By Esther Ekong

As part of its Solutions for Gender Equality speaker series, The International Development Research Centre (IDRC), hosted a special panel in collaboration with the International Development Week 2019 Conference at the University of Ottawa on February 6, 2019. It was an engaging panel discussion on gender, power structures and global change. The Solutions for Gender Equality speaker series is inspired by Women Deliver 2019 — the world’s largest conference on gender equality — which will take place in Vancouver from June 3 to 6, 2019. The speaker series focuses on the conference theme of power and how it can drive or hinder progress and change.

The panel explored the intersection of power structures with efforts to foster greater autonomy among vulnerable groups; in particular, the conversation focused on the impact of climate change on women and considered issues of decision-making and access to resources when facing the local impact of global changes. The panelists shared their observations and experiences challenging established power structures and fostering transformational approaches for socially inclusive resilience particularly regarding the effect of drought in Kenya, Ethiopia and Botswana on women’s rights.

The discussion focused on successful approaches and solutions that have helped women and girls, improve community resilience, transformed food systems, and enhanced the livelihoods of some of the most vulnerable communities in the Global South. The speakers engagingly shared their experiences in the field. Particularly, the effect of labor migration (used to cope in seasons of drought) was discussed and how it leads to the expansion of women’s roles beyond the traditional gender roles. This is said to have led to some form of empowerment as women take over the role of providing for the family in the absence of the men who have migrated in search of pasture. Ironically however, the absence of institutional capacity for this takeover leaves the women even more economically disempowered. It was recommended that agency building needs to be taken farther among these groups and women need to be empowered to join political parties and have greater representation at policy level.

These discussions resonated deeply with the situation of women in Nigeria. Although not facing drought, the unpredictable weather conditions caused by climate change has similarly affected women in rural parts of Nigeria who rely heavily on agriculture, with a rippling effect on families even in the cities. Women are having to find alternative streams of income to support their families. With low access to finance, infrastructural deficiencies and weak institutions, this has not made their lives easier. Interventions by NGOs through skill acquisition programs and new farming techniques has improved the livelihood of some women but with the teeming Nigerian population, half of which are women, a lot more needs to be done.

The program afforded me the opportunity to learn about the realities of other African women and how they are facing and overcoming their challenges. It brought home forcibly the truth that women in developing countries are facing gender inequalities that are exacerbated by social and cultural norms which are quite different from their counterparts in the developed countries. Therefore, gender discussions must not be generalized, rather, they must reflect the nuances within its subject.

The participating expert panel of researchers and experts were Nitya Rao, Professor of Gender & Development, University of East Anglia, United Kingdom; Daniel Morchain, Senior Adviser – Resilience & Climate, Oxfam GB, United Kingdom; Amina Maharjan, Livelihoods Specialist Migration, International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), Nepal; and Maureen Kemunto Miruka, Director, Agriculture and Market Systems, CARE USA, Kenya.   

The discussion was moderated by Santiago Alba Corral, Director, Agriculture and Environment, IDRC.