Speech by Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Ms Maite Nkoana Mashabane, on the occasion of a “Consultative Dialogue on Women and Climate Change – preparing for Durban and Beyond”, 8 August 2011, Polokwane

Programme Director,
Honourable Ministers and Deputy Ministers,
Honourable Premier of Limpopo, Mr Cassel Mathale,
Members of the Provincial Legislature,
Mayors present here today,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

During this month (August) we celebrate and commemorate the role of women in the struggle for a free, non-racial, and non-sexist South Africa. We pay tribute to the heroic contribution of women in the struggle against the oppressive laws of the apartheid colonialism, marked by the historic march by women of all races to the Union Buildings on 9 August 1956.

As South Africa will be hosting the United Nations Framework Convention of Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference (on climate change) in Durban in November this year, we thought we should link this year’s celebrations of Women’s Day to issues of climate change.   As the incoming President of this climate change conference (COP17/CMP7), I am therefore pleased to address you today on this occasion of the “Consultative Dialogue on Women and Climate Change – Preparing for Durban and Beyond.

Studies have shown that global warming, including the extreme weather conditions that it causes, will have calamitous consequences for millions of people. Global warming is one of the leading causes and greatest contributors to world hunger, malnutrition, exposure to disease, and declining access to water. Moreover, it poses limitations to adequate housing, spurring the loss of livelihoods as a result of permanent displacement and migration of communities to escape drought or water shortage (for example). Therefore, climate change affects the economic and social rights of countless individuals; this includes their rights to food, health and shelter.

In terms of health, some potential climate change scenarios include: increased morbidity and mortality due to heat waves, floods, storms, fires and droughts. What is more, the risk of contracting serious illnesses is aggravated by environmental hazards caused by climate change. This entails a greater incidence of infectious diseases such as cholera, malaria, and dengue fever, due to the extension of risk seasons and wider geographic distribution of disease vectors.

As climate change will inevitably continue to affect humanity, a key priority is safeguarding the human rights of people whose lives are most adversely affected – that is, women!

I must, therefore, assure you that as incoming President I will strive to ensure the centrality of women in all global fora to advance the multilateral efforts to address climate change which impacts in a very pernicious manner on women, especially in developing countries. Fundamentally, climate change changes everything we have thus far known about development, with a huge potential of reversing the gains made by women in their emancipation. By shifting the goalposts of planning for sustainable development and distorting these, climate change makes it more difficult to fulfil global undertakings made to address the status of women.

Although the UNFCCC does not address gender equality directly, there are numerous global commitments and agreements that make the linkage between gender equality and climate change. Known examples are: The International Conference on Population and Development (1994), the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995), the World Summit on Sustainable Development (2002), and the 2005 World Summit. All these instruments point to the pivotal role women play in sustainable development.

Therefore, it is all the more reason for me to be here today in a week where the African Decade for Women was launched by the African Union last year.  The timing of this our meeting today quite rightly establishes the nexus between climate change and progress on women’s emancipation in Africa.  

So, what is at stake for women in Africa and other developing countries if we talk about climate change? With all the destruction that it brings, we as women are literally, as in the case of all the wars in Africa, on the frontline of picking up the pieces and as the carriers of development, ensuring the survival of our communities. In flood prone regions, it is women who have to deal with the impact. In drought prone areas, it is women who have to fend for their families ensuring that the children are fed, and that the sick and the indigent are taken care-of.  What we are actually seeing in Somalia, fundamentally, are the prolonged consequences of climate change playing themselves out in a context of a country that is torn by civil strife. We have seen images of women bearing emaciated children dying in their arms from hunger-related diseases caused by prolonged drought famine.

We, as caretakers, are at greater risk in times of extreme weather. Women produce up to 80% of the food in the developing world as here in South Africa, and especially in Polokwane. However, drought and unpredictable rains brought on by climate change will make this work far more precarious. Women will have to labor harder and longer to ensure their families have food, fuel, and water. In the heat and dry season women in many developing countries have to walk further each year to find safe water for drinking and cooking, spending up to eight hours a day on the road. It is known that in Africa, women do 90% of the work of gathering water and food, and children, in particular girls, often share these responsibilities.

