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Gender and climate change adaptation in South Africa: a case study of vulnerability and adaptation experiences of local black African women to flood impacts within the eThekwini Metropolitan Municipality.

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This dissertation contributes towards the scholarly debate on gender and climate change adaptation. This is done by exploring the vulnerability and adaptation experiences of local Black Africans to impacts of floods within eThekwini metropolitan municipality, KwaZulu- Natal Province, South Africa. Specifically, the discourse in the dissertation is framed within the context of being a local Black South African woman living in rural/informal flood-prone area of Durban and having to negotiate everyday lived experiences while adapting to impacts of floods and other climate-related disasters. The dissertation is premised on the assumption that local women’s experiences of vulnerability and adaptation to climate-related impacts is significantly influenced by socioeconomic, cultural, sociopolitical, gendered, racial and other significant factors of power relations largely operating within the local context. The dissertation applied a qualitative case study approach to research. Primary data for the study was collected through semi-structured in-depth interviews and focus group discussions with Black women from Inanda, Ntuzuma, KwaMashu (INK) and uMlazi localities of eThekwini metropolitan municipality. Purposive sampling was used to select local Black women who have had experiences adapting to flood impacts within the area. Personnel from the Environmental Planning and Climate Protection Department, ECPCD of the eThekwini metropolitan municipality were also interviewed. Data collection processes sought to garner data relating to the women’s experiences of vulnerability and adaptation to flood impacts, as well as how the municipality addresses gendered vulnerability of Black women within the municipality to floods and other climate change-related disasters. The study adopted a thematic content analysis and was informed by three theoretical lenses: feminist political ecology, critical realism and the Theory of Change. These theories enabled an understanding of how gender intersects with race and class to shape Black women’s experiences as they adapt to climate impacts, as assessed within the contexts presented in this study. The study found that while Black women negotiate their climate adaptation experiences from their varied individual standpoints, their overall adaptation experiences are further shaped by factors related to poverty, lack of ‘intentionally gendered’ approach to adaptation governance in the municipality, as well as socio-cultural normalisation of patriarchal tendencies by men against women which heightens the vulnerability Black women experience in adapting to flood impacts. To address the contextual vulnerability experiences of the women in the context of the study, the study recommends a collaborative governance model that intentionally seeks to address gendered vulnerability from the women’s varied contextual standpoints.


Doctoral Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.