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Why is it so hard to talk about women and climate change?

Climate change policies will fail unless women have greater influence over decisions, from where to build wells to how to negotiate a global deal

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Women and children are 14 times more likely to die than men during natural disasters, according to UN Women. (Image by Matimtiman / Greenpeace

The impacts of climate change will disproportionately affect people living in poverty in poorer countries, notwithstanding their minimal per-capita contributions to greenhouse-gas emissions. It’s here where the damage will be greatest and where people have the lowest capacity to cope.

According to UN Women, some 70% of people in the developing world living below the poverty threshold are women, yet gender issues receive little attention in the climate-change debate. People are vulnerable to the hazards of climate change to a greater or lesser degree depending on factors such as their wealth, education, skills, management capability and access to technology, infrastructure and information. Women’s access to these resources is often inferior to that of men, and this increases their vulnerability and limits their ability to cope with the advent of climate shocks and to recover when they have passed.

These gender-related inequalities are particularly pervasive in the developing world. Women and children are 14 times more likely to die than men during natural disasters. More than 70% of the dead from the Asian tsunami were women; roughly 87% of unmarried women and 100% of married women lost their main source of income when Cyclone Nargis hit the Ayeyarwaddy Delta in Myanmar in 2008.

In Bangladesh, social prejudice keeps girls and women from learning to swim and climb trees. Many women cannot leave their homes without accompaniment or consent from their husband or one of their male relatives. Men can more easily warn each other as they meet in public spaces, but they rarely communicate information to the rest of the family. As a result, far more women than men perish in the major floods which characterise life in the coastal areas of Bangladesh. When a cyclone and floods hit Bangladesh in 1991, the death rate for women was almost five times higher than for men.

Research by the London School of Economics found that in a sample of 141 countries over the period 1981–2002, natural disasters (and their subsequent impact) killed on average more women than men, and killed women at an earlier age than men. Boys were more likely to receive preferential treatment in rescue efforts, and women and children suffered more from food shortages and a lack of privacy and safety in the aftermath of disasters.

In India, various studies have shown that over the past decade more women than men have suffered from premature deaths on account of heatwaves and cold snaps and other climate-related extreme events. Following extreme events such as storms and floods, the burden of devastation also falls primarily on women, who must keep the family together.

Changing weather patterns could affect farming activities such as paddy cultivation in Asia, and cash crops such as cotton and tea, the cultivation of which employs many women. In Africa, for example, women contribute to 70% of food production; they account for nearly half of all farm labour and 80–90% of food processing. Wangari Maathai acknowledged this when she received the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo on 10 December, 2004, describing Africa’s women as “the primary caretakers, holding significant responsibility for tilling the land and feeding their families”.

In Bangladesh, women and children provide nearly all household water in rural areas, both for domestic use such as drinking, cooking, bathing and washing, and for irrigating gardens and watering livestock. The intrusion of saltwater into freshwater resources in the districts of Satkhira, Khulna and Bagerhat on the south-western coast of Bangladesh is already having a disproportionate impact on women, particularly during the dry season. Because nearly all local water sources have high salinity, women must travel long distances by foot every day to find drinking water, even if they are in poor health.

Ensuring greater gender equality will benefit society as a whole and help promote sustainable development. However, getting gender issues into debates on climate change and sustainable development is happening piecemeal, extremely slowly and often as an afterthought.

This is in part due to the lack of participation by women in decision-making at all levels. In the Kilombera district in Tanzania, for example, a newly constructed well dried up. Its location had been determined by an all-male local committee, despite the fact that it was the task of local women to dig for water by hand as they know the most likely places to find water. By the same token, at the international climate-change negotiations in 2010, women made up only 30% of negotiators and just 10% of heads of delegations.

This lack of representation must change, because climate-change policies will be unsuccessful if women have no opportunity to influence decision-making, build their capacity, lower their vulnerability and diversify their income sources. In India, for example, women have played a huge role in improving the public service health sector. A 1992 constitutional amendment mandated the reservation of one-third of panchayat (local government) seats for women. Since then, relative spending on public water and latrines for low-caste communities has increased.

Special attention needs to be paid to the opportunities arising from international climate-change negotiations. Many emerging solutions intended to help people cope with climate change involve land use and agriculture in rural areas, a key sector for women.

The dependence of women on biomass energy – for example, burning wood for household cooking – means that they should also be involved in projects promoting renewable-energy resources. In El Salvador and Guatemala the primary source of fuel is wood, and it is the job of women and girls to gather it. Many spend as much as three or four hours, three to five times a week, searching for wood. And when they cook food for their households, they are exposed to toxic cooking smoke.

Agencies promoting clean, renewable energy, such as solar ovens, have found it vital to target groups of women, who can learn from one another whilst practising the new technologies. Despite this, men often influence the uptake of new-energy technologies in this domain too. In one case in Zimbabwe, men are reported to have rejected the use of solar cookers by their wives, since technology and its development are seen traditionally as a male preserve.

This is an edited extract from the book Climate Change and Human Development (Zed Books, 2014) by Hannah Reid

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匿名 | Anonymous

重新启动经济和食物的碳循环

我参加了95年2月份的联合国气候变化框架公约集会。我访问过了很多国家。我在沙漠里种植土壤的食物--草料。气候变化是我们地球健康的指示器。我们的环境就像一本银行帐户,因而必须要收支平衡。在过去的350年,我们当中的有些人剥取了地球表面特有的植被覆盖。这导致很多地方不下雨了,井水干涸了,土壤被侵蚀了。我们移居到大城市了,但有些孩子却遭受饥荒了。

已经造成的伤害是可以挽回的,但挽回需要一个很周全的计划。它需要各个国家协同联合国一起来达成。弥补性的植被种植是没用的。 我们要主动采取行动,比如将海洋上的降水收集起来再转移到内陆的集水区。各地的旅行经历让我觉得女性必须再次起到领军人的作用,由她们来改变农民们的行动并且领导碳循环的普及教育。

Restart the Carbon cycle and in so doing the economy and food source

I sat on UNFCCC 95-02 climate change assembly I've visited these nations and I grow soil food fodder in deserts see Google.. Wrong messages sent. Climate Change is the tell tale of the health of our home Earth. The environment is like a Bank the account must be kept in balance. In 350 years many stripped the blanket of dedicated vegetation cover including trees. The annual rains stopped the well went dry, the soil blew away, the men went to the cities, the children went hungry. So well planned as I teach in PRC, AU year 1-2 fodder year 2-3 food, 5-7 as soil expands (trees cotton rice grains food take biomass carbon from soil not air). Under a dedicated plan all funded from day 1 by Kyoto offset trading and indeed for 100 UNFCCC years. The damage can be reversed but needs a master plan it has to be nation in concert with UN agencies and Government. Ad-hoc planting will fail we need to excite and can do so quickly to aid transpiring rains from sea to catchment. From my tours it is obvious Women again must lead to teach Teacher to teach Farm folk restart to Carbon Cycle balance

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匿名 | Anonymous

对于气候变化的误解

这篇文章十分有用,提醒我们去改变现阶段对于气候变化的理解。
因为气候变化不仅仅涉及到环境,而更是一个社会公平性的问题。

The mischaracterisation of climate change

This useful extract reminds us of the need to change the current mischaracterisation of climate change as an environmental issue when it is much more a social justice issue.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

谢谢

我非常欣赏这篇文章对于女性的关注,这让我想起了气候变化带给日常生活对惊人影响。

thank you

I really appreciate this focus on woman, as it reminds me of the everyday devastating consequences of our changing climate.