Women in rural areas are highly dependent on local natural resources for our livelihood, because of their responsibilities which I have already mentioned. The effects of climate change, including drought, uncertain rainfall and deforestation, make it harder to secure these resources. In addition, women face historical disadvantages, which include limited access to decision-making and economic assets that compound the challenges of climate change. We cannot solve the challenges of climate change without empowering and educating women, and we cannot solve our other global challenges without addressing climate change. As the Time magazine recently wrote, (I quote) “If you want to change the world, invest in girls” (close quote).

So for Africa, climate change did not begin yesterday. Women have been dealing with this for decades. We need to recognize that climate change has a delayed effect. The impacts we are experiencing today were caused by emissions a long time ago. Today’s emissions will have an effect in about 30 to 40 years from now. We as humans are only motivated to act once things get really bad. We find it hard to look ahead. In this case we will be leaving future generations to face the consequences of our action or inactions.  Hence the slogan for the Durban climate change conference is: Working Together, Saving Tomorrow!

What is now required is a global effort to ensure not only support for women as they deal with disasters, but meaningful interventions to address climate change.

For Africa, the key issue is adaptation, where women are at the forefront. For Africa to adapt in a manner that creates a climate conducive to the advancement of the emancipation of its women, the international agreements reached on climate change must have as a key element support for adaptation in all its forms - be it technology, capacity building or finance. Africa is one of the most vulnerable continents because of the range of projected impacts and the low adaptive capacity of the region. Adaptation must therefore be central to the Durban outcome with an urgent need for immediate and adequate support for the implementation of adaptation measures and actions, including through the provision of substantial new and additional public financial resources, environmentally sound technologies and capacity building in a predictable and prompt manner. Africa’s priorities are to implement climate change programmes and projects to attain development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals. In this regard, it is important that Developed countries and partners provide full support for the implementation of adaptation strategies in Africa, in particular the implementation of national adaptation programmes of action prepared by least developed countries in Africa.

A start towards this was made in Cancun. Therefore as incoming President of COP17/CMP7, one of my primary objectives is to ensure the package of agreements adopted in Durban will build on this. In this regard I am supported by the African Union whose Heads of State have already prioritized adaptation in climate change. It is also my intention as incoming President to deal with the source and the causes of climate change, that is: greenhouse gases.

Similarly, we must ensure that technological developments related to climate change take into account women’s specific priorities, needs and roles, and make full use of their knowledge and expertise, including indigenous knowledge and traditional practices. Women’s involvement in the development of new technologies can ensure that they are user-friendly, affordable, effective and sustainable. Gender inequalities in access to resources, including credit, extension services, information and technology, must be taken into account in developing activities designed to curb climate change.   Women should also have equal access to training, credit and skills-development programmes to ensure their full participation in climate change initiatives.

We all know that women can make substantive contributions through their knowledge and experience on issues related to the management of natural resources.

Financing mechanisms must also be flexible enough to reflect women’s priorities and needs. The active participation of women in the development of funding criteria and allocation of resources for climate change initiatives is critical, particularly at local levels. Gender analysis of all budget lines and financial instruments for climate change is needed to ensure gender-sensitive investments in programmes for adaptation, mitigation, technology transfer and capacity building.

Therefore, the participation of women in climate change initiatives must be ensured, and the role of women’s groups and networks strengthened. Currently, women are underrepresented in the decision-making process on environmental governance. They should be equally represented in decision-making structures to allow them to contribute their unique and valuable perspectives and expertise on climate change.

Ladies and gentlemen,

What are the most pressing issues for Durban? Most important is the issue of the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol which is the only multilaterally agreed legal regime that sets concrete emission reduction commitments to mitigate climate change for developed countries.

