Connecting the dots: Relating forests and food to women’s empowerment and community resilience at the COP20 negotiations

Gertrude Kabusimbi Kenyangi is from Uganda and works for the organisation Support for Women in Agriculture and Environment. She is currently attending the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP)20 in Lima, Peru. Ms. Kenyangi spoke with Latha Swamy, UN Youth Representative for Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO), and shared some of her experiences and thoughts about the COP.

Latha Swamy (LS): How does your organisation support, or engage, women in agriculture and forestry?

Gertrude Kabusimbi Kenyangi (GK): My organisation is a grassroots women’s organisation in Uganda working on environmental and climate change issues, specifically in agriculture and food security. We work with forest-edge communities to improve their resilience to climate change by implementing adaptation and mitigation activities.

Our projects help communities establish forest resources on their own land.  We work in a collaborative relationship with the National Forest Authority (NFA). The majority of forests in Uganda are protected so this partnership is important to have. Originally the NFA had a single-focus of protecting the forest, but that bred a lot of conflict between the community and NFA.

LS. Of what importance are forests to the communities and women in particular?

GK: Forests support the livelihoods of the communities with fruits, mushrooms, leaves, tubers, fuel wood, and building and fencing material. Also, many forests in Uganda serve as watersheds, like Lake Victoria and the Nile River. Many of the forests have been cut, so the water and fuel security is lost, and this puts women at a disadvantage in their communities.

LS: Given your work at the community level, how do you see that fitting into the various work streams of the negotiations?

GK: Our work at the community level fits in with the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) and Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) because we are looking at gender equality as a measure of improving the resilience of not only women, but the entire community. Although there is very good legislation concerning gender equality in my country, the policy and practice are divergent.

Traditional norms and practices are very much in place at the grassroots level and women are still without access or control to productive assets, like land, seeds, and implements in the home. They can’t make meaningful investments that are permanent. One example is tree plantations – women will not be denied to have a plantation, but land is usually acquired by inheritance. And since gender equality is relatively new in my country, women still do not have their own land, or the money to purchase it (many women are still uneducated, and therefore not that competitive on the job market to earn a wage). We are in support of gender equality in the new decision in the SBI, because we believe if women have the same assets that men have access to and control of, it will go a long way to enhancing the resilience of communities.

Adaptation is very important for the community to enhance resilience. As such, my organisation is transferring fuel saving technology and promoting solar energy and rain water harvesting, as well as forest-based non-extractive income-generating activities, such as beekeeping. Income-generating components like these also have a spillover effect for biodiversity. Previously bees were burned to death to harvest the honey, but now they are being smoked out, in a sustainable manner.

LS: What do you hope to accomplish at the COP?

GK: Being at COP20 gives me an opportunity to be witness to what has been passed. I will be able to hold my government accountable if they do not deliver. I would like to get exposure to the process, to understand the work streams in depth, and to understand their interlinkages because the process affects us as women. I feel that if these global level discussions are successful, it will percolate to the national level, and then to our communities.

Once gender equality has been enshrined in global policy positions, I think there will be a lot of resources injected into the communities, and the capacity of the women will be built. They will be able to gain skills, gain understanding of the issues, and we hope they will be able take a stand and demand their rights.