Fredrick Mugira, December 08, 2021 

In the Kayoro ‘A’ sub-county, in eastern Uganda, the water table is very high. Compounded by regular flooding, households in this area construct pit latrines that regularly collapse, some injuring users. 

However, an organisation, Women Climate Centers International, is helping women there — that bear climate change’s brunt, to construct permanent ecosan latrines that are resilient to this challenge. 

“These ecosans are just like eight feet deep. And that is shallow enough. It is constructed permanently with bricks and divided into two. At the top, you have two squat holes and one superstructure. But one squat hole is used at a time. When it fills up, you swap to another one,” narrates Godliver Businge, a smart technology trainer with Women Climate Centers International.

This technology involves the use of ash, which drains the feces. After six to twelve months, this fecal matter turns into organic manure. The center helps women to apply generated manure in their gardens. This bio-intensive farming enables households to increase production, leading to economic empowerment.  

This is one of the initiatives that Women Climate Centers International implements in eastern Uganda, parts of Kenya, and Tanzania, helping to build the resilience of communities and ecosystems to climate change impacts.

It concentrates on environmental conservation, capacity building women on various ways of taking care of the environment; bio-intensive farming promoting smart, efficient agricultural techniques that use little water such as sack gardens, cone gardens, and moist gardens, among others. 

Rosemary Atieno, the Kenya country lead for Women Climate Centers International (with a stick) training the women on how to make a moist garden.

The third thematic pillar focuses on water, sanitation, and hygiene, training women in different smart technologies, including the construction of rainwater harvesting tanks, bio-sand water filters, energy-saving stoves, fireless cookers, and solar cookers. 

It also empowers women in leadership skills to take the lead in everything they do. 

Through these programs, the organisation empowers local grassroots women to adapt to climate change’s ever-changing effects and challenges as it builds an economic space for them.

Up to 5000 women in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania are currently being supported under this initiative.  

Situation critical 

Tororo, where the center is headquartered, is one of the areas in Uganda prone to climate calamities, including floods and drought, the reason; Businge says forced Women Climate Centers International to base there. 

Like in other parts of the world, several people in East Africa are having their lives torn apart — increasingly losing their lives and properties due to climate change. Local communities such as those in Kayoro ‘A’ continue to bear the burden of climate change, yet they are the minor contributors.

A placard at COP26. Photo by Fredrick Mugira

Cognisant of this, Hajra Mukasa Comfort, the acting country director of Women Climate Centers International, says they want to make sure all the solutions to the climate change problem originate from affected communities, “and then together we co-create solutions.”  

This, she says, “would turn communities from being the burden bearers of the climate change into solution providers to the prevailing climate change.”

This way, the center is enabling communities to come up with local adaptation and mitigation mechanisms that eventually become part of their daily life.

“Ultimately in 10 years to come, the women that we support can thrive in the face of climate change, not just to survive,”

Hajra Mukasa Comfort, the acting country director of Women Climate Centers International,

Women Climate Centers International’s history ranges back some four years ago when a number of the African women who had local organisations in their various countries came together to have small climate hubs. The hubs are meant to help women access climate change information that has already been broken down for easy understanding at the community level.  

“For women, it’s not about carbon footprints; it’s not about net zero. It’s about we are lacking food on our tables. What is happening? We are having a drought, what is happening. We are having floods; what is happening,” notes Rosemary Atieno, the Kenya country lead for Women Climate Centers International. 

Atieno notes that for this reason, they needed to help local women understand causes and solutions to climate change.

“So, we sat down and agreed amongst ourselves that we needed to start women climate centers international,” she notes. 

Garden preparation by women supported by Women Climate Centers International

First women’s climate center in the region  

Within about six months, the center purchased land in Tororo and put up the first women’s climate center in the region.

Housed on a four-acre piece of land, with a building and an ecosan toilet, the Tororo women’s climate center engages community dialogues to take community members through a series of attitude changes.

“We go through our local way of collecting data so that we know when the floods are likely to affect us. What happened during those floods? What do you think changed? Then after that, we analyze the data locally. Then we chart a way forward with the community,” says Atieno

The center exists to co-create solutions with communities to easily replicate solutions that can quickly be done yet create a significant impact.