I should also share with you the concern that there are countries that are of the opinion that they can move away from their international obligations as they wish – if the going gets tough, let’s jump ship.  This links directly to the negotiations on mitigation under the United Nations Framework Convention of Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the level of ambition of mitigation pledges from the developed countries.

As we negotiate, we are still not clear on the legal form of the outcome of these negotiations. There is no agreement if we work towards a legally binding agreement or just a legal outcome which some countries prefer.

However, we will continue to fight to make sure that progress doesn’t get sidetracked. It is up to us women to ensure that these issues are being addressed in Durban and as in Cancun, that women issues are included in each of the negotiating tracks. I can point out to you that women get mentioned in the Cancun Agreements and that references are made in the preamble, shared vision, adaptation, mitigation, economic and social consequences of response measure, capacity building and the composition of the Technology Executive Committee.

My presence today is only part of my programme of my interaction with women. I will also have consultations with women leaders on the margins of the UN General Assembly in September 2011 in New York, which will form part and parcel of my consultations with women to deliver a credible outcome in Durban. I stand ready to hear your concerns to be included in the package of decisions at the meeting of the 194 State Parties that will be meeting in Durban in November.


We are standing high as women today because we are standing on the shoulders of our forbearers.  It is women in the likes of Lillian Ngoyi and Ma Shope, who challenged the idea that 'a woman's place is in the kitchen', declaring it instead to be 'everywhere', because  Wathint` abafazi, Strijdom! (You Strike a Woman, You Strike a Rock). This slogan has come to represent the courage and strength of South African women.

Many women have entered history records as great warriors. An example that some of you may be familiar with is that of Queen Anne Nzinga of 17th century Angola who kept the Portuguese colonialists at bay by creating alliances with other Kingdoms. Across the Atlantic Ocean, almost 160 years ago, women launched the first women rights convention in New York in 1848.  It was here that women and men signed what became known as the Declaration of Rights which asserted the belief in equality and the right of women to education and freedom, including access to jobs and professions.

We are constantly inspired by these global events, and indeed the undying spirit of these indomitable women – their bravery and tenacity to confront the repressive regime and laws without fear. They continue to encourage us to remain role models for millions of women across the globe – despite the hardships we all face. 
Despite the fact that challenges facing women in our respective countries are similar, those facing women and children in Somalia, are more serious and urgent. We should work together, across our borders and our diverse cultures.

It is the responsibility of women, supported by government, to do everything in their power to liberate themselves from the shackles of inequality, gender-based sexual exploitation, systematic rape, sexual slavery and forced pregnancy.

On this day, let us also dedicate these celebrations to the women of Somali, Ivory Coast, and North Africa and the Middle East who may be in a dire situation of want and fear, in refugee camps, or fighting for their lives in hospital. Let us share with them messages of hope in time of distress and keep them in our prayers.

When the African Union declared the period 2010-2020 to be an African Women’s Decade – this was in recognition of disturbing atrocities committed against our fellow mothers and sisters in countries at war.  We should increase our call for the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 to live up to its purpose of highlighting the importance of bringing gender perspectives to the centre of all United Nations conflict prevention and resolution, peace -building, peacekeeping, rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts.


The 9th of August also marks the International Day of the World's Indigenous People. As we celebrate Women’s Day, and indeed Women’s month, let us pay homage to the San and Khoi people of our country who continue to serve as our beacon in protecting and preserving our heritage. We remain conscious of the need to improve the economic, social and cultural situation of the indigenous people, with full respect for their distinctiveness.

In conclusion, I wish to say to all of South Africans during this month, that:  our country cannot clap on one hand or march on one leg – our country is poorer politically, economically, and socially - if it prevents more than half of its people (who are women) from fully contributing to its development!

I am sure some of you will be in Durban for the UNFCCC conference. I will count on your support for our country to emerge out of that conference with an outcome as spectacular as the FIFA World Cup!

I thank you.

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