25/09/13. Under the theme of “drylands women’s empowerment,” experts from academia, UN agencies, donors and civil society gathered together to discuss strategies to help women better access resources – including money, knowledge and decision making—for the purposes of better land management and improved livelihoods.
Margaret Mensah-Williams, Deputy Speaker of the National Council of Namibia, delivered an informative keynote address on the country’s gender, desertification, forestry and drought policies, highlighting their achievements, challenges and gaps. She called for an outcome focusing on women’s empowerment and pledged to support any gender activity from COP11.
Read the full speech
The punchy remarks of the Executive Secretary set the tone for the programme, the first “Gender Day” to be held at a Conference of Parties of the UNCCD. Mr. Luc Gnacadja recounted how inspired he has been by women living in the drylands as he has travelled around the world. He urged the audience, “don’t let the negotiators sleep, they need your push. Help ensure that they set targets.”
He also urged participants to create an initiative as a result of the meeting, suggesting text on gender be included in the outcome decisions of COP11, or within an initiative to be launched under the COP Presidency, currently held by the government of Namibia.The UNCCD is the only Rio convention that explicitly mentions gender and women’s empowerment within the text of the convention. At the previous meeting of parties in 2011 (COP10) in Korea, delegates agreed upon a detailed and forward-looking Advocacy Policy Framework on Gender.
The session was addressed by high-ranking people: Rejoice Mabudafhasi, Deputy Minister, Minisstry of Environment and Water, South Africa; Professor Lazarus Hangula, Vice Chancellor, University of Namibia; Prof Lazarus Hangula, Vice Chancellor, University of Namibia (UNAM); Ambassador Anne Saloranta, Ambassador of Finland in Namibia; Ms Veerle Vandeweerd, Director, Energy and Environment Group Bureau for Development Policy, UNDP; and UNCCD Drylands Ambassador Deborah Fraser.
While the UNCCD has advanced policy on gender, like many other legal bodies, it faces challenges in implementing policy objectives on the ground. This theme was echoed by many participants of the session. For instance, in Namibia, women have legal rights to inherit property and land, but in practical terms land titles are often taken from widows after their husbands die because traditional leaders do not observe the laws.
“So easily do we as the privileged meet, but half the women that we want to reach do not even know that these policies exist,” said Immaculate Mogotsi, Professor from the University of Namibia, and a co-organizer of the event. “We need political will and financial resources if we want to drive the women’s empowerment agenda. This agenda must become practical in terms of forestry, land rights, inheritance and resettlement. These policies by themselves do not say anything unless they change the lives of people they are intended to help,” she continued.
Land rights and inheritance in Namibia was a hot topic, and many suggested strategies for change, such as targeted engagement with parliamentarians and traditional and religious leaders. The first lady of Namibia has even made an appeal to traditional authorities to honour inheritance rights for women. “Some traditional authorities do understand, and we are trying to do more to educate traditional authorities about what the law says. But we need to plan with them, not plan at them,” said Niita IIpinge, Deputy Director of Resettlement of the General Directorate, Ministry of Land and Resettlement of Namibia.
Women living in the drylands face many challenges, as they are most often the ones who travel long distances to collect water, grow food for the family, tend livestock and gather fuel. When land is hit by desertification, land degradation and drought, many men migrate to the city in search of income, and women bear the brunt of environmental extremes. But women in the drylands also have a lot of knowledge to offer, as they are the keepers of traditional knowledge about medicinal and edible plants. “In Namibia, we have the San and the Himba indigenous people, they are the best scientists you can find, they know the environment so well,” said Margaret Angula, a researcher with the University of Namibia.
Gender day, held at the Rio Conventions Pavilion, also offered a chance for sharing strategies among the three Rio Conventions – the UNCCD, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Convention on Biodiversity. The conventions each have their own mechanisms for implementation, requiring countries to create national action plans. The way gender is addressed under each convention varies, and is still under development in some cases, but sharing gender strategies and targets under these plans offers an opportunity for synergies. A shared roadmap for the three conventions to promote gender equality is currently under development.
The day closed with a reception featuring traditional dancers and artists from Namibia. A book, “Land for Life”, composed of community case studies in sustainable land management, was also launched.
As an outcome of the day, organizers are still discussing activities that could comprise a “Namibia Initiative” that will take forward the proposals made. In addition, agreed text as part of a COP decision may be drafted. The partners behind the day pledged to continue to work together to enhance activities that empower drylands women.
More on Gender and the UNCCD, including the Advocacy Policy Framework