Women, Most Renewable Resource: Oxfam's "Sisters on the Planet"


Ikidia women of Mali, shea nut entrepreneurs, at Saving for Change meeting. Photo by Rebecca Blackwell for Oxfam America

The world's poorest are affected the worst by global warming and women get the brunt of it. Struck with drought and dwindling resources in developing countries, women scrape for food, water, livestock, and fuel for children and the elderly, as men leave in search of jobs. Oxfam's "Sisters on the Planet" program may sound like a 1970's feminist gathering, but it's dealing with pressing environmental issues, focusing on empowering women who shoulder the burden to find solutions. Considering a Swedish study determined women's carbon footprint is 25 percent smaller than men's, is it time for a revived women's movement?
In Ghana, women spend hours searching for wood for cooking. In Bangladesh, more women than men (five times as many) have died in flooding from cyclones when confined to their homes. Women in Senegal fend for families amidst crop failure and lack of clean water. Scarce farming and grazing lands in Darfur have contributed to the conflict in Sudan. There's sexual and domestic violence, and increases in young girls dropping out of school.

Sisters Doing It For Themselves
Oxfam estimates by 2020 up to 250 million in Africa could face severe water shortages, as a result of climate-related drought, which exacerbates poverty and hunger. Janet McKinley, chair of Oxfam America described the help needed for women farmers coping with Mali's degraded land and the salt water encroachment in Da Nang, Vietnam. Speaking at its Sisters on the Planet event, after the Governor's Climate Change Summit in LA last Friday, she shared a video about the situation.

Focusing on grassroots programs, the following initiatives help women adapt (the operative word now, instead of eliminate) to existing problems:

• Innovative techniques to increase rice paddy yields in Cambodia
• Homestead gardening, floating gardens and duck rearing in Bangladesh
• Disaster preparedness systems in Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala
• Planting dense mangroves to diffuse storm waves in Vietnam coastal towns
• Reviving canals in Peru to provide both moisture and drainage for farmers
• Planting evergreens and mangroves for fuel and reducing erosion in Uganda
• Tree planting in Kenya's Green Belt Movement improves farm production


Actors Djimon Hounsou and Nicki Micheaux join honorary Sisters on the Planet Ambassadors. Photo courtesy of Oxfam.

In Mississippi, Coastal Women for Change has mobilized efforts for evacuation buses and hurricane preparedness kits for low-income family and seniors. Oxfam America supports Sharon Hanshaw's local organization in Biloxi and presented her with its Sisters on the Planet recognition.

Other recipients of Oxfam's Climate Leaders Award:

Sen. Barbara Boxer, who couldn't be present as she hammered out the Boxer-Kerry Climate Bill, but her work for safe water, pesticide bans, revitalizing the Superfund, etc., was praised.

Linda Adams, California's Secretary of the Environmental Protection Agency, for her work at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and negotiating several key pieces of legislation, such as the "first-in-the-nation" laws to promote environmental justice

• Hilary Krane, Sr. VP of Levi Strauss, a leader in the Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy (BICEP) coalition.

Oxfam's McKinley hosted the inaugural awards with Barbara Lawton, Lt. Governor of Wisconsin, speaking of the need to address the disproportionate impact of climate change on poor women in particular. "It's a costly mistake to not have women part of the discussion," said Lawton. "Women are the most renewable resource on the planet."

Feeling your hackles rising with a surging refrain of "I am woman, hear me roar?" There's a campaign of women's rights activists pushing for legislation and action at COP15 at Women Demand US Action of Climate Change listserve at WDACCUS@googlegroups.com and Oxfam America's "Sisters on the Planet" campaign.

More on Oxfam's efforts:
Climate Change Means Hunger, Disaster, Disease Will Be the New Normal
Biofuels Have Pushed Thirty Million People Into Poverty: Oxfam
Number of Natural Disasters Up Four-Fold over Last Two Decades

Tags: Activism | Africa | Agriculture | Global Warming Effects | Poverty