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Tuesday, May 26, 2020

The face of climate change is poverty and loss of dignity: Ghana leader Samia Nkrumah

"Until women enter the arena alongside men with full force in land governance, change won't happen," said Nkrumah, President of Pan-African Center in Ghana.

Written by Abhimanyu Chakravorty | New Delhi | Updated: September 20, 2019 11:56:10 am
Ghanaian leader Samia Nkrumah at the COP14 to the United Nations Convention on Combating Desertification (UNCCD) in India. (Source: Abhimanyu Chakravorty)

“We lose dignity if we don’t have land capable of feeding us and climate change is making it worse”

The piercing clarity of her words is firmly anchored in her vision to support climate justice in the face of drought and climate change. Women, who are at the frontline of the struggle to salvage degraded land, are at the center of it all, as equal stakeholders. Samia Nkrumah, the first woman in Ghana’s political history to lead a major political party, is at the forefront of the West African country’s efforts to mainstream the gender dimension into the socio-political and economic conversations on land use.

“Combating drought is a moral question. We want social justice to take priority. Until women enter the arena alongside men with full force in land governance, change won’t happen,” said Nkrumah, daughter of Ghana’s first President Kwame Nkrumah and President of Pan-African Center in Ghana.

Krumah, who was one of the panelists at the Drought Preparedness Day hosted by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), spoke to the at the United Nations Convention on Combating Desertification (UNCCD) on her vision for gender mainstreaming in the context of land degradation and drought.

Excerpts from the interview

Q. You are the first woman to head a major political party in Ghana and also considered as someone who passionately roots for women’s rights. What has been your experience as a social activist and politician in Ghana with regards to gender equality in your country? 

A. In many parts of Africa, and even in my own country, we always had very strong women. If you look at the history of our independence, women were a part and parcel of the struggle. And they were not just well-educated women, but petty traders, farmers who actually embraced the idea of the national liberation and helped the men. I can recall, my father was one of the leaders of the independence movement, and it was the women activists, traders who actually took care of him. When he wanted to build a house, (he eventually gave it to the state) it was actually the women who co-funded the construction of the house and I am a living testimony of that because that’s the house I was born in. When he gave the house to the state, those women were very angry. My mother tells me that a big delegation of women came to say “How can you? Had we known you were giving the house to the state, we wouldn’t have contributed. You made us pay taxes to the state.” But this is a real life story and it shows how without the help of many women, even male leaders couldn’t have supported themselves.

Q. There is a dearth of women leading climate change movements across the globe. But things are slowly changing now. What should women do to make themselves heard in decision-making in this patriarchal society?

A. There are generally more men leading than women, this is how things have been happening. That is why we don’t see many women leaders against climate change. However, on the ground, there are many women working on the issue because as we keep saying, it is women who mostly have to find the means to feed their families. The damage that climate change does is immense. You have to think of poverty, you have to think of a reduction in agriculture productivity, you have to think of women. Because if you see our rural communities, it is women who are cultivating small plots of land, it is women who are gathering firewood, it is women who are collecting fodder. Women are engaged in this activity and have been forever and they have to provide for their families. I consider all these women as leaders. The damage that climate change is doing is not a new phenomenon, but we only started talking about it recently. I am confident, that in the years to come, women are going to be as vocal as men. If this doesn’t happen, change is not going to happen. We need more ordinary people speaking up.

Q. What are some of the challenges that land degradation and climate change impose on people, specifically women? What are your hopes from this UNCCD COP14? 

A. The face of climate change is poverty and loss of dignity and that manifests itself into various things: including desperate action, like marrying off young women, for instance. I know this is culture-specific because in some parts of the world we are battling with that even now, but we are mounting a serious campaign to stop child marriage. Essentially, what we are saying is this: When people are poor, desperate, they lose their dignity and they do things they wouldn’t otherwise. What I hope comes out of all these discussions here is that it should translate into policies and legislations. Because in this age of democracy, it is rule of law that guides us. If all of what we’re saying here is not enacted into policies and legislation then we will be screaming for a little while longer. The benefit of these gatherings is that it inspires some of us to lead movements. Let us treat our earth the respect it deserves.

Q. Are there any specific results that Ghana has been able to achieve in terms of gender mainstreaming?

A. We have powerful women indeed. Ghana has passed some legislations like the domestic violence law, and few other legislations to strengthen our position. There are few laws pertaining to ownership rights as far as land is concerned, which we have to pass. We have strong women but it’s true that our strength hasn’t been reflected in participation at different levels and not just politically but even in businesses, and other sectors. There is a deficit of equal participation. We admit that and that is why some of us want to be counted. If the majority of our population today in Africa are youth, then we also know that there are a lot of young women who form a majority of the population and we need to have that reflected in everything we do.

Q. What can India learn from Ghana in gender parity?

A. We can teach each other, we have been exchanging notes for a long time. We were together in the Non-Aligned Movement. We were founders of the NAM and Ghanian independence has been inspired by India’s non-violent movement to achieve freedom. We can learn from each other but the bottom line is this: more women have to be out there. This is a given I think with this new generation. If our mission is pro-people and social justice, then it automatically includes equality and including every voice, so the modern way to think for the years to come is for men and women to do it together.

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