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Circles of life: Women in Zimbabwe find safety in climate change response
In one village not far from Zimbabwe’s capital, community initiatives to combat climate change have yielded benefits beyond economic empowerment and food security, to family health and women’s safety.
“Our husbands’ consciousness has shifted since they started attending the empowerment circles,” said Tabeth, a sesame farmer in Mashonaland East. “I can now go to the market in the city together with my husband and make decisions on how to use our money. I am most happy that my fellow women can stand on their own.”
Tabeth’s attitude, and that of her community, has changed since she joined a project by the Nyahunure Community Trust, supported by UN Women.
Since 2010, the Trust has been working with UN Women and local partners to bring 300 people, two-thirds of them women, into community empowerment circles. Here, activities such as trainings, discussions, community theatre, songs and traditional dance, generate awareness and skills development. Much of the training aims to alleviate the effects of climate change, and its impact on women.
Agricultural work in Zimbabwe often falls to older women, since many men and young people now migrate out of rural areas in search of better livelihoods. Women are left to facewith the challenges of climate change – irregular rainfall patterns, drought, and severe food shortages caused by low crop yields – while rarely being included in community decision-making. Women’s insights and experiences in preparing for disaster are overlooked, while their often lower levels of education and technical skill reduce their chance of success in politics or business, and therefore often their economic independence and personal security.
Trainers are helping the community in Mashonaland East to understand how both climate change and gender affects their lives, and livelihoods. New means of harvesting and conserving water, and enhancing carbon sinks through tree-planting and forestry preservation are being explored.
Yet through song and drama, the women in the circles have also narrated the way that poverty can fuel domestic violence, and the fights that take place when men and women don’t share spending decisions.
In 2000 Nyahunure was chosen to be part of the Global Gender Empowerment Zone programme on Human Security and Rights in the context of HIV/AIDS. Working with other UN agencies, UN Women supported skills trainings to villagers, including male care workers. It also helped Nyahunure establish a network for people living with HIV/AIDS to fight stigma, and a funeral parlour to assist the community with burials in the face of many deaths.
Economic empowerment has yielded other safety benefits too. Beauty, 52, once carried out menial tasks in return for food. She couldn’t sell at the city market because it was considered neither safe nor appropriate for women in her community – vendors must commonly wait throughout the night for it to open. “I lacked confidence as a woman that I can do things on my own,” she recalled, now a grain and butternut farmer. “I have learnt to champion the markets on my own. I now have money in the bank and can pay for a decent place to sleep while I wait for the market to open.”
When strategies to combat climate change involve women, they help build safer and healthier communities, beyond protecting the physical environment.