Today as I walked along the Rhein and noticed the receding flood waters, remnants of snow fall and melt earlier in the week from distant Alps, I felt grateful for being a woman in an area with flood protection, flood plains, evacuation plans and all things organised, high vis, and German should disaster hit. It runs deeper than that. Why? Well, in honour of international women’s day (which happens to be my birthday) I attended a seminar hosted by GIZ on gender, climate change, and food security. As a woman working in climate change adaptation and strengthening urban food systems for city resilience, it seemed fitting, so along I went. Christiana Figueres was the star of the show, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, and one charismatic woman leading the charge on climate change – particularly, the importance of adaptation and the role of women – despite the complex and stifling machine that she has to try and drive. They never really got to the food security issue (aside from the over catered buffet at the end) but on adaptation and women a striking image was painted by Figueres as she shared an anecdote of one of her colleagues. It was that of a lady having to give birth up a tree because of the flooding that had inundated her house and restricted her access to anywhere else in the community and forced her to be rescued (was it Rositho Pedro? I wondered later… http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/662472.stm). This vivid message regarding women has stuck with me and hopefully has done with others with whom she recounts the story.
On reflection, to me the issue goes further than emergency preparedness, because here we are not talking about a disaster response plan alone. Here we are talking about planning for adaptation in the first place and ensuring women are included in this process. This is all upstream of the flood forcing you to give birth alone up a tree. What lies in those headwaters is the bigger, deeper question of how we design our systems without women having influence in the first place and how we have done so in many areas for too long.
If we are looking at redesigning and strengthening systems for positive change, rather than just tacking things on to established norms and ways of doing things, then we should really change things from the outset. Most of society around us has been constructed and created without women at the heart of the design. Now let’s think about changing the core of how we decide, as men and women, as equals, to respond and move forward given we have created that path and given what now lies before us and many around the world. Applying this to climate change, agriculture, and food, we have a skewed view on how the system works if we ignore women. We tend to forget that many, in some places all, farmers in the world are women, even while most cannot ever own the land they harrow, let alone be involved in global decisions that affect them directly day to day. As women in that situation we are on the forefront yet sadly we are not in the majority of those making decisions that affect us.
To keep us out of impeding deep waters we surely need to find ways to address this simple yet crucial change – the inclusion of us as women to our systems at all levels.
As rising waters on my doorstep ebb and flow it reminds me of this and heeds a warning, I think, that we cannot afford to omit ourselves as women from the way we make decisions from a global stage right down to the inclusion at a community based evacuation plan level. Listening to these inspirational women speak suggest the global level might be starting to shift but that we have a long way to go.
These thoughts led me eventually to the following site which has some great statistics on women in agriculture & I realised after writing this that many of these sentiments I felt are backed up with some juicy factoids and numbers, worth checking out: