Khanyisa Sinqe – Zithethele Community Newspaper*
The women – including farm workers, farm owners, and farm dwellers from inside South Africa, and as far away as Zimbabwe and Malawi, Kenya and Senegal – were not accredited participants in the air-conditioned venue in the city centre.
Their discussions, with thoughtful analysis of issues from a truly grassroots perspective enlivened by singing and seed exchanges, took place in a marquee tent at the People’s Space, the alternative conference held at the University of Kwazulu-Natal.
Rural women are the most affected by global warming, they say. They have seen weather patterns change, causing boreholes to dry up and harvests to weaken.
Phelokazi Dlikilili, from Dimbaza in South Africa’s Eastern Cape, says that as a woman depending on natural resources, her life has been changed by a changing climate.
She and her sisters can no longer rely on the gardens they cultivate for food to eat and sell because of strange weather. “Since I was born, I have never experienced snow in the Eastern Cape, particularly in my village. But this year, Dimbaza was covered by snow. That was foreign to us.”
‘They are putting money before people’s lives. It’s not fair.’ – Constance Mogale, Landless People’s Movement
Aminata Seck, who led a group of women farmers from Senegal, said women in the West African country had been trying for a decade to persuade their government to buy into their ideas to protect small farmers from the changes.
“In 2001, we as rural Senegal women organised ourselves and came up with an initiative to build shelters where we plant organic food. We have also built dams, that will store water when it rains,” she said.
The women took an active role in the civil society march through on the Dec. 3 Global Day of Action. Addressing the crowd outside the International Convention Centre, Constance Mogale, chairperson of Landless Movement of South Africa, blamed the United States for holding up progress on a global climate pact. “The U.S is dragging its feet on this matter while people are dying. They are putting money before people’s lives. It’s not fair.”
The Rural Women’s Assembly drafted a set of five demands to the official conference, demanding that women’s role in fighting climate change be recognised, with a radical programme to grant women access to and control over half of the world’s land. They pointed out that women produce 80 percent of food eaten in Africa, and called insisted that any financial support for climate change adaptation to reflect this.
The women rejected “false climate solutions” such as carbon markets, genetically-modified organisms and biofuels, instead demanding that indigenous knowledge be at the centre of policies to promote biodiversity and repair ecosystems and livelihoods. They blamed the existing global economic system for unsustainable use of the earth, and called for trade sanctions against the countries historically responsible for most of the pollution if they refuse to cut emissions.
* Community media coverage of COP 17 is being supported by the Media Development & Diversity Agency of South Africa, which is promoting the participation of local journalists through a programme of training and reporting on climate change.