Women and girls are disproportionately impacted by climate change but excluded when it comes to tackling the crisis. ActionAid, an international charity that works with women and girls living in poverty, is working with local women leaders in Cambodia to make sure their voices are heard.
Now they are calling for the status quo to be challenged when it comes to tackling the climate crisis. ActionAid’s campaign “She is the answer” highlights how women and girls are disproportionately impacted by climate change – and why they must no longer be excluded as communities and nations make plans to build resilience and adapt.
With the support of the charity, a network of “Women Champions” in Cambodia are speaking out and speaking up when vital decisions are being made, both at community and government level. Women Champions are helping villages and farms protect themselves by setting up early warning systems, building defences and planting protective mangrove barriers.
They are also helping to create floating schools, spreading knowledge of sustainable farming practices and educating the next generation in new livelihoods that are less likely to be impacted by climate change.
For places like Cambodia, climate change is not a problem reserved for the next generation – it is happening right now and it is putting millions of lives and livelihoods in danger. Much of the country’s land is a floodplain within the basin of the Mekong River, and during the monsoon season, there is flooding and rivers overflow. However, factors connected to climate change – such as rising sea levels, unpredictable seasons and erratic rainfall – have been contributing to more intense storms, floods and droughts. Extreme weather is causing depleted fish stocks and crop failures, pushing families who rely solely on fishing and farming for food and income deeper into poverty.
In the world’s poorest countries, it is women and girls who bear the brunt when disaster strikes because they have less social, economic and political power. Women and girls tend to work in industries that are vulnerable to extreme weather like farming and fishing. Following a flood, one of the first coping strategies of families is to take girls out of school to save costs and allow the girls to help out at home or work.
It is women and girls who are responsible for walking long distances to fetch fresh drinking water when it becomes unavailable, and they are more likely to be on the receiving end of domestic violence which increases when emergencies hit. On top of this, few women are taught vital skills such as how to swim or to climb trees, and as a result, more women and girls tend to die in disasters too.
Samphy Eng from ActionAid Cambodia works with Women Champions. She says, “When disaster strikes, we know that women and girls are disproportionately impacted, yet they continue to be excluded when decisions are made. It is so important that we challenge traditional patriarchal structures – we must champion women leaders and make sure their voices are heard so that women and girls are no longer marginalised. Only then can communities truly thrive in our new world altered by climate change. The Women Champions I work with give me hope and I would love to see the network grow.”
Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab adds, “It is clear that women in some of the world’s poorest countries are hit hardest by our changing climate. Thanks to the generosity of the British public, Action Aid’s appeal will provide vital help for women on the front line of climate change in Cambodia for years to come.
“Donations are being doubled by the government through UK Aid Match, meaning even greater impact.”
Three Women Champions:
- Varou Mat is a nursery school assistant and her husband is a fisherman. “When there is a storm raging, I am so worried,” she says. “I am afraid that when he comes back, we will have no money.” She says women in the community rely mainly on fishing. “If fishing is suspended, there’s no income or jobs,” she explains. “They have no choice but to force their children to drop out of school to work in the factory to earn some money.” Since receiving ActionAid training and becoming a Woman Champion, Varou Mat has been encouraging her fellow villagers to pursue other sources of food and income, such as growing their own vegetables and fruit trees, as well as raising chickens. “I explain to them the benefits, as it costs us nothing. We can use leftover rice as food for the chickens, for example.” Varou Mat has also demanded that the local authorities upgrade the village’s road and sewage system to withstand floods more effectively. She says that because of the Women Champions network, during local meetings women now feel, “brave to speak up about their problems, their needs and what they want.”
- Hok is a farmer and her family’s crop has been destroyed by prolonged droughts and subsequent flash flooding. Like most people in her village, Hok has taken out numerous loans to make ends meet. This year, she raised money alongside other Women Champions to rehabilitate an irrigation canal so that her community can continue growing rice during the dry season. Hok explains, “What motivates me to do the work I am doing is the common interest. If we build irrigation canals, we can grow vegetables and raise animals – and it can feed us and the generation to come. As a Woman Champion, I am able to improve my community’s knowledge about health, disasters and domestic violence,” she continues. “I am actually quite tired. However, I would do whatever it takes to help improve my community’s living conditions as we are still struggling.”
- Pak Pov is a village chief and has been a Woman Champion for three years. A widow who has raised her children alone, she earns a living as a farmer and also works in a salt field. Pak Pov says erratic and heavy rains have made salt production very hard over the last few years, meaning that none of the workers is making money. She says, “Whenever natural disasters occur, there are many negative impacts on women and children. For example, when the flood comes in, it is very difficult for pregnant women to travel, women lose their jobs and children are not able to go to school.” As a Woman Champion, she gives training sessions on farming, sharing seeds, preparing freshwater reservoirs for irrigation and replenishing local mangroves. Pak Pov says that the training she received from ActionAid helped her to become a village chief. “My goal is to expand the network of women and for them to become leaders in the community,” she says.
ActionAid’s UK Aid Match campaign “She is the answer” is running from now until 4 June. To find out more about how you can support this campaign and women’s leadership, go to https://www.actionaid.org.uk/donate/rg/donate-today-double-impact.