More women researchers needed to tackle climate change
By Eve Ruwoko
Challenging the gender bias within educational institutions, in research and even in the media has been identified as a fundamental component to open up spaces for women to participate in and make an impact in the emerging field of climate change.
Women have been playing an instrumental role in addressing the human and sociological dimensions of climate change, from social justice and equity to adaptation, mitigation and vulnerability.
While women have been breaking ground in climate action, publicity about and the profiling of women role models in the field of climate change have been limited, and this extends to stories of marginalised groups within communities, whose struggles with climate change remain untold.
The African Climate and Development Initiative (ACDI), a research institute of the University of Cape Town, has been promoting, through mentorship, the development of early-career researchers in climate change fields and a considerable number of them are women.
Sheona Shackleton, the deputy director of the ACDI, told University World News that it was critical for more women to dive into climate change fields and position themselves as active researchers, especially within the African context, given the impact of climate change on people’s livelihoods.
Women researchers had a strong voice in the areas of vulnerability and adaptation as compared to climate science and were thereby embracing the complex approach of working within the sociological systems space, exploring the human aspects of climate change, working closely with society to find innovative solutions and carrying out the transdisciplinary research required to combat climate change.
“Women are being recognised more, especially for their role in climate action as they have been focusing more on the human facets of climate change, on governance, gender, vulnerability and adaptation,” Shackleton said.
“Funding is a challenge; researchers must raise money to support their projects and raising funds can be particularly difficult for women because they tend to carry more responsibilities, especially women in single parenting households,” she said.
“Women have to bear the burden of looking after their families while continuing to raise funds for their research and studies.”
She also highlighted that there was a need to support women in climate action through scholarships and funding that would allow them to conduct their research while availing opportunities for the strengthening of the capacity of early career researchers.
Creating climate stories
At the height of a drought that hit Cape Town in South Africa’s Western Cape province in 2018, ACDI researchers teamed up with the Western Cape Water Caucus, a civil society organisation, in a study aimed at improving access to water services using ‘citizen science’ and a tool called ‘SenseMaker’.
The project allowed researchers and collaborators to collect adaptation responses to climate change through the various experiences shared by marginalised groups, most of whom were women.
This helped early career researchers, including women, to strengthen their research capacity and ensure that the stories would be shared with policymakers.
Some of the collected stories from a sample of 311 stories were compiled and released in a documentary called The SenseMaker Project.
Gina Ziervogel, a researcher at ACDI who is involved with the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, specifically working group 2 (impacts, adaptation and vulnerability related to climate change), told University World News that one of the key drawbacks in addressing climate change was the insufficient opportunities for marginalised groups, especially women, to share their stories, their experience of climate change and coping mechanisms.
“The truth is that, if we want to develop adaptation skills that really address the social reality, we need to include diverse groups and voices in that process. We also need women to understand the diversity of the opportunities in climate research,” she said.
“Historically, women have not had much decision-making power and have not been seen much in the participatory process and we need to change that and make sure that vulnerable groups feel welcome because it is central to developing strong adaptation strategies in the region.”
Commenting on the recently launched IPCC report, which assesses science about climate change, Ziervogel pinpointed that important issues such as gender and inequality had been tackled and there had been efforts to ensure the inclusion of women and voices from developing countries, including African scholars, in the report.
One woman’s journey
Cameroonian researcher Ojong Enokenwa Baa shared her journey as she was pursuing her PhD at Rhodes University in South Africa with University World News.
Enokenwa focused on climate change and gender studies and assessed not only the climatic shocks and stresses on different groups and households, including agriculture-based communities but also their coping strategies.
She went on to explore the effects of climate change on natural resources and the impact on the livelihoods of those who depended on the resources.
As an early career researcher, she encountered several challenges while in pursuit of her PhD, including insufficient funding as her studies extended to five years, and the distress of being separated from her young family as she carried out fieldwork.
She also faced fears and security concerns as she pursued her research work within communities in the east and south-west regions of Cameroon as there was unrest, political instability and increasing cases of kidnappings.
Enokenwa had to create a balance between working to raise funds to complete her studies, parenting and writing her thesis. The support received from colleagues and supervisors played a crucial role in completing her journey.
Being an emerging climate scientist from the Global South gave Enokenwa the opportunity to participate in different global platforms and in publications where she shared her perspectives and work in climate change while encouraging gender mainstreaming in climate-centred organisations.
Addressing gender gaps
In a women-focused initiative, The World Academy of Sciences opened a call for applications to allow young researchers in the Global South to receive grants on Gender Equity and Climate Action research funded by the Elsevier Foundation.
The grants would be awarded to collaborative teams of two to five women for action-based projects, which would take women researchers outside the lab to promote practical and tangible work under the climate change agenda.
The programme is open to more than 20 African countries to participate in, including Ethiopia and Zambia.
In another ongoing initiative, the Alliance for African Partnership (AAP), a consortium of Michigan State University and 10 African universities will be awarding emerging women researchers with scholarships under the African Futures Research Leadership Programme.
The recipients would be selected from the 10 AAP member universities, including Uganda’s Makerere University and the University of Botswana, to focus their research in the areas of climate change and global health.
“The programme is designed to address the gender gap of researchers in Africa. On average, women only make up about 30% of all active researchers across the continent”, said Jose Jackson-Malete, the AAP co-director, in a statement to University World News.