by Jocelyn Newmarch
18 May 2010, Johannesburg — RURAL women are more vulnerable to climate change than men, and SA needs to take this gender effect into account in its national planning, climate change activists warn.
SA is likely to feel the consequences of climate change particularly in terms of water availability and from a compounding of the effects of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, nongovernmental organisations say.
Women are more vulnerable to climate change because they are more likely to be poor and have fewer coping mechanisms than men, and have additional responsibilities.
The division of household roles and responsibilities could also mean women are disproportionately affected.
Themba Linden, political adviser for Greenpeace in SA, said recently that the effects of climate change compounded already existing problems such as food security, water scarcity and HIV/AIDS.
He said sub-Saharan women spent 40-billion hours a year collecting water - equal to France's entire annual labour, according to a United Nations Development Programme report.
This means that increased water scarcity would particularly affect women, girls and to some extent boys, because they would have to travel further to collect water, or would have to use a less safe water source closer to home, Linden said.
This in turn meant that water-borne disease could spread more easily - which is a particular risk factor for people living with HIV/AIDS, for whom diarrhoea can prove fatal.
Hugh Cole, nongovernmental organisation Oxfam's climate change regional adviser, agreed that water-borne diseases such as cholera were on the increase in southern Africa.
A study conducted by the German think-tank Heinrich Böll Stiftung in rural KwaZulu-Natal showed that women's workloads were increased as a result of climate change.
"For example, in attempting to increase household economic security, women turned to other sources of income such as selling fruit and second-hand clothing. This work was carried out in addition to normal household duties," the report said.
As a result, women worked longer hours than men and were physically affected as well as emotionally drained from having to worry about the wellbeing of dependent children and youth, the study found
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