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Story and Perspective

Walking the Path of Climate Resilience

Barbara Merz and Katherine Kolios

Katherine Kolios

Lessons Learned from Niger

By: Barbara Merz, Managing Director and Katherine Kolios, Executive Director of Rain for the Sahel and Sahara (RAIN)

Across Pathfinder and RAIN’s partner communities, the life-altering impacts of climate change are clear. From extreme heat, to flooding, weather shocks, and growing numbers of displaced people, climate change is making it harder for people to live the life they choose.

But, something else is happening as well–from kitchen gardens in Ethiopia to solar panels at Egyptian health clinics–diverse, local solutions to climate change are emerging.

Didjé Shawal, Treasurer of the Zarda Women’s Group in Tillia, Niger. Photo: Katherine Kolios, RAIN

Centering Women in Agadez, Niger

In Agadez, Niger, communities are facing compounding challenges: climate-induced drought contributes to severe land degradation and diminished resources, worsening food insecurity and economic and health vulnerabilities. Temperatures in the Sahel are warming one-and-a-half times faster than the global average, and climate-induced desertification pushes people to migrate in search of food, water, and work. This migration frequently leaves women without access to sexual and reproductive health care and increasingly vulnerable to gender-based violence, sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancies.

Pathfinder and RAIN are investing in women and girls in Agadez, centering their leadership, knowledge, and needs. Alongside local leaders, Pathfinder and RAIN are engaging women’s groups across the region to discuss how migration impacts their lives and families. Looking to their leadership and knowledge to inform our work, our goals are three-fold:

  • Protect women’s health through community-based sexual and reproductive health services, working with government-integrated health centers to protect and treat migrating women for gender-based violence​.
  • Adapt traditional income-generating activities to be more economically and environmentally sustainable, such as climate-adapted livestock husbandry and agriculture​.
  • Build community-based income generating structures for women to expand and diversify their income streams through local access to funds and regional women’s networks. ​

A Community Evolution

Community members in Tillia, Niger. Photo: Katherine Kolios, RAIN

As our partnerships with communities in Agadez have evolved, a new element of resiliency has emerged: building connections across cultures. Local partners have stressed how important these collaborations are to sustainability and resilience.  “In the past,” says village chief Mournaji Dagui, president of the Zarda group in the village of Tillia, “it was very rare for Fulani and Tuareg to meet in one place to discuss the future prospects of our village. But with the arrival of this project, we are grouped together in the same room and have an open mind so as to reach our objectives. We will fight and deploy all our efforts for the success of this work.”

Despite years of living as neighbors, the Tuareg and Fulani members of these communities were never integrated. Divided by language and culture, they lived in parallel but rarely worked toward a common goal. Now, with Pathfinder and RAIN, they are addressing the shared threat to their native climate. Pathfinder and RAIN are integrating knowledge from decades of work with women and girls because we know that when we center women and women’s leadership, communities become more equitable, healthy, and sustainable.

Building on the Foundation of Resilience

Tuareg man attending Pathfinder-RAIN gathering in February 2023, Tillia, Niger. Photo: Katherine Kolios, RAIN

As we move forward, Pathfinder and RAIN will continue to support local solutions that address the gendered consequences of climate change by actively engaging with, supporting, and meeting the needs of those most affected. In support of our shared goals, our efforts will encompass:

  • An advocacy campaign with community leaders to discuss risks associated with migration, and options for women to productively stay in their villages or to migrate safely to urban centers​.
  • An emphasis on the importance of men’s participation in reproductive health and family planning through gender-transformative approaches​.
  • Delivery of life skills training, and access to sexual and reproductive healthcare.
  • Trainings to share tools, build skills, and access resources to help women earn through entrepreneurship, sustainable gardening, and animal husbandry and access to funds for income-generating activities​.
  • The development of solidarity groups in urban centers to serve as social networks and advocate for migrant women and link them to health, legal, and economic resources​.

The process of building both equity and resilience is complex. As the work evolves, we are hearing the deep determination of our local partners to increase the resilience of communities in the face of extreme conditions.  Local partners and local staff believe that their solutions can, and will, work. We will continue to walk with these communities on their journeys. This collaboration in Niger is affirming what we already knew—that we need each other, and the only way forward is together.

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