Climate change in Kenya and its impact on gender

A woman in Budalangi wades through the floods after salvaging a few household items from her house. Photo: Henry Owino
A woman in Budalangi wades through the floods after salvaging a few household items from her house. Photo: Henry Owino

The threats of climate change affect women differently from men due to their social roles and responsibilities.

These effects vary from regions, generations, income groups, abilities and occupations. This is why the subject matter has to be taken seriously by both stakeholders and shareholders across the country.

The concept of climate change and gender is well known and has been differentiated from hunger and sex respectively. For those who are not familiar with the terms, climate change is about gradual alteration of weather patterns of place from its destined predictions to extreme temperatures.

For example, prolonged drought and rains may be a recipe of famine and floods resulting to hunger among other disasters. Very high or low temperatures of unusual experiences can cause diseases, havoc among other discomforts in society.

On the other hand, gender is defined as the social construction of the roles and responsibilities of men and women, boys and girls given by every society, and varies from one community to another.

For instance, while the Maasai women are responsible for constructing Manyattas (houses), among the Luhya and Luo communities, this is a man’s role.

Gender roles

Therefore gender defines what is expected, allowed and valued in a man, woman, boy or girl in a particular context, is dynamic and changes over time. When there are differences between gender roles ascribed to men and women, gender inequality may arise.

Particularly, Kenya is a patriarchal society and traditionally men are privileged in many ways that often perpetuates discrimination in access to opportunities for women. Addressing gender inequality requires positive discrimination in favour of women.

In politics, especially public offices and academics, this has been achieved to certain extend but the struggle continues in other quotas. Women lack proper representation in scientific issues leaving them behind on vital decision making forums that requires their input.

There have been repeated calls to improve the participation of women in the representation of parties in bodies established under the Convention and the Kyoto Protocol where women are underrepresented.

Legal instruments

For example, international and regional treaties like the Convention on Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Beijing Platform of Action and the African Women Maputo Protocol and Commitments have put obligations on State Parties.

In addition it has emphasized recognition and empowerment of women to bring them into full participation on equal basis with men. The hindrance to implementation of these inputs is lack of political will from parliament and executive dominated by men.

Gender and Climate Change is now a standing agenda item in United Nations Framework Convention (UNFCCC) negotiations. The Paris Agreement on Climate acknowledges gender equality and empowerment of women and intergenerational equality.

According to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), there exists robust evidence for increased gender inequality. This is in regard to weather events and climate-related disasters intertwined with socioeconomic, institutional, cultural and political drivers that perpetuate differential vulnerabilities.

“Men and women have different access to assets and resources required to respond to Climate Change, including finance, land, education, health and ability to participate in decision making systems hence the inequality,” states the Fifth IPCC report.

The Constitution 2010 also provides for affirmative action for women through the “two third Gender Rule”.  However, studies indicate that women bear the brunt of poverty and inequality in all spheres; political, economic and social.


For example, various studies indicate six percent of agriculture land in Kenya is owned by women. This means women make up between 75 percent and 90 percent of agriculture labour force. Consequently, 54 percent of rural women and girls as well as 63 percent of urban women and girls still live below the poverty line.

Even female-headed households are poor at 42 percent compared to 30 percent of those headed by men. To balance this inequality and empower women, Kenya government has put affirmative action programmes in place such as the Women Enterprise and Uwezo funds.

“These programmes are targeted at empowering women by providing them with resources for income generating activities and access 30 percent of procurement in all public entities,” says the report.

According to Winfred Lichuma, Chairperson National Gender and Equality Commission (NGEC), the Kenya Climate Change Act, 2016 articulates guiding values to ensure equality and social inclusion in allocation of effort, costs and benefits to cater for special needs, vulnerabilities, capabilities, and responsibilities.

“The Climate Change Act 2016 obligates the national and county governments to mainstream climate change responses into development planning agenda, decision making and implementation,” Lichuma explained.

“The Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Natural Resources whose docket climate change affairs falls under, is expected to formulate a national gender and intergenerational responsive public education and awareness strategy on climate change,” NGEC chairperson disclosed.

“Also implementation of the programme is to be approved by the National Climate Change Council (NCCC) established under the law,” she added.

Lichuma said there are five major plans to effectively integrate gender into climate change actions at national and county governments levels to ensure the policy works. One of the policies is free access to and analyse any situation before programming to identify the impact of climate change on men and women, boys and girls.

Gender Budgeting

Second is ensuring gender responsive budgets to support gender-targeted interventions at National and County government levels. Third is to disaggregate data by sex, age, ability, and quintile to enhance monitoring of implementation processes.

The fourth point is including gender responsive strategies in all interventions and last but not least is to share gender responsive best practices across all counties and communities in the country.

Lichuma emphasized that women and girls are always worse hit and suffer more in areas with severe climate change experiences. She explained this why the five policies have been put in place as guidelines check on the imbalance.

“When flood comes and submerge houses, women are the ones who bear the greatest burden of it all. Reason being the nature of feminine, finds themselves as the shoe wearer in such situations,” she explained.

“In most circumstances, men usually run away for safety leaving behind their wives and children to scamper to safety on their own. Point in case is the famous lady from Kano plains, Kisumu County shouting out for help from government,” Lichuma noted.

Lichuma argued the lady’s husband escaped after sensing danger without considering his family members safety. But the wife stayed put lamenting on loses including the husband’s disappearance which has since then become mockery ring tone on most mobile phones.