Gender disparities extend to climate resiliency


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Women are often responsible for gathering fuel and water for domestic purposes, task that is much more difficult and time consuming as the climate continues to change. (Flickr/United Nations Ian Steele)
Jenna Ladd | March 9, 2017

Yesterday’s International Women’s Day inspired record-setting strikes, calls for equal pay and representation as well as conversations about how climate change disproportionally affects women and girls.

A recent photo essay from the United Nation’s titled, “Climate Change is a Women’s Issue” depicts the ways climate disasters and gradually shifting weather patterns exacerbate the social inequities faced by women. Its figures state that 80 percent of the people that have been displaced by climate change worldwide are women. Increasingly frequent periods of drought mean that women and girls also spend much more time walking to retrieve water and much less time working or in school.

The United Nationa’s environment gender expert, Victor Tsang, and communication officer, Shari Nijman, wrote recently,“While environmental changes affect everyone, due to existing gender inequalities, women often bear the bulk of the burden. In patriarchal societies, cultural, legal and political restrictions often undermine women’s adaptability and resilience to climate change.” The authors later suggest that providing equal access to land, agricultural extension services, financial inclusion and education for women is key to curbing and coping with climate change.

For the first time ever, the U.N. climate talks incorporated a Gender Action Plan this year at the COP23 conference in Bonn, Germany. The plan “seeks to advance women’s full, equal and meaningful participation and promote gender-responsive climate policy and the mainstreaming of a gender perspective in the implementation of the Convention and the work of Parties.”

Georgetown’s Institute for Women, Peace and Security argued in a 2015 report that inclusion of women in high-levels of climate decision-making like the U.N. conference of the parties is necessary, but not sufficient. Among many recommendations, they ask that national governments develop disaster plans that specifically aim to lessen impacts on women and that private sector stakeholders invest in job opportunities for women that also combat the effects of climate change. Researchers point out that these steps not only lessen the burden of a warming planet for women but also recognize them as a powerful part of the solution.

As former Finnish president H.E. Tarja Halonen once said, “[Women] are powerful agents whose knowledge, skills and innovative ideas support the efforts to combat climate change.”

Women more likely to be affected by and act on climate change


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Women and children are most susceptible to heat-related illnesses that are becoming more common due to climate change. (Janet Mailbag/flickr)

Jenna Ladd | February 8, 2018

During a recent speech at Georgetown University, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pointed out that women are disproportionately affected by climate change worldwide.

Research from several sources back up this claim. Discussing global desertification due to drought and intense heat waves, Clinton said, “I would say that particularly for women…they will bear the brunt of looking for the food, looking for the firewood, looking for the place to migrate to when all of the grass is finally gone.”

The gendered effects of climate change extend beyond communities in developing nations, however. Researchers from the Natural Resources Defense Fund point out that two-thirds of those jobs lost after Hurricane Katerina in New Orleans were lost by women. Job creation during the rebuilding periods following natural disasters are primarily in the construction industry and go almost exclusively to men. As a result, 83 percent of single mothers were not able to return to New Orleans following the hurricane.

The changing climate poses unique risks to women’s health as well. Increasingly frequent and intense heat waves can cause low birth weights among pregnant women. Women are also fourteen times more likely to die during a natural disaster than men. Researchers link this to insufficient access to information and warnings as well as a difference in women’s ability to cope with such events.

As Clinton put it, women “bear the brunt” of a changing climate. Perhaps that’s why women in political positions of power are more likely than their male counterparts to sign off on treaties that combat climate change.

Perrin Ireland is a science reporter for the Natural Resources Defense Fund. She said, “Women play critical roles in our communities, and our voices must be heard for climate action. In order to have a resilient future, for the thriving of our communities, women must have a seat at the table.”