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Climate change is worsening gender equality in disaster-prone areas

Sustainable Development Goals and Cyclone Idai in Zimbabwe: GRRIPP contributor, Abigirl Phiri, relates the SDGs to her experience of the cyclone, the role of her local church, worsening gender equality and what can be done to mitigate the gendered effects of climate change.

When cyclone Idai hit Zimbabwe, it was a very bad time for the citizens as can be expected whenever disaster strikes. For cyclone Idai, the incessant heavy rains continued for days to come.

Map of Manicaland Province, Zimbabwe, containing Chimanimani and Chipinge. Source: Google Maps.

To disaster prone areas such as Manicaland, in the Eastern highlands parts of Zimbabwe close to Mozambique, they faced the full brunt of this unforgiving cyclone. Indeed, they were hit hard, especially given the area is already known for its heavy rainfall. Consequently, the cyclone exacerbated everything. As a result, areas such as Chimanimani and Chipinge went through hell since they were the hardest hit and most affected. Cyclone Idai caused havoc as it wrecked everything standing in its way - both the human and animal life, as well as the infrastructure. It reduced everything to rubble. Needless to mention, it became a national disaster overnight.

women increasingly became targets of sexual gender-based violence from their male counterparts

The displacement of people is just half of the story. In fact, many people lost their innocent lives and, still now, some missing persons plus dead bodies have not yet been recovered. In our African culture it is a major cause of concern if one does not get the opportunity to get a proper burial to the next life.

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The disaster worsened Sustainable Development Goal 5: Gender equality (SDG5) of gender inequality between the sexes. This is because, when such things happen, the troubles of women are worsened. Some of these problems are in the form of access to menstrual products. Suffice to say, this was already a problem, which was then exacerbated by the cyclone Idai.

In cases of early warning systems ... women in rural areas were caught unawares, because they do not even own a handset

Also, in that same category of women there are sick and disabled individuals who were left even more lost as compared to other healthy and able-bodied females. The unfortunate part of it all is that the residents of these areas lost all their belongings to the raging cyclone Idai. In the same vein, they were left with nothing other than the clothes on their back. Notably, to the chagrin of the survivors, life still went on. That said, help had to be availed to them through local donations, government and civic society interventions. I vividly remember our Catholic church in Marondera, Mashonaland East donating clothes and blankets for the hordes of these people who had faced a great misfortune.

The affected area reduced to rubble. Credit: A. Phiri.

Worth noting is Sustainable Development Goal 13: Climate Action (SDG13). Women in marginalized societies need to have access to phones so that, in cases of early warning systems about weather conditions, they are well aware and abreast of the situation at hand. Many women in those rural areas were caught unawares, because they do not even own a handset. Furthermore, young girls in such areas are not given a chance to go to school, due to cultural reasons plus unalloyed poverty leading to shortage of money. All these woes tend to get worse when disaster strikes. To cap things off, Sustainable Development Goal 1: No Poverty (SDG1), Sustainable Development Goal 2: Zero Hunger (SDG2), Sustainable Development Goal 3: Good Health and Well-being (SDG3) are strongly faced and felt in these disaster-prone areas. Risk reduction can be made possible if the people in these areas are conscientised about the state of things. Over and above, these same women are responsible for fetching firewood and taking care of their families. That said, they need to be educated in order for disaster resilience to be achieved. Only this way can gender disparity be dealt away with effectively.

Issues did arise during the aftermath of the cyclone Idai, women increasingly became targets of sexual gender-based violence from their male counterparts, especially when getting the relief products and access to even water in the camps they were placed in. Undoubtedly, quality education – addressed in Sustainable Development Goal 4: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education - can go a long way in opening the eyes of the women on what needs to be done to be prepared for these kind of disasters.

projects on how to fare well in such times of need should be openly taught to women

In the same vein, projects on how to fare well in such times of need should be openly taught to women. How they can turn their tight positions - that is, the lemons into lemonade - through projects such as sewing reusable sanitary wear. Additionally, they can start projects that zero in on how plastic waste can be put to use like, for example, what the Chipinge aged population embarked on. They began using plastic waste to weave carpets and bags in a bid to curtail land pollution. All in all, there is need to have all hands on deck with regards to ensuring there is proper disaster management. Only this way can the overall effects of climate change be mitigated. Indeed, climate change is upon us, but so much can be done to prepare individuals in these vulnerable areas to be on watch. For all intents and purposes, the nexus between climate change and worsening gender equality cannot be disputed.


Abigirl Phiri is a DPhil candidate in commerce at the University of Zimbabwe. She works with Kumbekumbe Arts Trust to advocate for change and empowering youths to find their voices as SDG's advocates.

"What made you want to write this article, Abigirl?"

"I am very much interested in gender studies plus propelling gender justice to greater heights. Consequently, after attending a Young Women Rising Fellowship which enlightened me on how much climate change is exacerbating SDG5 of gender inequality. I then personally related to the dark time of Cyclone Idai were our church donated some stuff to these victims."

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