Democratic Republic of Congo Climate Women Take On Deforestation & Clean Energy Needs

The second largest rainforest in the world lies cradled in the Congo Basin of Central Africa. It represents more than 60% of the African continents total rainforest area, and holds within it an almost unfathomable diversity of life. However, like many of the Earths most precious places, this center of immense cultural and ecologic importance faces escalating deforestation and threats from pressures including fuel wood collection, timber and coal production, unsustainable agricultural practices, and social and political unrest.

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For more than a year, the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network International (WECAN International) has been collaborating with women in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) South Kivu Province as part of the ‘Women for Forests and Fossil Fuel/Mega Dam/Mining Resistance’ program. Through a series of online trainings and on-the-ground strategy and action sessions, WECAN International and local partner SAFECO are providing an arena to address regional socio-economic need, support women in their role as community leaders, and confront critical environmental issues by building local solutions with a global vision.

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WECAN International and SAFECO led the most recent three-day training in February 2015, bringing together twenty women and seven men from ten different villages around the Itombwe rainforest. The DRC Climate Solutions Training is part of an ongoing program held in the area with the aim of growing the knowledge and capacities of the local, indigenous women to create and enact place-based climate action plans. Building on previous sessions, the February training covered topics including deforestation in the Itombwe forest, forest protection and restoration techniques, and the use of Improved Cooking Stoves as means of reducing pressures on the forest and improving family health and wellbeing.

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During the first session, participants engaged in conversations about the importance of trees and their relationship to climate change, focusing specifically on the immense value of native species and why exploitative practices such as logging are so detrimental to the health of the rainforest, the livelihood of their communities, and the global environment. Crucially, the group discussed and observed how they can work as guardians of the forest and as climate leaders without sacrificing their livelihoods or access to the diverse gifts provided by the land.

In connecting the lives, stories, and experiences of the local women to a larger climate change narrative, the facilitators hoped to help the women see the great power and agency they hold.

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Day two was spent visiting a small nursery where women learned techniques for starting and maintaining a tree nursery to contribute to reforestation efforts. Participants planted over 100 trees and discussed how these trees contribute to water purification, soil fertility, carbon sequestration, biodiversity protection, sustainable food production, medicinal plant access, and so much more.

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“From these trees we expect to fight climate change by protecting wild ecosystems, as well as satisfy our needs of fuel wood, medicine, and timber production,” explained training participate Yena Nasoka.

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The third and final day was dedicated to discussions and practicums surrounding the use of Improved Cooking Stoves. Participants learned about the characteristics of the stoves, which facilitate more energy efficient, rapid cooking and reduce the amount of smoke polluting living spaces, lungs, and the surrounding air. Because of their improved efficiency, the stoves require less fuel wood, which can help reduce deforestation rates in a region where the collection of wood for cooking and light pressures the local environment.

During discussions, women expressed excitement about the use the Improved Cooking Stoves for cooking and to contribute to forest conservation, but explained their concerns about not having a substitute for open fires used for light at night. WECAN International and SAFECO have begun the next phase of the program, which includes arranging for small hand-held solar lights to be brought into the region for light at night and for the women to develop their own small businesses selling and maintaining the solar lights.

“I’m excited by WECAN’s holistic approach to bring solar light so we can have light at night and Improved Cooking Stoves. This will work in our region,” reflected one woman, Butunga Nalisa, on the final day.

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Participants in this and previous WECAN trainings have formed a local conservation committee to insure that the progress made during training sessions will continue to grow and take root in their region. Through the committee they aim to share what they have learned with other community members, work to document and denounce deforestation, and create a collective voice to speak out when fellow citizens or local authorities facilitate unauthorized timber and charcoal production.

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Following the February session, the committee of training participants held a meeting with local chiefs, government officials, and the WECAN DRC coordinator to present their suggestions and requests.

Their recommendations for the protection and restoration of community wellbeing and the precious Itombwe rainforest are the following:

  • Implement laws and regulations to prevent forest fires and deforestation by holding guilty groups and individuals accountable for their actions.
  • Provide diverse tree seeds to local people and organizations involved in the process of planting trees.
  • Support and create campaigns to make others aware of the importance of forest protection and tree planting, and to promote the use of Improved Cooking Stoves in all villages.
  • Extend environmental education to community members of all ages.
  • Uplift and implement Traditional Ecological Knowledge.
  • Support local villages in getting cheaper solar panels and solar lamps to charge phones and provide light at night.

The WECAN/SAFECO partnership will work to help the communities surrounding Itombwe bring these recommendations to fruition, and will continue to strive to support, encourage, and strengthen the women leaders forging the way.

For an inside look into the recent Climate Solutions Training in the DRC, check out this short video created by the participants: 

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By Emily Arasim, WECAN International Communications Coordinator

Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network Middle East/North Africa Region Training 2015

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WOMEN’S EARTH AND CLIMATE ACTION NETWORK MIDDLE EAST NORTH AFRICA REGION TRAINING 2015

Imene Hadjer Bouchair, WECAN MENA Region Co-Coordinator

 Last month the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) held its second online training for the Middle East and North African (MENA) region.  The training was held over a period of four days and included nearly 35 participants from all over the region whose backgrounds varied widely, stemming from students to climate experts and activists. The purpose of the training was to build knowledge and capacity of women in order to carry out projects in the field of climate change and to implement sustainable action plans, as well to confront the social injustice of climate change.  We are working to ensure that people living in the communities most negatively affected by climate change are able to better adapt to the issues that their communities are and will be facing as global warming increases.

