Jack Karsten, PISA Staff Assistant
On the occasion of International Women’s Day, it is worth pondering the connection between gender equality and another issue of global concern, climate change. Often overlooked in the discussion of climate change is how it exacerbates the problem of gender inequality around the world. In developing countries, women who depend on access to natural resources for survival suffer immensely from environmental degradation. A simple, but pervasive example is that of women forced to flee their homes during extreme weather events, and then left without economic or social support structures. Such cases have ongoing societal impacts, from inadequate child education to the spread of diseases. Numbering over half the world’s population and bearing major responsibilities for the wellbeing of their households, women also play a significant role in climate change mitigation.
At the local and global levels, women help to improve water and air quality, push for environmental protection, and lead sustainable development programs. In honor of International Women’s Day on March 8th, PISA recognizes the link between climate and gender issues and not only the challenges, but also the opportunities they provide for empowering women.
In many traditional societies, women are often tasked with providing food, water, and fuel for their families. Droughts, floods, and other climate-related natural disasters impair access to these necessities, adding to women’s economic and social marginalization. The combination of climate variability and gender inequality increases the risk of malnutrition and disease for women. Only by improving their economic power can women be better equipped to cope with climate-related stresses such as drought, excess precipitation, sea-level rise, and heat waves. Increasing a woman’s chance for economic success simultaneously improves her and her family’s resilience in the face of baneful climate impacts.
Extreme weather conditions compel many women to flee their homes and communities, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation. Human traffickers prey on female climate refugees that find temporary and insecure living arrangements, selling them into forced labor and sex slavery. Women face violence, sexual abuse and a higher incidence of contracting HIV/AIDS. Although human trafficking has many causes, displacement due to climate change presents additional risks to women. Disaster Reduction and Recovery (DRR) efforts should be gender aware and provide safe access to housing, healthcare, and employment for displaced women.
Women may suffer disproportionately from climate change, but they are also uniquely suited to combat its worst effects. Female farmers produce between 45-80% of all food in developing countries, making them integral to regional food security. By adopting sustainable agriculture techniques, female farmers contribute to reducing CO2 emissions while securing their livelihood and access to food. Women have much to add to the discussion of local responses to climate issues based on their personal experiences and expertise. It is imperative that they actively participate in policymaking so that their viewpoints and concerns are addressed.
Fortunately, international organizations addressing climate issues are beginning to recognize the impacts on women. At the 2015 talks of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Geneva, Switzerland, several countries proposed language acknowledging gender equality and human rights as a goal of their climate change mitigation efforts. Here in Washington DC, the Women’s Climate Collaborative encourages women to take on leadership roles within the climate policy community. World wide, women are raising their voices about climate change as a gender equality issue.
International Women’s Day serves to recognize that the campaign for gender equality is on-going. The same is also true for the fight against climate change, and linking the two issues could make progress on both fronts. Women have much to contribute to climate policy discussions, and knowing more about the disproportionate harm that women experience as a result of climate-induced disasters highlight issues important to women’s well-being. Promoting both gender equality and environmental protection will require involvement from everyone, regardless of gender or economic status. Overlooking the various connections between complex issues might deprive the world of sorely needed collaborative solutions.