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U.S. withdraws from Paris Accord, and the impact on women

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Yesterday, U.S. government officials announced their decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord, an agreement endorsed by almost all countries in the world. This agreement expresses a unified commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and addressing climate change.

A key question we are asking at WEA: What will this mean for women?

It’s no secret that women are often the most devastatingly impacted by climate change and environmental degradation — and this likelihood increases for women who face compounded issues of poverty and other socioeconomic disadvantages. In 2009, the United Nations Population Fund explained this dynamic in its “State of the World Population” report:

“Women — particularly those in poor countries — will be affected differently than men. They are among the most vulnerable to climate change, partly because in many countries they make up the larger share of the agricultural work force and partly because they tend to have access to fewer income-earning opportunities. Women manage households and care for family members, which often limits their mobility and increases their vulnerability to sudden weather-related natural disasters. Drought and erratic rainfall force women to work harder to secure food, water and energy for their homes. Girls drop out of school to help their mothers with these tasks. This cycle of deprivation, poverty and inequality undermines the social capital needed to deal effectively with climate change.”

The Paris Climate Accord, while not legally binding, is a key step down the path of outlining a plan for the world to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the most significant driver of climate change. Specifically, participating nations pledged to reduce their emissions by different amounts and report back on their progress. Under the Obama Administration, the U.S. committed to a 26-28% decrease in emissions by 2025.

And while the Accord sadly lacks a full gendered lens and analysis, the preamble does call for increased equality and women’s empowerment as necessary to combatting climate change. As Cathy Russell, former U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, stated, ”improving the lives of women and girls is ‘mission critical’ for saving the planet.

WEA was built to address this “mission critical” piece of the puzzle. As a global community, we cannot comprehensively address our world’s most pressing issues — of food, land, water, energy and, yes, climate change — without centering the importance of women’s agency. Women are the backbone of the community — they are the family caretakers, the food and fuel providers, and those who most often go without so that their children don’t need to. They are best positioned with the solutions that will see us through these challenging times.

Are we troubled by our government’s recent decision and current view on climate change? Yes, deeply. As this article shares:

“Refusing to acknowledge climate change’s detrimental effects on the world also means a refusal to acknowledge the ways it puts the lives and livelihood of many women around the world at risk. Removing the U.S. from the international agreement to combat harmful emissions not only proves the environment isn’t a priority for the Trump administration, it proves women aren’t a priority, either.”

That’s why we believe it’s a moment to double down on investing in our world’s grassroots women leaders. We look to our partners, to the grassroots women leaders around the world whose work on the ground for their communities, the earth, and future generations never retreats. We cannot wait for our governments to follow through on pledges of gender equality and environmental commitment. More than ever, we need to counteract global warming, environmental injustice and nationalistic separatism with creative investments in bridge-building, grassroots movement-building, and women.

Here is a roundup of a few articles addressing the impact that the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Accord will have on women:

 

WEA and WISE’s Clean Cookstoves Training gets national coverage in Nigeria!

Project: WISE Women's Clean Cookstoves Project

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This past April, WEA and WISE (Women’s Initiative for Sustainable Environment) kicked off a series of two training intensives as part of our joint WISE Women’s Clean Cookstoves Training in Kaduna, Nigeria. These trainings aimed not only to provide women in Nigeria with access to life-saving clean cookstoves, but also to equip them with the skills, tools, networks and resources they need to start and scale their own clean cookstove businesses, causing a ripple of clean energy impact throughout their communities.

Why is this so important? Because clean cookstoves saves lives. According to a study done by the World Health Organization, 98,000 Nigerians — mostly women — die annually as a result of smoke inhaled while cooking with firewood. If a woman cooks breakfast, lunch, and dinner for her family with a traditional cookstove, it is the equivalent to smoking 3 to 20 packets of cigarettes a day.

WEA Project Lead and Founder/Director of WISE, Olanike Olugboji, had a chance to talk to some media outlets at the close of the project’s second week-long training intensive at the end of May, and shared with them her own insights on the critical need for this work and women’s entrepreneurial and environmental leadership.

WEA and WISE’s Clean Cookstove Training participants

“This project, according to Olugboji, would help to curb deaths resulting from inhalation of smoke from firewood, which she puts at more than [98,000] death annually in the country. She explained that the second phase of the training, which would end on Friday, was designed to strengthen the women’s marketing strategy in promoting the use of clean cook stove…Similarly, a resource person, Ms. Happy Amos, described clean cook stove as “a social enterprise”, not only for its financial gains, but also for its social and environmental impact.” —  Nigeria News Network

We’re incredibly honored to be involved in this project, and are so inspired by the continued effort and commitment of the women who participated in the training and are now entrepreneurs in their communities!

