At the United Nations 2022 Climate Change Conference in Egypt, there are mounting calls for women to be guaranteed a principal role in setting the agenda and decision-making. One such woman attending COP27 is Laila Amili, director of Moroccan women’s rights NGO Ayadi Hurra (Mains Libres/ Free Hands) Organization and a leading women’s rights advocate and climate activist.
While the worsening climate crisis threatens us all, Laila has seen first-hand how women and girls in the Global South are especially vulnerable due to the interplay of social, economic, gender and cultural discrimination. Already frequently denied access to basic human rights, they are at even greater risk of sexual and gender-based violence due to extreme weather and environmental degradation, which is fuelling hunger, sickness, resource scarcity, conflict, and displacement.
Equality Now spoke to Laila about how climate change is affecting women and girls in Morocco, and what her hopes are for COP27.
What are some of the ways that the climate crisis in Morocco is disproportionately impacting women and girls?
Everyone is affected by climate change in Morocco, but predominantly women and especially women farmers. In rural communities and mountain regions, people live in demanding circumstances and face more profound climate injustice. Women contribute mainly to agricultural production and suffer disproportionately from economic hardships and illiteracy. This makes them more vulnerable to natural disasters and hunger.
Water is a big problem. In floods, women and girls don’t know how to swim. And when water isn’t secure at home, it is women and girls who struggle to bring it from distant places. Even escaping dry areas, we see men migrating to cities or other areas where water is available. But women stay in dry areas where there are conflicts and this is a reason why women suffer more.
It is harder for women to escape as they don’t have the financial means or independence to decide to migrate. It is even more difficult for girls who don’t have the means and ability to search for alternatives, unlike men who have options and can leave.
In the most polluted areas of Morocco, air pollutants have an impact on women’s health and cause breast and cervical cancer. Fetuses are being exposed to pollution and this can lead to congenital disabilities or miscarriage. We didn’t consider these aspects before, but now we see how this is having a great negative impact on women and girls.
How is climate change linked to child marriage?
There is a strong relationship between climate change and child marriage. Due to harsh climatic and natural conditions, young girls are dropping out of school. If a family can afford to send a child to school, they always prefer to educate the boy even if the girl’s grades are better. Communities believe that a boy should be empowered to support his family, whereas a girl doesn’t earn an income and is considered an extra mouth to feed so should be gotten rid of through marriage.
There is a saying in the Quran, “ to the male, a portion equal to that of two females,” and this reflects how society discriminates. People think a girl should be married at a young age to a man who will be financially responsible for her. Otherwise, she may bring shame on her family by getting pregnant out of wedlock. Families struggling with the changing climate and lack of resources are marrying their girls to older men, wealthy men, drug addicts, or just anyone available because they can’t cope with the added hardhsips.
You are attending COP27 – what do you want to see coming out of it?
This is my fifth participation in the COP climate summit. I attended COP22 in Marrakech in 2016, and went to later conferences in Bologna in Italy, and Bonn in Germany. The issue was that they didn’t take into consideration women’s competencies. Women weren’t included widely in negotiations and their participation was very weak.
In 2015, COP21 in Paris was important but had no real impact. There was the first real and meaningful discussion around gender and climate justice. But to what extent did they implement what was agreed on?
Now Climate Change Conference includes a full day focused on Women and Climate Justice, but what are the results? At COP27, I wish there to be real, meaningful inclusion of civil society, which can present people’s concerns and suggest solutions. We want our voices heard, both as CSOs and as women within civil society.
To tackle climate change, climate justice is required. Human rights must be respected, and living circumstances need to be enhanced for everyone, including women and girls in rural communities.
When we talk about climate justice between the Global North and South, the wealthy countries in the North live in prosperity and are the biggest polluters. They should respect the South, which is being most damaged by climate change-related disasters. And since poverty and vulnerability are wider among women, they are the group most harmed.
Our strength is to be present in Climate Change negotiations. We want to see actions and real discussions that benefit all people, especially those who are marginalized, and specifically women and girls. Women are active and smart, and they are also the victims of the climate crisis.
Our demand is that COP27 host people who are most affected by climate change and provide them with a platform to present their views during negotiations. We don’t accept excluding women. We don’t accept these conferences being a sham. We want actions, not speeches. We want to see and feel respect for human and women’s rights. We reject any exclusion because development can’t be achieved by excluding half of society.