It has become a norm to infer the merits of motherhood on nature – Mother Nature, she is life-giving and nurturing. Ironically enough, however, Mother Nature’s wrath paired with human-caused climate change impacts women more severely than men. The following are a few examples of these impacts:
Although prior to Hurricane Maria, there were higher rates of women in Puerto Rico living in poverty than men, the aftermath of the hurricane further exacerbated the issue. Most maternity wards lacked resources and doctor home visits became a rarity as conditions made it nearly impossible to get around the island. As a result, many women began delivering their babies at home, in unsanitary conditions surrounded by Zika-carrying mosquitos.
More than 90% of climate manifestations occur through water: droughts, floods, and hurricanes. Women, however, are feeling the effects of climate change and water in multiple ways. Notably, more women died in the 2004 Thailand Tsunami because they stayed behind looking for children and relatives. Additionally, they lacked life-saving skills such as swimming and climbing trees that are taught to boys, not girls. Reports place women as 14 times more likely to die or be injured during a disaster than men.
More recently, a study of 24 sub-Saharan African countries – Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Sao Tome & Principe, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Swaziland and Zimbabwe— estimated that 13.54 million adult women (and 3.36 million children), spend more than 30 minutes each day collecting water for their households. As clean water becomes scarcer as a result of climate change, the length of time it will take women to collect water for their households will increase, thereby leaving less time for other things, including learning to swim and climb trees, or attending school.
Proper sanitation is also a water-related climate change issue worth noting. When women and young girls lack access to proper sanitation, they often have to share communal toilets in public spaces, putting them at greater risk of physical attack or sexual violence. This was the situation for Sinoxolo Mafevuka, whose body was found inside a communal toilet in Khayelitsha, Cape Town in March 2016.
Women also play a vital role in securing food and enhancing agricultural productivity. Paired with droughts and floods, food sources become unpredictable and scarce. Additionally, women are facing a loss of income as a result of crop failures. As food becomes scarcer, it becomes more inaccessible to the poor, particularly women and girls. The Mexican Totonacapan Region is an example of how climate change is causing crop failures affecting food and income sources for women.
So, What “Positive Policy”?
Women, who make up nearly half of the world’s population, have been pushed aside when it comes to making important environmental policy decisions. However, we are making great strides in challenging barriers restricting us from making meaningful contributions in climate change policy. At the 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP22) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Parties requested a gender action plan to implement gender-related decisions and mandates. In 2017’s COP23, a Gender Action Plan was submitted to the UNFCCC. The Plan called for enhancing gender perspectives in climate change understanding and expertise (in areas like the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement) and data collection and application. Additionally, the Plan also emphasized the importance of the full and equal participation of women in the UNFCCC.
While this is a great start, many women have started taking the fight against climate change into their own hands, working from the ground up.
In Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania, women are participating in farmer field schools and adopting major technologies including improved crop varieties and learning about pest control techniques and the management of livestock. Women’s involvement in these programs has reportedly resulted in significant increases in household food security. In Tiznit province in Morocco, women are using decentralised intelligent solar energy networks with digital distribution. This is simply clean and free energy. In Ethiopia, women are employing solar-powered irrigation systems to harvest their fruits and vegetables, thereby creating excess crops to feed their families and create income from.
While we must continue to fight for women’s opportunities to engage in climate change and environmental policies, we can take small steps in our personal lives and local communities to impact positive change and engage women. To learn more about the impact of #climatechange, check out Carlene Van Der Heiden’s post, “When The Well Runs Dry!”
Ladies (and gents!), what are you doing to tackle climate change?
Have you heard of any examples of how women’s access to education and shelter have been impacted as a result of climate change? Let us know!
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