Changing lives 

Linnet Obonyo, a mother of four and community health worker, is one of the women who have benefited from Kenya’s climate hub. She says the community training center has transformed her life.

“I now grow my vegetables, enough to feed my family, and I sell the extra,” notes Obonyo. As a result, she can now save some money to pay for her children’s education.

 “I used to spend 100 [Kenya shillings] daily on vegetables, but now I save it. This is what I now use to purchase school items for my children,”

Linnet Obonyo, a mother of four and community health worker,

Beatrice Athieno, a Ugandan widow and mother of three, is a member of the COVID19 team at Women Climate Centers International. First, she was taught how to manufacture soap. Now, communities use her soap to wash hands to prevent the spread of Coronavirus. 

“I use income from soap sales to pay for my daughter’s fees in high school,” narrates Athieno, further revealing that she is also using the energy-saving stove that uses less firewood and doesn’t leave her kitchen filled with smoke. “So I no longer waste time collecting firewood,” she insists. 

Women learning how to make fireless cookers for energy saving

Amplifying local women voices

Elaine McCarty, the co-director of Women’s Climate Center’s International, hopes to amplify local women’s voices and help them be heard through this initiative. She was speaking in an interview with the writer at COP26 in Glasgow. 

“I hope that you will share with us and tell our team and the rest of the world what you need, what you want, and make sure that you’re involved in decision-making processes and planning,” Elaine urges grassroots women in East Africa. 

She reveals plans for expanding the Women’s Climate Center’s International to more parts of Africa, noting that they already have ideas about where more centers will be though they haven’t fleshed that out yet. But they’re going to explore.

“And one of them is for Fort Portal (Uganda), and one of them may be in Kenya,” says Elaine.

In the same interview, Sarah Diesendorf, the co-director and founder of Women’s Climate Center’s international, pledged continued support to the grassroots women under this organisation, saying she needs to help “my sisters if I can.” 

“I am blown away by African women. They do all the work, and they work incredibly hard with so little, and they do so much,”

, SaraH Diesendorf, co-director and founder of Women’s Climate Center’s international
(L-R) Sarah Diesendorf, the co-director, and founder of Women’s Climate Center’s international, Elaine McCarty, the co-director of Women’s Climate Center’s International, and Rosemary Atieno, the Kenya country lead for Women Climate Centers International at COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo by Fredrick Mugira.

statement launched at COP26 by the Scottish Government and UN Women called for the role of women and girls to be advanced in addressing climate change.

Speaking at the gender day during COP26, Alok Sharma, the COP26 President, called for empowerment and supporting women in the fight against climate change.

She said, “impact of climate change [affects] women and girls disproportionately.” 

Similarly, while addressing the COP26 delegates, the US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said addressing climate change “is a matter of justice and equality with the most vulnerable and most affected including indigenous communities, less developed countries, and our focus today and every day: women.”

Climate finance shortfall

Although such grassroots initiatives are simple, create significant change, there is little donor money trickling down to them. This is according to Atieno. 

She rallies donors to “bring money down to the grassroots communities,” saying it is here where solutions are. “They are these people who are affected most. They are the least contributors but the most affected; they know what works best for them, “she insists.  

A protester at COP26. Photo by Fredrick Mugira

Climate finance was a contentious issue at COP26. Twelve donor governments pledged up to $413 million in new funding for the Least Developed Countries Fund during this summit. But, unfortunately, one of the biggest disappointments from this conference was a failure to deliver money for loss and damage.

Commenting on this outcome, Teresa Anderson, Climate Policy Coordinator at ActionAid International, said this was an insult to the millions of people whose lives are affected by the climate crisis.

“There were huge expectations that COP26 would finally deliver real support for the communities, farmers, women, and girls who need to recover and rebuild in the aftermath of climate disasters. But the wealthy countries … have blocked their ears,” noted Teresa. 

This story was produced as part of the 2021 Climate Change Media Partnership, a journalism fellowship organized by Internews’ Earth Journalism Network and the Stanley Center for Peace and Security.