Women in rural regions of East Africa including Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Tanzania are highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. These women are vulnerable because of traditional gender roles within their societies. Gendered societal barriers and a failure in policy implementation regarding climate change compound the vulnerability of women to impacts of climate change. Their capabilities as individuals are also overlooked despite having a large bandwidth of knowledge in environmental, social, and economic impacts of climate change with untapped potential in creating innovative solutions.
The responsibilities women have in East African rural communities include water and firewood collection, distribution of resources, livestock care, food production, familial care, labor in farming, and much more. These are all components that are in direct confrontation with climate change impacts. One of the main consequences of climate change is resource scarcity, and due to the role of women focused on resource collection, distribution, and harvesting, women are overworked at times of climate and environmental crises.
Women living in rural regions in East Africa have many responsibilities that tie into their gender, societal expectations, and nurturing expectations. As most of these roles hinge on a dependency on natural resources, the demand on women’s labor increases and their high workload is further stretched by the negative effects of climate change. In the Feminist Archives’ Women in Action report of 2009, the article “Water and women in East Africa” by Annabelle Waitutu, featured Veronica Nzoki, a resident of Endui in Eastern Kenya who spoke of the commitment that collecting water is, as the women in the village will, “Leave at six o’clock in the morning to the nearest spring. Find a long queue. By the time we draw water and get back home, it is well past mid-day”. Due to the time constraints resulting from such experiences, women are unable to pursue other forms of work, education, innovations or discussions regarding climate impacts in the community.
It was apparent that traditional gender roles, societal constructs, and a failure of political protection have created an imbalance of power in rural communities within Eastern Africa. The cultural and social implications of traditional gender roles are constrictive for women and put incredible pressure on them to continue to nurture and be productive, while being excluded from the decision-making process and activities that provide solutions to the negative effects of climate change.