South Africa: Rural women make themselves heard in Durban (IRIN)

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More than 500 women from across Africa arrived in Durban last week, chanting and singing. While heads of state and negotiators gathered behind closed doors at the 17th Conference of Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the women gathered at the University of KwaZulu Natal to voice their concerns in an alternative “People’s Space.” They sang, “They are refusing to sign the deal! We want a legally binding agreement with sanctions. Men, you don’t know what you want!”

The Rural Women’s Assembly of Southern Africa is a network of women’s groups from a number of African countries, including Mozambique, Swaziland, Lesotho, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Burundi. The women met in Durban, joining civil society meetings outside the conference. Their goal was to raise awareness about the impact of climate change at the grassroots level.

Ana Paula Tauacale represented the National Union of Farmers of Mozambique. She says, “[Climate change] affects us as women because we are the main food producers and we depend on the rain. We are not like men, who can migrate to find work elsewhere.”

The Durban conference included substantial participation from NGOs. But many on the outside of the conference felt their interests were not sufficiently represented. Mercia Andrews is director of the Trust for Community Outreach and Education, part of the Rural Women’s Assembly of Southern Africa. She says, “There is hardly any or no relationship between the conference and social movements. We are saying … there should be no negotiations without us.”

More than 6,000 people took to the Durban streets on December 3 in a Global Day of Action. They called for climate justice and for a legally binding mechanism on reducing emissions. The protesters marched through the city to the conference centre. They waved banners reading, “Stop Cooking Africa” and “Listen to the people, not polluters.”

Inside the conference hall, negotiators from developing countries urged developed countries to commit to emissions reductions. But they faced many frustrations. Rashmi Mistry is climate change advocacy coordinator for Oxfam South Africa. She noted, “It’s really frustrating to developing countries that developed countries are not increasing their ambitions.” She added that time is running out, saying, “If we continue along this path, it’s been estimated by the International Energy Agency that in the next five years, we won’t be able to prevent the worst onset of climate change.”