A puzzling question is how does one commemorate this day of great importance which highlights and advances the work women around the world have done towards achieving gender equality?
The answer is not quite straightforward but this year’s unique theme (Break The Bias) unequivocally sparks great strides in recognizing the utmost importance of equality today for a sustainable tomorrow. This speaks to advancing conversation on gender equality in the context of the climate crisis and disaster risk reduction. Currently, women are underrepresented in the decision-making process on environmental governance. This leaves women at a disadvantage as they should be equally represented in decision-making structures to allow them to contribute their unique and valuable perspectives and expertise on climate change. The United Nations (UN) have published a fact sheet named Women, Gender Equality and Climate Change discussing the matter, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) published a report called Gender, Climate Change and Health that also addresses the way gender inequality interacts with climate issues.
A large number of rights are impacted by climate change. These include the right to life, right to clean water, right to health, right to food and the right to self-determination. Since women already struggle with human rights issues more than men, climate change exacerbates these problems and creates further gender inequalities.
Understanding that climate change is not only an environmental issue but also one of social justice, industrial and economic reform, women’s rights, poverty and development, trade and commerce, and indigenous rights, it is important to remember, however, that women are not only vulnerable to climate change but they are also effective actors or agents of change in relation to both mitigation and adaptation.
I have been fortunate to be surrounded and observant of powerful women and girls who have channelled their time and resources in promoting equality in their various fields of work. These women not only champion causes that promote women’s rights, but adequately work towards adaptation and mitigating climate change in Nigeria.
As the world marks International Women’s day today, I choose to bring to fore these three women who have magically walked the talk and have a strong body of knowledge and expertise that can be used in climate change mitigation, disaster reduction and adaptation strategies.
Fondly called ‘Estherclimate’ by her peers founded the Nigerian Youth Climate Coalition (NYCC) after returning from Copenhagen Climate Change Conference in 2009, where she led the Nigerian youth delegation. She has worked with remarkable leaders like Desmond Tutu, Mary Robinson and Gro Harlem Brundtland, among several others, to advocate for meaningful involvement and participation of youth in development especially in the formulation and implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
In 2009, Agbarakwe was awarded the Dekeyser & Friends Foundation Leadership Award in Germany. She was selected as a 2010 Women Deliver 100 Young Leaders and became a Commonwealth Youth Climate Fellow in November 2010. In 2012, she participated in the UNICEF supported debate on Climate Change where she advocated for the right of young people to lend their voice to the conversation. In 2015, she joined the Guardian conversation on ways to powerfully communicate climate change solutions. On the sidelines of the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, she alongside other Nigeria Climate Change Activists met with the Nigeria President, Muhammadu Buhari where they made a case for the value young people are bringing to the conversation. Ms. Agbarakwe is also co-founder of Climate Wednesday, a notable youth platform on environment issues that seeks to build a climate generation across Africa. Esther’s body of work can be seen to have spanned over two decades and while it seems like mitigation of climate change progress is minute, she lights hope that sustainability is essential for sustainable development.
Hyeladzira James Mshelia
Zira is a programs Associate at Connected Development with technical and programmatic management skills in designing and implementing gender equality, environmental and climate-related projects, policy influencing, and WASH campaigns in Africa.
Hyeladzira has a Bachelor’s degree (B.SC) in Environmental Biology which she has used to develop targeted programs/ interventions on environmental sustainability and climate action. Passionate about promoting the culture of environmental Sustainability in Nigeria and West Africa to achieve SDGs 13, 14, and 15, Hyeladzira is responsible for spearheading the activities of Earth Hour yearly. She is part of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps, a global network of activists and influencers who advocate for climate crisis and justice. She is a member of the World Economic Forum; a Global Shaper with the Abuja hub where she is the grants manager and co-chairs the “Abuja Dialogue Series” aimed at policy development from community/stakeholder engagement, mobilization, and dialogue.
She was a delegate at the Nigerian International Secondary Schools Model United Nations (NISSMUN) Conference were as a representative of the United Nations representing Slovakia, she deliberated discussed, and debated the country’s adaptation to a recycling-friendly, zero-waste circular economy and how imperative it is for her to sign the Paris Agreement.
Jennifer Uchendu, a sustainability communicator, analyst, the founder of SustyVibes- an organisation passionate about sustainability and women development in Africa. In 2016, Uchendu founded SustyVibes, a social enterprise making sustainability actionable for young people in Nigeria through projects, products and policies. SustyVibes was born out of the need to create a platform where Nigerian youths can contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals through pop-cultural tools like music, photography, movies, tourism etc.
SustyVibes has gained popularity via its innovative projects that engage young people like Susty parties, campus cleanups, street conference, hangouts, eco-tours, movie screenings and trendy online publications – Jennifer has been said to be making sustainability cool in Nigeria; making a case for the advancement of the green economy in Africa. Jennifer believes strongly that women have a critical role to play in ensuring sustainable development in Nigeria.
The importance of gender equality for improved climate outcome is equally crucial that mitigation and adaptation efforts integrate gender issues at all levels. Drawing on women’s experiences, and as we mark this women’s day, it is imperative to note that women’s knowledge and skills and supporting their empowerment will make climate change responses more effective while vying for a sustainable society.