Women are valuable resource at Climate Change's "Ground Zero"

libudsuroy
Posted March 7, 2015 from Philippines
A welcoming throng
Women welcome visitors with a song and dance performance in Zagnanado, Benin. 2008. Photo by libudsuroy. Creative Commons
Farmer
Farmer: A woman farmer plants onions in a field en route to Zagnanado. Photo by libudsuroy. Creative Commons. (1/6)

As the heat of cuaresma becomes almost unbearable these days in the Philippines, I invariably turn to memories of Benin in West Africa. There, at the fringes of climate change’s “Ground Zero”, no mourning bell tolls for the women who are most vulnerable to climate change’s impacts.

And justly so,because women's resilience can be a most valuable resource for survival even in a more inhospitable, warming globe, asserted a university-based researcher there.

Monique Oussa, a teacher on the sociology of art at the University of Abomey-Calavi, wrote in her recent study of agricultural Benonois northern tribes that national and local development planners looking into local adaptation strategies for climate change must understand and learn from indigenous worldviews in order to tap women’s potentials.

I met Oussa while on field work on climate change reporting in Coutonou half a dozen years ago.

This, as the Benin government’s environment agency has striven to provide support in harnessing womenfolk’s potentials in adapting to the effects of a quickly changing temperature of an already “feverish earth”, a few months before the 21st yearly meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP 21) in Paris at the end of the year.

Oussa issued the findings of her study “like the sound of African morning bells”, not as a mourning toll but as a wake-up call. Wake-up calls of African bells known as djin djin,have been popularized worldwide by an eponymous title of an album of world music by the Grammy award-winning Beninese singer Angelique Kidjo in 2007.

Oussa, 34, had set out on a multiple-year study of the worldviews of the agricultural bush-burning tribes in the departments (equivalent to provinces in the Philippines) of Atakiri and Alibori in the northern Benin, about 500 kilometers from Cotonou, along the borders of Mali and the Niger.

“ I sought out to understand the indigenous cosmogony, their worldview so that we will know why, for instance, they keep on burning trees and grasslands and why they have no tradition of planting trees and instead is contributing to desertification.”

The West African country of Benin (112,600 square kilometers), slightly bigger than the size of Luzon island, has lost virtually all its primary forest cover and desertification is taking over its northern territories. The upper north of Benin is on the isedge of the sub-Saharan Sahel region and shares the same Sahel-like climate and terrain.

Jan Engeland, UN Secretary-General’s special adviser on conflict, while on a visit in this area, called this part of Western Africa , as climate change’s Ground Zero, where the worst impact of climate change will be felt by the world’s poorest peoples, especially women and children.

Moreover, the Nobel Peace Prize awardee, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a group of some 2,000 climate scientists, which evaluated the risk of climate change caused by human activity,also concluded in 2007 that the West African Sahel and Central Africa will experience some of the highest temperature increases anywhere in the world over the next few decades.

Oussa found out after researching since 2004 that for these Benonoise tribes women are associated mostly with water, rain and fertility while men are associated with soil and the land.

“That’s why women are tasked with gathering water and watering fields while men are associated with the soil and the harvest. She also said that fire is also considered an important element associated with new beginnings and rites of passages.

These beliefs can have an implication on women’s land rights, Oussa contends as women in these parts traditionally cannot own nor inherit land, so she urges development planners in the government and private sectors to find ways to change the negative aspects of this worldview in order to benefit women.

“Only when women can have their land rights can women be fully harnessed as resources and stewards of resources for survival in an era of climate change.”

Comments 7

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LeanaM
Mar 09, 2015
Mar 09, 2015

Thank you for sharing Oussa's research and story.  It's heartbreaking how all of this will affect current and future generations (and specifically women and children), but I hope that her urgency will push development planners and politicians to act soon.

libudsuroy
Apr 30, 2015
Apr 30, 2015

Hi, Leana, I think Benin's daughters are working together to improve their own adaptation strategies to climate change. Research studies like that of Ms. Oussa indeed help in shining the light on an important issue of global concern. Thanks for taking time to respond!

KathyG
Mar 09, 2015
Mar 09, 2015

Thank you libudsuroy for such an interesting story tying together some many pieces of the puzzle including cultural, feminine, masculine and land rights. Very interesting. 

libudsuroy
Apr 30, 2015
Apr 30, 2015

Dear Kathy, If you received a copy of the response I wrote for previous post, please disregard it. It was a technical glitch of sorts. Yes, Ms. Oussa's research was multi-disciplinary and in-depth. We need more research of this kind among indigenous groups worldwide, even in the Philippines, where indigenous peoples bear the brunt of extreme weather conditions and climate-change related disasters.

Yvette Warren
Mar 11, 2015
Mar 11, 2015

Thank you, Libudsuroy for this powerful presentation of the importance of grassroots efforts.

I am certain that this October, in Salt Lake City Utah, USA, we will make known to the world that women's voices matter in all things. I am acting as an ambassador to the 2015 Parliament of the World's Religions http://ParliamentOfReligions.org. For the first time, this year, the parliament is having a "women's initiative," and is also prioritizing sustainable environment issues.

In addition to asking my WP sisters and brothers to consider attending the parliament, I am working with World Pulse Sister Zeph https://www.worldpulse.com/en/community/users/sister-zeph, SHEROES United http://www.sheroesunited.org/, and One Billion Rising http://www.onebillionrising.org/events/women-of-the-world-we-rise/ to create a parade of people in support of social justice for women. Sister Urmila https://www.worldpulse.com/en/community/users/urmila-chanam/posts/34846 is bringing her menstrual hygiene campaign to the parade event.

I would love to have you and a group join us in support of your efforts.

libudsuroy
Apr 30, 2015
Apr 30, 2015

Dear Yvettte, How's your preparations for the October event? I hope all is well. Looks like you have a power team with you. I cannot be with you but probably I can follow your trails at the conference if there is an online coverage. Or probably you can blog about it here in World Pulse. Let me know how else I can support your participation.

Yvette Warren
May 01, 2015
May 01, 2015

Hello, Libudsuroy, and thank you for your offer to help in my efforts to spread our women's words to the religious leaders of the world. 

I have a conference call with the organizers of the parliament on Monday. i think each ambassador will be given her/his own blog space. I will send you the link, and hope you will share it with your network.

Thank you for being a blessing upon our shared earth.