Climate Change Adaptation: It’s Time to Move from Policy to Inclusive Practice

What is Climate Change? What is adaptation and how does gender feature in climate change? How do we mainstream gender into our climate change adaptation programmes, activities and projects? These were some of the questions that were presented and discussed at the first Climate Change Adaptation and Gender Mainstreaming Dialogue to be held at a National level in South Africa.

The Dialogue took place on 8 and 9 March at the Pretoria National Botanical Gardens. It was hosted by the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) and the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), with support from the Department of Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities (DWYPD).

According to Dr Mandy Barnett, Chief Director of Adaptation Policy and Research at SANBI, “The biodiversity sector has focused its efforts on understanding the climate science, while the development sector has focused on the social impacts of climate change. This national dialogue brought the two approaches together to help us understand the nexus of climate change and gender. ”

During the first day of the programme, senior management from the host institutions declared their support for the mainstreaming of gender into climate change responses in their respective addresses. SANBI’s Board representative Dr P. Molokwane opened and welcomed participants, and noted that  “As part of our mandate, which focuses on the biodiversity science policy interface, SANBI is particularly interested in the ways that biodiversity and ecosystem services can support this programme of work.” Acting Deputy Director Ms Dineo Mmako from the DWYPD and Chief Director, Dr P. Gwaze from DFFE, provided the key messages of support. This was followed by inputs from the international donor representatives who are providing funding for mainstreaming gender into the various programmes of work of the institutions that were hosting the Dialogue.

After the high level inputs, online and in-person participants  were treated to a story  telling session by KwaZulu-Natal-based storyteller, Sibongile Mtungwa. Her tale hit home as she recounted the impacts of climate change on communities in the Harry Gwala District. Climate change adaptation and gender mainstreaming became less theoretical and more real, with real communities and peoples’ lives being affected. This was a sobering moment for all attendees.

A suite of presentations followed, which framed the nexus of gender, climate change, and adaptation, including the arising challenges, especially for women. Presenters also shared examples of tools and best practice, as well as challenges with mainstreaming gender into their climate change adaptation projects and activities. The subsequent reflective group discussions concluded that South Africa has very good policies and science, but has a lot to do as a collective when it comes to implementing and communicating these policies to the people on the ground. The inclusion of indigenous knowledge, the voices of our youth, and of disabled women and girls, as well as being more inclusive through our use of language and terminology, are some of the areas that still need to be strengthened.

The first day of the Dialogue concluded with a cross over to the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW67), which was taking place in New York, the United States of America     . The Director General from the DWYPD, Advocate Mikateko Joyce Maluleke     , provided inputs on why this work is important for the Department and a snapshot of how it links to discussions taking place and deliverables agreed on at the CSW67.

The second day of the Dialogue, 9 March, continued with further discussions on the theme ‘Practices and Tools’. This was followed by a session on the ‘Enabling Environment’, where inputs were provided on the governance structures and mechanisms, the policies, finance mechanisms and approaches that support the mainstreaming of gender into various programmes of work. Under this session, participants had a spread of inputs from regional, national, provincial, local and international representatives, including inputs from the various contexts. This gave a snapshot of what is being done across the gender-climate landscape.

While there have been many projects piloted and implemented in various districts across the country, there is still a lack of integration. Therefore,  women and girls – and especially rural women and their families – are hampered in accessing tools to help them manage and survive climate change. However, the presenters showcased several adaptation tools developed by rural women, demonstrating the potential benefits of a more inclusive application of climate science and climate change adaptation.

At the end of the two-day event, attendees participated in a reflective session  on their own individual commitments and those of their respective organisations towards strengthening the gender work in their work spaces. Some of the reflections that were shared are that gender mainstreaming and climate change must be part of spatial planning; there needs to be improved data availability for monitoring and evaluating interventions; and there is a need to re-establish the community of practice around gender mainstreaming and climate change adaptation to better coordinate endeavours in this space. What still resonates and echoes in the engagements that took place and the recommendations is that we have lots to do still, and there is energy, excitement and willingness to do this work.