Malawi is vulnerable to climate change, but its women are strong

The need to respond to climate change is urgent as it’s already having enormous impacts on Malawi.

The country has experienced intensified floods and droughts year on year, straining its agriculture-based economy. Malawian farmers are now experiencing longer dry spells, accompanied by more intense flooding due to changing weather patterns. 

Hailstorms have increased in duration and intensity, accompanied by strong winds, destroying crops that many depend on for both income and food. Not only has the magnitude of floods increased, but also the areas affected: presently 15 districts are categorised as flood-disaster prone, compared to only 9 out of 28 in 2014.

There is no better example of the impacts of climate change than Cyclone Idai which hit in March 2019 leaving 60 dead, over 600 people injured, and about 1,000 displaced, with an estimated £220 million in damages.

The cyclone also illustrates people’s vulnerability to climate change, where months spent growing staple crops was wiped out instantaneously as the cyclone destroyed fields. Events like this underscore the critical need for increased climate resilience: the ability to resist the shocks coming with natural disasters. 

Trocaire’s recent report “Women taking the Lead: Defending Human Rights and the Environment” underlined the disproportionate effect these changes have on women. It found that globally, women are 14 times more likely than men to die during natural disasters.

The report highlights the increased risk of young girls entering into early marriage as a result of climate pressures, and an increase of 20-30% in human trafficking as a result of environmental disasters. Another recent Trocaire report ‘Building Resilience and Shaping the future – Lesson Learned from the experiences of Cyclone Idai in Southern Malawi’ found that women and children made up 60% of the people displaced by the disaster.

The CCPM has worked with communities to develop responses to the climate challenges they face through solutions that blend traditional knowledge and modern technology. This has resulted in thousands of Malawians improving their access to food, water and energy.

As part of that process the CCPM recognises the importance of working with women and girls to ensure their voices are represented in local structures so that both their experiences and solutions are integrated into responses to climate challenges. To date the CCPM has empowered 333 women and girls to take up leadership positions such as Lead Farmers, Community Vets and members or Chairs of local committees. 

With hundreds of women now in leadership roles, they are increasingly speaking on behalf of women in their communities, relaying their experiences of the impacts of climate change and proposing their own solutions to it. They are figureheads, they are empowered to make decisions and receive leadership training. They are the ones who have made the CCPM a success and their leadership provides an example for how other communities can address climate change. 

Tackling climate change in the 21st century requires a fundamental shift in the mind-set in Malawi but also around the world. The women of Malawi need to be heard.