African Women at the Forefront of Sustainability: The Water-Food-Energy Nexus

by Rosemary Olive Mbone Enie (ELP 2013), Cameroon

Image iconAt-the-Betterworld-Summer-Environmental-Leadership-Camp-in-Cameroon-handing-out-certificate-of-participation-August-2014-Bafut-Cameroon-256x300_2.jpg At the Betterworld Summer Environmental Leadership Camp in Cameroon handing out certificate of participation. August 2014, Bafut, Cameroon

Climate Change (CC) is being described as the single biggest threat to life on planet Earth. Although there are still many skeptics in industrialized countries who think the predictions are often exaggerated, the story is different for women and communities in the Global South. In countries of Africa, the impacts of CC and Climate Variability (CV) are already visible and concrete, especially in the poor urban and rural areas.

This article aims to put forth the work that the Women Environment and Climate Action Network (WECAN) Africa Initiative ( has been doing since the COP 14 in Poznan, Poland: to build the capacity of grassroots women across Africa, whose lives have been much affected by climate change. These women are far from international debates and most of them don’t even know that CC is one of the most common topics in the meetings and political discussions leading to the COP 21 in Paris, France and also leading the transition from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to the Post 2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Climate change is arguably the greatest challenge facing Africa in the 21st century. As the continent that is most vulnerable to climate variability and change, Africa faces a threat that can reverse many decades of development efforts. However, it also offers some unique opportunities, especially for the women of Africa and other Most Vulnerable Groups (MVGs).

WECAN recognizes the fact that CC can undermine some of the most serious efforts to eradicate poverty and make the transition from the MDGs to the Post 2015 SDGs. It also raises serious questions about climate justice and equity and recognizes gender sensitive strategies as a precondition to address the challenges of sustainable development. Women and young people have the skills and capacities to adapt to CC and they can be powerful change actors by carrying out activities such as tree planting, maintaining forests, managing local water sources, along with driving ecological food production and sustainable household energy use. These activities also help to create sustainable job opportunities. Putting women at the forefront of sustainability would enable them to play a central role in transforming consumption and production patterns to more sustainable ones. Thus, raising awareness, learning new information and using traditional knowledge as well as strengthening women’s networks are some of WECAN’s key activities.

However, greater research is required to better understand climate variability within Africa, the nature of interaction with other stressors, overall patterns of vulnerability and development of governance systems that can turn climate change into opportunities for developing more resilient human communities and supporting sustainable economic development. Participating in the Beahrs Environmental Leadership Program (ELP) 2013, has enabled me to gain experience, knowledge and skills that has been a great boost to my work at WECAN.