SACAN is part of the Climate Action Network (CAN), a worldwide network of over 1300 Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in over 130 countries / Blog  / 2023  / From Tokenism to Action: Youth and Women Perspectives on Climate Change

From Tokenism to Action: Youth and Women Perspectives on Climate Change

In South Africa, addressing climate change and achieving a sustainable energy transition will require significant changes in current systems and should be rooted in the active participation of women and youth. However, ensuring these changes are implemented fairly and inclusively is essential. It is also crucial to consider what information and knowledge youth and women have, and what further evidence is necessary to inform decision-making. With this background, the Southern Africa Resource Watch, and its partners, the Climate Ambition to Accountability Project (CAAP) and Womxndla Community Development NPC hosted a two-day symposium on Women and Youth Action on Climate Justice and Energy Transition in South Africa on the 10th-11th of July in Johannesburg. The symposium was an output of the Fair for All project, where CAAP provided capacity building for 35 youth on various climate change and just transition issues so that they can play an active role in participating in these issues at their community and national levels. On the other hand, Womxndla carried out a Feminist Participatory Action Research (FPAR) which resulted in the “Women on Coal Report: A Feminist Participatory Action Research on Coal and Climate Change by women in Carolina”, and led to the development of their own Climate Change Manifesto.

The first day of the symposium was dedicated to reflections and sharing by the women from Carolina and the youth participants from the Youth Climate Champions (YCC) bootcamp cohort of 2022. It presented opportunities for the women and youth to share the work that they have been doing in their communities as a way of picking lessons as well as generating ideas for further actions. The women from Womxndla are from a township of Carolina in Mpumalanga Province which is surrounded by 12 operating mines, and where the communities are severely impacted by water and air pollution because of the coal operations, as well as suffering from the broader effects of climate change. Despite a global shift toward clean energy and South Africa’s commitment to a move away from coal mining, there are concerns about the transition not responding to the realities of communities like Carolina. Through the voices of the women of Carolina and understanding what a just energy transition should look like in their context, the research aimed to understand the interaction between coal extraction and climate change and its impact on the mining community.

The women spoke about different environmental issues and challenges faced by their mining-affected communities. There was a common agreement that mining activity exacerbates climate and environmental stresses such as contamination of freshwater sources, severe air pollution, and land degradation. They also spoke about the coal blasting which causes cracks in their mud houses, while also sharing that the mining operation has not benefited them despite the number of years the mines have been operating, they kept referring to Carolina as being a “ghost town”. Another startling finding by the women from the research was that the women who are spouses and partners of the male mineworkers experience a lot of domestic abuse. They further indicated that unemployment and ineffective police enforcement were some of the causes of household violence. The result of this process was the formation of a Carolina Community Climate Manifesto where women in Carolina voice their united demand for systemic change in addressing climate change as well as their commitment to just transition and coal divestment in South Africa. In this manifesto, they call on all stakeholders to act on transformational change for a truly just transition.

The YCC Bootcamp 2022 Cohort participants shared their calls to action of their recently published position paper titled “Exploring Meaningful Youth Engagement in South African Climate Policy”. These calls to action reflect the desires of young people for meaningful engagement. The paper was led by the YCC bootcamp cohort of 2022, which aimed at enabling youth to participate in climate policy, ambition, implementation, and accountability. The calls to action include capacity strengthening where policymakers are encouraged to invest in strengthening the capacity of youth to participate in climate policy processes actively through providing training, education, and resources to enhance their understanding and skills. Establishing dedicated youth councils which can serve as important avenues for youth representation and decision-making was recommended to provide a platform for young people to voice their opinions, ideas, and concerns regarding climate policy. Policymakers were also urged to empower youth for climate action by providing them with the necessary support, resources, and opportunities such as fostering entrepreneurship, innovation, and collaboration. The importance of enabling and empowering youth in South Africa to participate in global climate policy for national impact was emphasized.  Additionally, the youth called policymakers to empower youth in South Africa to lead in climate policy monitoring, evaluation, and collaboration on climate policy initiatives.

The second day was a hybrid event which was a Policy and Practice Forum to present and discuss the Women’s Manifesto on climate change as well as the Youth’s position paper as a way of directing conversations towards action. The panellists consisted of Khwezikazi Windvoel, a Municipal and Project Finance Manager from the Presidential Climate Commission Secretariat, responsible for Climate Finance and Innovation, as well as Nadia Shah who is an Inclusive Climate Action Senior Manager for South Africa at C40 Cities.

Both panellists reflected and commended the YCC and Womxndla for the wonderful work they have done on the Manifesto and the Position Paper, and their dedication to climate change. The PCC speaker highlighted that some of the successes of the PCC in the inclusion of youth is that they have an open-door policy, where engagement with youth has been very fruitful. Whenever they do stakeholder consultations, they view youth as equal social partners and equal stakeholders in conducting consultations with the government. As an advisory body to the President and the Commission, some of the things the PCC has done that they can advise other councils for meaningful youth engagement is having youth representation in some of their working groups to ensure that youth is enabled, capacitated, and empowered that they have a voice. On the inclusion of women, women from Carolina raised views on how the PCC is failing them. The PCC speaker acknowledged that they might have fallen short on being explicit about how they want to include women in the Just Transition Framework and that the women’s manifesto is a stepping stone towards the inclusion of women’s participation in climate action.

Nadia spoke on how we can bridge the gap between women and youth and foster inclusivity in raising awareness and advocacy for climate change, where she highlighted that some of the work that they do is advocating for localized just transition commissions where various groupings including youth, women, and the private sector have a sit at the table around how to localize just transition planning.


The impacts of climate change in South Africa vary across different groups, influenced by factors such as age, class and gender. Women and youth have been identified as particularly vulnerable, with women facing additional burdens due to their socially constructed roles in family and community care, and youth bearing the brunt of the climate crisis. While efforts have been made to incorporate the voices of women and young people in policy, there remains an urgent need for additional initiatives and platforms that ensure their substantial participation. Prioritizing inclusive and continuous engagement with these vulnerable and marginalized stakeholders is crucial for policymakers to gain enhanced insights, make informed decisions, and effectively mitigate the impacts of climate change for the benefit of all. The symposium was, therefore, a unique opportunity for sharing information on the practical grassroots actions by women and youth in their communities, and how policymakers can create a fertile ground towards a sustainable and equitable future. 

Zikhona Mtwa is a Climate Action and Coordination Intern at the South African Climate Action Network (SACAN). This blog is written for the Climate Ambition to Accountability Project — a joint project of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the Climate Action Network South Africa (SACAN) and the Institute for Economic Justice (IEJ). The project’s objective is to realize the effective participation of South African organizations in climate change governance to ensure enhanced climate policy ambition, implementation, and accountability. The project is co-funded by The European Union and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency. This blog is the sole responsibility of the project team and does not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.