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More than just a word game

Women and children - an agenda at the COP in Durban Shayne Robinson/Greenpeace
While poor countries are jostling to ensure the lives of their people are protected in a deal on the changing climate being negotiated in Durban, various NGOs, agencies and research institutes are lobbying to get a word into the negotiating text. They include groups who are keen on the words “nutrition security”, and others who want to ensure that “women and children” feature in the text each time the word “vulnerable” appears.

“It is not opportunistic. We are pushing for the empowerment of women and the recognition of the words ‘nutrition security’ - by that we are addressing so many issues at the same time,” said Cristina Tirado, director of the Centre for Public Health and Climate Change at the US-based Public Health Institute.

“Protection and promotion of nutrition and health are essential components of climate-resilient and sustainable development,” she added. ”Women serve as agents of change. Through their unique roles in the family and child care, agricultural labour, food and nutrition security, health and disaster risk reduction, they can be instrumental in addressing climate change, health and nutrition in an integrated way.”

In the developing world women are almost entirely responsible for growing the food for their households, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Yet only 10 to 20 of every 100 land owners is a woman, says the World Bank’s World Development report 2012, which focused on gender equality and empowerment.

The weight of words

Including such words in the text of the proposed climate change deal can translate into money for programmes related to them, says Jazmin Burgess, a climate change policy and research officer with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Women and children are the most vulnerable segment of any society - children even more so - she maintains.

UNICEF and Burgess were involved in a long battle to ensure the word “children” featured in the text on the proposed new Green Climate Fund, set up to provide money for those most vulnerable to a changing climate.

''They include groups who are keen on the words 'nutrition security', and others who want to ensure that 'women and children' feature in the text each time the word 'vulnerable' appears''
Recent research has shown women and children are more likely than men to die from natural hazards. A study of 141 countries found that more women than men die from natural hazards, the World Bank says in their report.

UNICEF notes that some of the leading killers of children - malnutrition, cholera, diarrhoea, dengue fever, malaria - are highly sensitive to climate change. Any funds for programming on any of these issues would now ensure that children were targeted, said Burgess.

Tirado has been lobbying for some years for the inclusion of the words “nutrition security” and is among various organizations and forums - the UN Standing Committee on Nutrition (UNSCN), the World Food Programme (WFP) and NGO Action Against Hunger (ACF) - that have written a paper to position women as the catalyst in delivering nutrition security and health in a world becoming more difficult to live in because of climate change.

Tirado hopes the significance given to empowering women in the Durban talks will influence countries to develop especially the aspects addressing nutrition and health issues in their National Adaptation Plans.

Empowering women and children works

Catherine Zanev, from Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction at WFP, said the agency's experience in emergencies has shown that “in the hands of women, food is far more likely to reach the mouths of needy children. Whenever possible, WFP therefore distributes food and cash to women in emergencies, empowering them to better manage crises.”

By doing this, aid agencies not only ensure their programmes are more effective but also have a long-term impact on improving the status of women, said Harjeet Singh, climate expert at Action Aid International. “So it is a win-win for all.”

Read more
Making a case for nutrition
In Brief: What will we eat when climate change strikes?
Child-led disaster training saves lives
The move has worked. Zanev cited the management of communal granaries constructed by WFP in Cameroon’s dry north, left almost entirely in the hands of women.

“After one year of operation of the granaries, the number of hectares cultivated and the level of food production had increased significantly, contributing also to social stability, as it encouraged the male work force to stay in the community. No more emergency operations have been necessary in the region since setting up the community granaries.”

Denise Coitinho Delmuè, executive secretary of the UNSCN said it was “very important that things are done simultaneously to be mutually reinforcing, empowering women for taking a catalytic role in improving nutrition. It therefore requires that from the analysis and design phases of nutrition programming, women take centre stage.”

She cited examples of such programmes from Brazil, which managed to reduce its malnutrition levels by 70 percent in six years. Women’s literacy classes concentrate on nutrition, including information on preparing traditional and indigenous food.

Local school feeding programmes in Brazil buy produce from small scale farmers who are mostly women and mothers of children at the school.

UNICEF's Burgess says climate change education among school children in parts of Asia has helped to spread awareness in societies with a high population of illiterate adults.

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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