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Module 1

In this first part of the training participants learned about the importance of climate change education and different techniques that can be used to teach others.  This presentation was delivered by Osprey Orielle Lake, the Executive Director of Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network.  She stressed the importance of outreach to inform others of climate justice and the urgency in which all people should be taking climate action. She spoke about the disproportionate impacts of climate change on women, but also how women are central to solutions, and gave many inspiring examples of women-led projects. Imene Hadjer Bouchair, the WECAN MENA Co-Coordinator, talked about climate education on a regional context.  Although climate change affects a wide variety of places, it does so in different way depending on the area.  Due to this, it is crucial to understand that region specific plans must be made in order to address problems in that area.  The floor was then opened up for questions and answers as well as discussions and debates surrounding these topics.  The discussions were animated and lively as the diversity of those involved gave a host of perspectives and points of view.

 Module 2

The second day of the training began with presentations, discussions and debates surrounding three major topics: Renewable Energy; Climate outreach through networking, media, messaging and storytelling; Environmental campaigning.  These topics were divided into two major parts each presented by different speakers.  Osprey Orielle Lake opened the first part with a presentation about fossil fuels and renewable energy resources.  She explained the difference between “real solutions” and “false solutions” and how these ideas can lead to true sustainable change or can lead to even bigger environmental problems and social injustice.  Following Osprey’s presentation, Fadoua Brour the MENA Co-Coordinator delivered a presentation about renewable energies in the MENA region and how to cultivate these sources to use them as replacement for fossil fuel sources.  After learning these new topics hearty discussion with questions and answers followed in order to develop a deeper understanding of how these real solutions can be used within the MENA region.

Fadoua Brour Co-Coordinator, WECAN North African Region

Fadoua Brour
Co-Coordinator, WECAN North African Region

Part two of the second day began with a statement from Carmel Hilal from Jordan.  She said “There is a real problem of economic savings. In my country, there is a complete monopoly over the solar energy system exploitation which keeps the prices so high, so basically, if I wanted a solar system for my home that would supply 20 to 25% of our electrical needs the pay-back period with the current prices is, it becomes unaffordable by citizens.” These issues plague many communities who would like to invest in renewable energy but do not find it feasible.  By training women to make their own solar panels and install them it would be less of a burden for people to convert to solar energy.  A presentation on environmental campaigning, advocacy, climate outreach and messaging was given by guest speaker, Safaa’ Al-Jayyoussi, a Climate Advocate and the Greenpeace Arab World Regional Manager.  Properly communicating with others fosters the relationships needed to be successful while trying to make work for climate action.

Safaa’ Al-Jayyoussi Arab World Regional Manager, Green Peace

Safaa’ Al-Jayyoussi
Arab World Regional Manager, Green Peace

Module 3

Module three started off with Imene Hadjer Bouchair giving a presentation about water issues in the MENA region. She pointed out many of the water problems the MENA region suffers from and the multitude of other issues that occur as a result of those problems. In Africa and India women walk six to eight hours for water, a great example showing how much they are influenced by environmental changes. It also shows how important it is to include women in the planning of water consumption and she mentioned what has been done to eradicate some of the problems.  She ended the presentation by offering some solutions to a few of the problems that the region faces.  This presentation sparked participant from Morocco Touriya Atarhouch and she commented with the following, “To produce energy locally, I think the purification of waste water by plants has to be developed to save soils and ground water locally.”  Moments as such provide insight into how pressing it is to have ways for women to collaborate and be a part of the planning process.

Imene Hadjer Bouchair Co-Coordinator, WECAN MENA Region

Imene Hadjer Bouchair
Co-Coordinator, WECAN MENA Region

The module continued with a talk by Osprey Orielle Lake about biodiversity, food security and forestation, she gave many examples of projects implemented by women in various places around the world.  These projects are linked to maintain food security, biodiversity and forestation.  She closed the module by talking about the rights of nature, and explained that current regulatory laws cannot stop the harm being done to the environment. The only way to guarantee that the environment would truly be protected we would have to switch from a property-based legal framework, to a rights of nature framework as this is essential to achieve a systematic change in how humans relate to and respect Nature. Debates during the two hour session were filled with questions, comments and answers about all of the topics that were presented broadening the scope of what was learned.

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 Module 4

The WECAN MENA Online Training was closed with a 4th module that provided participants the opportunity to share ideas, suggestions and proposals for on-the-ground projects to be implemented in the next few months in the MENA region.  Women were also encouraged to share their stories, experiences and projects that they’ve previously worked on in their countries. The sharing of these stories helps women with similar goals collaborate and learn from each other in order to make their efforts even more effective. The session was truly enriching and provided the MENA region participants with priceless knowledge the preparedness to implement on-the-ground activities that will help shape the future of Climate Change Crisis management in the MENA Region.  As this is known to be one of the most vulnerable regions WECAN will be there to support the region to contribute in building the climatic future of the MENA region.

We would like to thank the presenters and participants for their focus, hard work and open hearts.  It is critical that we continue to build networks of women to prepare them to combat global warming and related climate impacts.  Women in the U.S. and worldwide are a force to be reckoned with, it is time to join together to make this force work towards climate action.