We’ll be sharing updates with you as we hear back from training participants on the launch of their own businesses, but until then, here’s a roundup of articles that covered this groundbreaking training:

 

The Original Loom this Mother’s Day

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Each Mother’s Day, we lift up and celebrate the work of mothers and community caregivers around the world. It is no easy task to nurture children, birth movements, or protect our shared future on Earth.

We know that you share our vision that through women’s leadership we can create a future of balance, health, and peace for our world, and we never forget that your partnership is making this vision possible — today and throughout our decade. This Mother’s Day, with your support, WEA’s carefully planted seeds can bloom.

WEA Project Lead Sunita Rao is the Director of Vanastree Collective and Project Lead for our Seeds of Resilience Project in Karnataka, India. Sunita’s work ensures that rural women leaders and small-scale forest home gardeners in one of the most richly biodiverse and therefore severely threatened regions of southern India can advocate for their rights, promote indigenous climate-resilient seed saving practices, and support climate adaptation and mitigation.

Sunita Rao teaching a group remotely about Indigenous seeds and the Vanastree seed bank to preserve this knowledge.

In her own reflection on what it means to nurture and protect, Sunita shared:

“Women…are able to sense the pulse of things in the natural world, which cannot be explained by words. It seems to happen almost by instinct, by an ancient calling that is written into their genetic code.

[It is] the feeling that happens to each of us as we touch our foreheads to the earth — the prostration is almost by reflex, unthinking, something you are so used to. Yet, each time there is that something that sparks off a connection to the Other, that almost gives you the power to be invincible while bringing that keen awareness that you are but a humble drop.

If you remember, that is — remember where the Source is, where the original loom where your own fabric was woven came from.

We are being bombarded by change that has made social and ecological refugees of many of us. In these dark times, the hope lies in the original memory of who we really are, in the primordial bond that connects us to the earth, in what we as women are capable of and…in keeping the sacred alive.

For it is this that will continue to nurture where all else fails. And this is what we must uphold, celebrate, and bring forth over and over again.”

In honor of our mothers — and all the unstoppable women in our lives — we invite you to make a tax-deductible contribution today. Stand with us and with leaders like Sunita as we remember the connection to our original loom, and preserve this hope for future generations.

From our hearts to yours, we wish you all the happiest of Mother’s Days!

Ripples from West Africa, a partner update from Ghana

Project: West African Women Providing Safe Water and Sanitation

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In 2010, Monica Ayomah was one of the eight local women trainers in the West African Women and Water Trainings in Ghana. We were thrilled to hear from Monica this month and learn how her leadership has unfolded over the years. Today she is a WASH trainer in Ghana, touching the lives of countless more women and spreading critical water and sanitation technologies to many.

Here’s a short clip of Monica during the training, reflecting on her role as a woman trainer and how important representation is for women in technology.

 

“They were thinking it was only men who can do construction, it was only men who can work on water for women to use.” 

The West African Women and Water Training, hosted by the Global Women’s Water Initiative (GWWI) — an initiative co-founded by WEA, A Single Drop, and Crabgrass — supported women to become entrepreneurial leaders in the WASH sector through workshops on capacity building, business development, and technical training in a range of WASH development projects. The training program also served as a platform from which women trainers could expand their training reach and capacity.

Monica trained the 15 teams on how to set up rainwater harvesting systems. Taking on that kind of leadership role, Monica said, she saw concrete ways her work could have lasting and far-reaching positive impact for other women and their communities.

“It wasn’t until I participated in a workshop,” she said, “that I realized I was empowered as a woman to empower other women to be leaders.” She explained that participating in the trainings connected her with a network of grassroots change-makers. This network helped her see how WASH intervention had the potential to empower more and more women. She saw how she could positively impact communities by providing education around safe water practices.

Monica came away from the 2010 Women and Water Trainings emboldened to carry her knowledge forward and help others gain skills, tools and confidence to realize those goals.

So, Monica started her own civil engineering firm!

Shifting professionally from masonry in private homes, Monica started a civil engineering firm and named it Won-Nyeya, meaning “God has seen” in the Builsa language. The firm works with WaterAid Ghana as a WASH construction partner and has five employees: a project officer, monitoring and evaluation officer, engineer, community development educator and a secretary. In the last few years Won-Nyeya has worked in the Northern, Upper East, Upper West and Volta regions of Ghana to implement Water Sanitation and Hygiene services to underserved communities, schools and clinics.

