Keynote address by Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Ms Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, at the Continental Consultative Dialogue on the Impact of Climate Change on Women, Gala Dinner

Theme: Women Unite: Towards a Fair, Transparent, Equitable and Inclusive COP17/CMP7 and Beyond!

OR Tambo Building, Pretoria, 19 November 2011

Programme Director
Honourable Ministers
Honourable guests
Ladies and gentlemen

It is with pride and honour that I stand in front of you all - women leaders.  Since yesterday you have been at work in your deliberations to ensure that the COP17/CMP7 that will take place in Durban from 28 November 2011 to 09 December 2011 achieves its intended mission.  Like we did with the FIFA World Cup, Africa will deliver the best and successful COP17/CMP7.

Africans and Women of Africa in particular, should lead this process for the actualizations of the outcome that will contribute towards the consolidation of the African Agenda for the total regeneration of the African Continent. Without women in the leadership, this noble dream will be difficult to achieve. In my mother tongue, there is an adage that says mmago ngwana o swara thipa ka bogaleng and also one that says mmago motho ke tshemo ya lehlabula, which simply means, women are beacons of hope.

Program Director,

Women are key to overcoming the challenge hunger in Africa. As the President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, Ms Namanga Ngong, put it:  “If you want to solve the problem of hunger in Africa, empower women! They are the major producers of food crops in Africa. If we want to make a real headway on food production, we should be able to invest in women, improve their skills and access the inputs they require”, Ms Ngong said.

However, Africa is a Continent under a heavy pressure from climate stress due (among others) to its current low adaptation capacity.  Our Continent is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Unless this is effectively dealt with, climate change will have a dramatic impact on the economic and social development of our Continent, and indeed reverse the progress that has been made so far towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The various climate change disasters in Africa are a stark reminder of how development and the economy are still largely dependent on the climate.

The Millennium Development Goals recognize the need to promote gender equality and empower women to participate in all facets of economic and social life with the aim of achieving sustainable development. Climate change poses a significant challenge to the achievement of sustainable development for the rural poor, especially women, who will suffer disproportionately from its impacts. It is therefore critical that more is done to mobilize and empower our women (without leaving men behind!) to address global environmental challenges such as climate change.

In this regard, I would like to join you in paying tribute to the great daughter of the soil who spearheaded this cause so gallantly and left us a strong legacy to carry forward this task towards realization of what she stood for and wanted Africa to be. An exemplary African woman  from whom we must draw our courage to ensure that what the four commissions recommended are carried over for the realization of objectives we set for Durban COP 17/CMP7.

Ladies and gentlemen,  this woman is Professor Wangari Maathai. I remember one of her most famous quotes where she says (I quote):

We can work together for a better world with men and women of good will, those who rededicate the intrinsic goodness of humankind….The privilege of higher education broadened my horizon and encouraged me to focus on the environment, women and development in order to improve the quality of life of people in my country in particular and African region in general. (close quote)

I quote her in the present because her legacy will always live with us. This shows how important the empowerment of women is in order to mitigate challenges if not threats posed by climate change. She would be among us and supporting this theme as she does in the words I have just quoted. She would also agree with the COP17/CMP7 theme, that Working Together: Saving Tomorrow Today. The spirit of collectives (the working together) is the African way of life.

Program Director,

Women living in poverty are the most threatened by the dangers that stem from climate change. African women are not immune to these climate change threats.

As you know, in rural communities women are largely dependent on natural resources and agriculture for their livelihoods. For these women, climate change will mean that the supply of natural resources will be threatened. Agriculture may become even less viable.
In this respect, climate change is likely to exacerbate both natural disasters and potential conflicts over natural resources.

Mothers of Africa,

As it is, in many regions of South Africa, particularly in the provinces of North-West and Limpopo (for example), farming activities are now taking place on the edge of survival. Even minor changes to rainfall patterns (especially coupled with increased severity of droughts and floods) threaten food security.

Women living in informal settlements, specifically in the provinces of the Western Cape and Gauteng, are particularly vulnerable to frequent extreme events like flooding. The annual flooding of the informal settlements in the Cape Flats is a case in point.
All this increases women’s vulnerability. 

Women are more likely to be disproportionately affected by the adverse impacts of climate change because they constitute the majority of poor people. Their traditional roles as the primary users and managers of natural resources, primary caregivers, and labourers engaged in unpaid labour make them critical to the survival of our communities. Hence their access to resources and information vital to overcoming the challenges posed by climate change.

Ladies and gentlemen,

South Africa’s commitment to women’s empowerment, gender equality and gender mainstreaming is well known. Government, through its various departments, plays a key role in addressing women and climate change – be it from enhancing the voices of African women in climate change negotiations, mainstreaming gender perspectives in national policies, to engaging in measures related to sustainable development and climate change.

In our region, SADC Ministers responsible for gender/women affairs met last month in Johannesburg to prepare for COP17/CMP7. In their report, these SADC Ministers said of climate change and global poverty, that (I quote):

They must be combated simultaneously; we cannot take care of one without addressing the other. An effective attack on poverty and the ill-effects of climate change requires taking comprehensive action that encompasses both issues. We cannot fight climate change without considering the rising energy needs of poor people and countries, nor can we effectively address global poverty without accounting for the impacts of climate change on agriculture, disease patterns, and violent weather events, all of which particularly impact the poorest countries and disproportionally affecting the poorest people in those countries, the majority of whom are women. (Close quote)

Similarly,  at the Continental level, the African Union Ministers of Gender and Women Affairs met in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, at the beginning of this month to prepare for COP 17/CMP7.  Having reaffirmed “that gender equality and women empowerment remain non-negotiable and constitute core elements of the Continent’s human rights instruments” and that “the impacts of climate change have far-reaching implications for Africa’s growth and remain concerned specifically in respect of this impact on women”, this meeting called for:

  • Awareness creation on the impact of climate change on vulnerable groups, including women;
  • The importance of providing, especially women, with early warning information and adaptation mechanisms;
  • The allocation of sufficient and timely resources to address climate change and food security issues and their gender differentiated impacts, and that AU Member States should endeavour to improve domestic resource mobilisation in this regard;
  • The international community to meet its financial commitments to compliment and strengthen domestic efforts in addressing climate change and gender development; and
  • For utilising the vast skills, knowledge and energy of women to promote overall growth and sustainable development on the Continent; and that in this regard, Governments should include women in national, regional and continental decision-making processes.

Ladies and gentlemen, these commitments are a call to action for each one of us.

In Durban, we will expect Parties to show leadership in finding the required solutions, because only by working together we can save tomorrow today. A task like this will only be accomplished through compromise and listening to each other. We make the world we live in and by shaping our own environment. Let us work in unity for ensuring that the decisions that we will be taking at this gathering help the COP17/CMP7 achieve a successful outcome.

Women of Africa should stand up in unity!

It is in this spirit that I thank all our sponsors, our Mission in Addis Ababa, the Chief Directorate: Gender, and all who worked tirelessly for the success of this gathering. I therefore see it befitting to conclude with words of wisdom form Mahatma Ghandi when he said: “We must be the change we want to see”.

I thank you all

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