Dryland Forestry

Voicing Women and Civil Society – WeCaN's journey at UNCCD COP 15


Women must join forces and fight desertification: that is the key message from Dunia Baroud El-Khoury, a member of FAO’s WeCaN initiative, at the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification’s (UNCCD) COP15 in Abidjan.

Dunia spoke on behalf of Civil Society Organizations, including her own - the Women’s Association of Deir al Ahmar - urging that global for a recognise the “importance of Civil Society Organisations’ participation and the important role women should play in drought and desertification negotiations”.

Dunia’s participation in COP15 was a big milestone for FAO’s WeCaN initiative, set up in June 2021 by the Dryland Forestry and South-South and Triangular Division of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The mission is to create a nurturing community of practice for women in dryland forests and agrosilvopastoral systems, providing a platform for countries in the global South to exchange information, share promising practices and local solutions. But more than that: to raise women's voices, build their advocacy skills and empower them to communicate on a global level.  

Dunia is just one of the WeCaN members from around the world who made their voices heard at COP15. Many other members participated in a video, “Listening to Women: adapting to climate changewhich was given a platform at the COP’s Gender Caucus, sharing their promising practices, experiences and knowledge to contribute to the discussion on gender issues in UNCCD COP15 decision-making.   

“The WeCaN community is a space for Civil Society Organization and mainly Women organizations across dryland regions to share experiences of the triumphs and the failures they have come across in their own geographical areas, advise each other on best practices, gain confidence and courage by being part of an active community that will strengthen their voices and needs", said Fidaa Haddad, FAO Dryland Forestry Officer, at COP15’s Gender Caucus.

The WeCaN community

Women deal with the effects of drought and climate change every single day. They have also found solutions, but are often overlooked and rarely have the opportunity to share them. In just under a year, the WeCaN community has grown to include approximately 200 members from 19 dryland countries. Members have participated in webinars and training sessions; the most recent of which was designed to boost women’s advocacy opportunities at upcoming global fora and was attended by 20 participants from diverse countries, regions and organisations.

Upon joining WeCaN and signing up to one of these workshops, WeCaN member Happy Francis wrote: “I am so happy to join a session and learn and gain many experiences. I am sure that by this network I will change my community.”  This is exactly what WeCaN aims to do: empower people, especially women, to make a positive change for the regional environment and their local communities.

WeCaN’s members are well aware of the urgency of degradation, desertification and climate change, especially for women in dryland areas. Angela Nyanchama Nyamongo, from Kenya, calls desertification “the greatest challenge of the time”.  However, other environmental issues are also important to WeCaN members; for example, Fernanda Testa Monteiro from Brazil says “women have a key role in biodiversity, water and land conservation for sustainability. We need to recognize this and empower them!”.

Since March 2022 the WeCaN team has interviewed one WeCaN “Champion” every month, sharing their story on the WeCaN website.  So far you can read the stories of Kaossara Sani and Asha Elkarib. This month we’ll be speaking to Dunia about her experience at the UNCCD CoP15 and her representation of WeCaN there. Empowerment and education are frequent terms used by WeCaN women and are considered paramount in bringing about changes for women and the environment. By being part of the WeCaN community, women are empowered to be positive agents in combatting current and future desertification.

Future events

The year ahead has much in store for WeCaN members, with advocacy action plan events planned for June, September, October and November. As WeCaN member Joann Ofori from Ghana says, “when you empower a man, the individual is empowered; when you empower a woman, a community is empowered.” This is WeCaN’s story, and it will not be finished until it has fulfilled its raison-d'etre. There is still much to be done for the future of both women and the Earth, and it is only by listening to both that we can create a better world. WeCaN members will take the key messages and challenges raised in UNCCD COP 15 and continue their advocacy journey at the upcoming UNFCCC 27 in Sharm el-Sheikh – stay tuned!

To catch up on WeCaN’s session in UNCCD COP15, click here.  

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