World Rainforest Movement

Women and climate change – most affected and least heard

In a study published recently in Germany on Climate and Development, we find the following statements: “Poverty affects many, too many people – and it affects men and women differently and in different numbers. Most of the poor are women, as poverty research has shown, and this is bound up with the fact that in many countries women and girls continue to suffer legal and social discrimination: They have poorer access to education and health care than boys and men, and they do not have the same economic opportunities, be it because their ability to act is curbed by legal restraints, or because they are unable to move freely, or for other reasons.”

The study adds that “There is good reason to believe that one result of the political and social discrimination of girls and women is that they are affected differently than men by the impacts of climate change, a circumstance that exacerbates the poverty and other risks they face.” (1)

One of the good reasons for believing that this is true is the fact that most of the people affected by the worst climatic disasters that have happened over the past few years are poor and in their vast majority women.  For example, in Indonesia during the tsunami, for various reasons more women were drowned than men: because they did not know how to swim, because they stayed to look after their children until the last moment, because they were locked in, because they found out too late, because their long dresses did not enable them to move fast, because their food reserves were so low that they could not make the effort required to save themselves, etc.

In an article on “Women and Climate Change,” Kellie Tranter, an Australian lawyer describes some of the causes of death, such as those mentioned above and shows that during so-called “natural” disasters, more women than men have died: 90% of the 140,000 victims who died during the cyclone that hit Bangladesh in 1991 were women, more women than men died during the heat-wave that struck Europe in 2003 and in the Indonesian tsunami in 2006, 3 to 4 women died for each man. (2)

In a study carried out with women in Germany, Bolivia and Tanzania in 2009 (3), it was revealed that women are more burdened with their daily activities due to climate change. An example of this is shown in the department of Oruro, Bolivia, where “at times of heat-waves the water sources dry up and the remaining water becomes increasingly brackish and less potable. Strong winds sweep away loose earth and dry it. There are also new species of parasites. There is a sort of bug that is causing great damage by attacking the root of the alfalfa plant and killing this forage.” Furthermore, with the change in temperature, crops that used to grow easily don’t grow anymore and the continuous frosts and rains cause losses.  The cattle are also decreasing because of the lack of pastures and because of the appearance of “a new and aggressive type of mosquito that attacks human beings and animals. In short, climate change makes the already gruelling working life of Bolivian women even harder.”

Very similar stories are told by the women of Dodoma, Tanzania. Continuous droughts oblige women to “go increasingly far away to get water and sometimes they are forced to buy it… crops have dropped off in a catastrophic way. This is the cause for the worrying lack of food in the whole village.” Women must use different strategies to survive. Gladis, for example tells us how “…we can no longer count on income from agriculture…I also have a vegetable garden and breed pigs and hens. Also I sew school bags…I make local beer and do occasional jobs.” But they too ask not to be the only ones who make sacrifices. They demand that the government must avoid the continuous logging of trees and burning of forests that are worsening water supply and the climate, while also demanding that the industrialized countries change their lifestyle.

Women cannot continue to be the victims and must take a leading role when climate change policies are being designed. Although some formal recognition has been achieved, it is not reflected either in the proposals or in the structures of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change.

On the one hand, most of the policies proposed as (false) solutions for addressing climate change further exacerbate the situations described above. For example the promotion of large scale crops to be used as fuel and monoculture tree plantations as so-called carbon sinks, have been shown to have negative impacts on forests, soil and water and also on women.

On the other hand, women have serious difficulties in being taken into account, even within the structure of the Convention, contradicting its own statements.  In December 2007, in Bali, international leaders declared for the first time that “gender issues are pertinent to climate related policies.” In 2009, the Convention formally recognized the participation of gender and women’s groups. However, recently the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki- moon announced the creation of a “high level” group tasked with no less than investigating potential sources of revenue to support developing countries in their efforts to cope with the impacts of climate change and the shift to low-carbon development pathways. (4) The group is composed of 19 members. All men. The destiny of humankind may be in their hands (5)

Declarations about “gender equity” must be reflected in deeds. Time has run out. Women, while suffering most from the effects of climate change are also essential when seeking solutions. The solving of gender inequality is a question both of justice and of survival.

  1. Taken from “Climate Change Adaptation from a Gender Perspective, A cross-cutting analysis of development-policy instruments by Birte Rodenberg for DIE Research Project “Climate Change and Development“, Bonn 2009
  2. Published in Mirada Global.com http://www.miradaglobal.com/
  3. Taken from “Strengthen women. Change the climate!”, VEN organization.
  4. From the article by Elizabeth Becker and Suzanne Ehlers “Why are women being left out of climate decision-making?” http://www.grist.org/article/2010-03-08-why-are-women-being-left-out-of-climate-decision-making-u.n/
  5. Additional information from Gender CC press release availableat:http://www.gendercc.net/

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *