* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
As Lake Chad dries up, women have been forced into trading sex for fish to feed their families - giving them an equal say could change this
I call myself an ecofeminist because the climate crisis is not gender-neutral – it is first and foremost a crisis for women and girls. Women bear the largest burden of the climate crisis, despite having the smallest carbon footprint.
In my region, women tend to be the closest to nature and the environment, as they are more dependent on natural resources like land, forests and water for their livelihoods. Therefore, when natural resources are depleted, women are the first victims.
In rural Nigeria, women produce the majority of food grown for consumption and local markets, yet they have little access to land ownership. As the land degrades, their back-breaking work becomes harder and less fruitful.
The protection of our planet, and the protection of our rights as women, are intrinsically intertwined.
I see climate and gender injustices every day in the Lake Chad region. Ninety percent of Lake Chad dried up some decades ago. Girls miss out on school more as the lake shrinks, because it’s down to them to fetch water when there’s drought.
According to the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR), women and adolescent girls are the most vulnerable refugees. In the camps, women risk assault when they venture out of the protected environment in search of water and firewood. The further they must walk, the greater their risk of rape, sexual violence and – in some cases – abduction and forced marriage. Drought leads to poverty and it’s during hard times that girls are married out for survival.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, climate change hazards increase or heighten existing gender inequalities, thereby contributing to greater climate change vulnerability for many women. It’s as simple as this: our rights dry up when the water dries up, and right now the landscape is parched.
That is why I founded the ILeadClimate movement. We focus on the restoration of Lake Chad and restoring people’s livelihoods through our advocacy work. Lake Chad is the source of survival for more than ten million people in the region.
Climate change is now the greatest accelerator of gender-based violence and sexual exploitation in my region. You see women forced to resort to transitional sex to feed their families. “Fish for sex” is a known term here, as documented by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
It’s a form of survival when women have lost their livelihoods and have no alternative means of survival. Fish are increasingly scarce. Because fish are viewed as a prized source of nutrition, the fishermen are able to exploit the most desperate women – mothers who just want to feed their children.
I can tell you if women had an equal say, there would be no more “fish for sex”. We need gender equality if we are to solve this crisis, including equal representation of women at the decision-making table.
The lack of women’s representation in parliament – which is just 25.5% globally and a shocking 6% in Nigeria – is why women keep bearing the brunt of this crisis. Our female politicians lend their voices to these issues, but their numbers are so few that they can’t influence decision-making. Without equality, those in the seat of power cannot know what women like me are experiencing every day.
So the decisions continue to be made by men, and we continue to only hear half of the story. That’s why this International Women’s Day I proudly join CARE International’s #March4Women campaign. I’m standing in solidarity with a movement of people who recognise the injustices faced by women as a result of global crises and strive with me to elevate women to their rightful place at the decision-making tables.
We will never solve the defining issues of our generation without equal representation in power and leadership.