In the shade of a great neem, the legendary tree from India whose foliage affords some protection from the blistering sun in Southern Honduras, 25 women from the community of Lange sit with Mary Robinson, the UN Special Envoy on Climate. With the temperature rising to almost 99 degrees Fahrenheit, the women share their pain and concerns in the wake of an intense drought that has decimated their rivers, crops, farm plots, and their hope.
In a beautifully improvised meeting space, they began with a formal presentation by Fundación Simiente on their coordination work and the efforts put forth to by the local women to address the El Niño phenomenon. The discussion soon opened up and became a fluid dialogue in which the women spoke openly about their situation and the pressing need for more resources to deal with the consequences of El Niño.
"It hasn't rained for five years. We don't go to wash clothes at the river anymore, because the river has dried up. Tomato and pepper crops are scarce, because there is no real rainy season anymore and it's just too hot; the plants dry up and we can't harvest corn, either", Cirila Alvarado explained, as the rest of the participants nodded along, her words speaking for all of them.
In the photograph: Cirila Alvarado
Dilcia Martínez Gómez spoke up too, and her case was no different: "There are 150 families here, and we are all facing the same problem. Climate change has meant that we have less food to eat: If we used to eat three meals per day, now we just have two. Sometimes our children go off to school without even a sip of coffee because we have nothing to give them... we women are affected the most."
Climate Change and Women
The impacts of climate change affect everyone in different ways and with differing severity. Nonetheless, gender discrimination makes women more vulnerable to the negative effects, especially in the case of rural and indigenous women whose living conditions and historic marginalization leaves them more exposed to hazards. In the case of Honduras, rural women receive less than 11% of the total credit granted in loans in the country; only 2 out of every 10 women in the rural area have their own land to cultivate, and 6 out of 10 live under the poverty line.
Last year, the Honduran Congress passed the Law for the National Solidarity Credit Program for Rural Women, Credimujer. This legislation provides benefits for over two million rural women in Honduras through loans to finance agricultural production. The credit program will promote actions for adaptation and mitigation for the effects of climate change, thus helping to build more resilient communities.
The passing of this proposal, which was promoted by 28 organizations and accompanied with advice from Oxfam, UN Women, and the National Women's Institute (INAM), is an important step towards providing loans and technical assistance for rural or landless women. No budget, however, has yet been allocated for the program.
Given the difficult situation that thousands of families in the dry corridor face, and the particularly bleak scenario for women, Mary Robinson recognized that the context goes beyond a simple humanitarian emergency, stating that, international integration is required “to overcome the crisis in Honduras, as it is an issue of humanitarian response, development, gender, and adaptation".
As she concluded her visit, Ms. Robinson recognized the strength and bravery of the women living in this area, and assured them that she would take their message to the decision-makers to push for measures in the short term that help to improve their conditions: "I realize that this reality of climate change that you face is also your greatest human rights challenge, as it is destroying your livelihoods and your water... All of you are leaders and represent networks within your communities, and you need improved local and national policies to help your communities to adapt".