to sectors such as health, shelter, education and hampers access to social services.
This kind of evidence would definitely capture their attention and jolt them to action. To mitigate the effects of global warming, the youth should be encouraged to embrace lifestyles, especially consumption patterns, and careers with low carbon footprints.
They also need to adopt green technologies by using means of energy and mobility with low emissions. Although it can be argued that the individual’s contribution is negligible, the sum total of such collective actions would amount to significant reductions in pollution and environmental degradation.
Combining the force of women and youth, therefore, becomes a very effective strategy in ensuring that the rise of global temperatures is capped at COP 21-envisioned 1.5°C.
Indeed, these two groups are leading change agents in helping the world achieve the 17 Global Goals for sustainable development agreed on by world leaders in 2015. The writer is executive director, Centre for Climate Change Awareness—[email protected]