Monica Ayomah started a civil engineering firm, Won-Nyeya. The firm specializes in WASH construction and always involves the women of the beneficiary communities in order to ensure their lasting efficacy and because women get things done!
Women are mobilizing local materials for the construction of water points. They also take part in the construction process so that in the future, they can also repair the water points should it develop some problems.
Won-Nyeya building an institutional latrine for a community in what Monica described as one of the poorest districts in Ghana.

Sometimes, Won-Nyeya’s work involves constructing or improving infrastructure like wells, rain harvesting systems and latrines. The firm may also be called upon to train Sanitation Management Teams or conduct WASH trainings at schools and health clubs.

Monica credits the 2010 Women and Water Training for helping her see ways to build Won-Nyeya as a firm with an effective engagement model that puts women at the center of their own community’s progress. 

“Before implementing any WASH project we ensure that women are actively involved at the awareness creation and community level planning,” Monica explains, describing strategies Won-Nyeya uses that are clear and concrete while staying flexible enough to use effectively in various communities with different needs. In fact, water and sanitation management teams that are formed have at least three women occupying executive positions, training women as pump mechanics so that they are “actively involved in community decision making.” 

A training of water and sanitation management teams to ensure sustainability of their water resources. Women are in the picture are elected as executives by the community to manage the water points.

And she is just getting started! In the future Monica hopes to develop construction and engineering programs specifically for women and girls in technical and vocational schools, as well as continue to increase access to potable water and sanitation services in underserved communities.

WEA’s Seeds of Resilience Project kicks off Storytelling Initiative

Project: Planting Seeds of Resilience in Southern India

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Volunteer photographer Batt introduces the instructors at Punarchith Training Centre to the donated equipment. Photo: Vanastree

In March, WEA Project Partner Vanastree held their first photography training session, kicking off a storytelling initiative within our joint Seeds of Resilience Project. This unique storytelling initiative supports the project’s ongoing efforts to ensure seed and food sovereignty and the transfer of traditional knowledge in Karnataka State, India.

In storytelling workshops, participants are gaining skills in multimedia and storytelling to craft and share their own narratives. These women and young people are learning how to use cameras, recording devices, and laptops, as well as how to master effective storytelling and dissemination techniques. 

The Vanastree team gathered for three days at the Punarchith Training Centre in Nagavalli village, where Vanastree Director and Project Lead Sunita Rao, and volunteer photographer Batt Anderson, introduced the Punarchith staff to the equipment donated by WEA supporters and partners. The Vanastree and Punarchith team spent the day creating a curriculum to introduce the training participants to photography and ensure they felt comfortable and confident with the equipment

The next day, seven enthusiastic young women participants had a full day of photography lessons. This was the first time most of the participants had ever handled a camera in their lives. They were excited and ready to explore all of the endless possibilities of this form of self-expression.

Photo: Vanastree

Do you remember the first time you saw your world through a new lens?

After a request to let their fears dissolve and imaginations run unbounded, they were off! Participants set out in pairs and threes to try out taking portraits of each other. They took the cameras on a stroll through courtyards with drying areca, forest gardens, quiet dark corners with snoozing grandmothers, and the ancient kitchen where masala majjigay (spiced buttermilk) was being churned in the heat of summer. Participants got to see their photos uploaded onto a laptop and learned more about framing, lighting, and the possibilities of digital editing.

The young women then set out a second time with the cameras that afternoon, this time with some guidelines to pay attention to color, pattern, and texture. Batt accompanied the group to provide guidance and answer questions.

Participants experimented with texture and color. Photo: Vanastree


While they uploaded and reviewed their second round of photos, participants discussed how photography could be used to engage in topics such as family, land, water, relationships, feelings, women’s tasks and other pertinent issues.
 They spent some time talking about how to let their minds and imaginations run free.

When the training weekend ended, the group decided that the equipment would remain at the Punarchith Training Center so that it could be checked out when someone wanted to work on their photography — this way, it was accessible to even more people than we originally anticipated.

Sunita remarked on the great joy and attentiveness the group showed as participants took photos and everyone got to share and discuss each other’s work. Later the women talked about how grateful they felt to be trusted with the equipment and how they had only ever seen cameras in other people’s hands. They celebrated the opportunities that presented themselves now that this remarkable tool was accessible to them, too.

Soumya and Radha taking pictures. Photo: Vanastree

Thank you to all the incredible WEA allies that donated tech equipment to this project and to other WEA projects. We are thrilled to see the results of this first wave of Storytelling trainings, all part of of our larger capacity-building trainings happening in partnerships around the world. The possibilities abound when the agency of women to share their own stories and experiences is respected and honored!