Fighting For Tomorrow: Siliana’s Women in a Changing Climate
Tunisia is one of the countries most exposed to climatic change. This vulnerability is primarily due to the increasing scarcity of water resources, particularly groundwater, due to drought and overuse of these water resources.
According to data from the National Institute of Statistics (INS), annual rainfall is low, at just 58 mm per year, dropping to less than 100 mm per year in the South and reaching over 700 mm per year in the North. In addition, average annual temperatures are high, fluctuating between 16°C and 20°C. This situation endangers irrigated and rain-fed crops as water resources dwindle.
In Tunisia, the agricultural sector plays a vital role in stabilising rural populations, which account for 35% of the country’s population. Still, it is threatened by unsustainable practices and worsening climate change, leading to impacts on water salinity and land erosion.
More than that, women living in rural areas are particularly vulnerable to climate change due to various social, economic, environmental and cultural factors. They are increasingly more concerned about the effects of climate change than women living in urban areas, as they represent 70% of the agricultural workforce but only 15% of the permanent workforce and 8% of the total working population.
Halima Omri, a 45-year-old local farmer from the Kesra region in Siliana, North West Tunisia, currently heads the Women’s Group for Agriculture Development (WGAD) named “El Amal” for two terms. Following the revolution, this feminine group was founded in 2012 and specialises mainly in sheep fattening for its production. It is extending its activities to valorising breeding by-products, notably wool.
The establishment of WGAD has contributed to creating jobs for female affiliates, gradually increasing their incomes. Nevertheless, persistent challenges loom large, encompassing access to healthcare, prevailing social conditions, and the overarching issue of climate change.
Regrettably, over the past few years, these women have faced major challenges linked to the scarcity of rainfalls and prolonged drought, and the consequences have been felt in their production. Shortage of pasture, unavailability of hay and raw materials, and loss of grazing land leading to high raw material costs have forced members to make the difficult decision to sell their sheep.
Halima’s words reflect the challenges facing farmers in her region due to climate change, weather uncertainty and dependence on rainfall for agricultural success. In addition, the availability of rainwater is essential for the growth of forage crops, and its prolonged absence can have serious repercussions on farmers’ food security and livelihood.
WATER SHORTAGES AND GOVERNMENT INTERVENTION
Tunisia has faced significant challenges due to water scarcity, ranking 33rd globally among countries most vulnerable to water stress. Moreover, climate projections indicate a projected decrease of 28% in water availability by 2030 (as indicated by Chebil et al. in 2019 and Kefi in 2023). Unfortunately, In the Kesra region, the situation of rural women is tragically amplified in the context of water accessibility and harmfully affected their production.
According to the WGDA president, the scale of the challenge posed by the scarcity of rainfall and drought also directly impacts the quantity of the harvest. Furthermore, when she mentioned that “many people have stopped growing maize because of the lack of rain”, this highlights an alarming trend. Farmers are forced to abandon maize cultivation due to the lack of reliable rainfall, which can lead to reduced incomes and increased food insecurity within farming communities.
Moreover, talking about gender equality, the profound inequalities between men and women in this rural environment accentuate the scale of the difficulties they face. In addition, women who inherit agricultural land are entrusted with the responsibility of managing water resources, a task closely linked to prevailing gender norms and societal views. These norms define women as the primary caregivers, homemakers, and water providers. This entrenched role effectively perpetuates their marginalised status, not only within their family sphere but in society as a whole. Unfortunately, according to her statement, there are no communications between your WGAD and the authorities (Ministry of Agriculture, CRDA, Governorate, civil society players) on measures to adapt to climate change.
Safa Mogaadi, Mazhoud Houda, Arij Ferjani, Najwa Bouraoui