Image credit: UN Women/Bennie Khanyizira | Description: Weather forecast shifts climate change impact for women farmers in Malawi
Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow
As we entered the month of March, posts about IWD began to pop up on my social media feed.
Looking at this year’s IWD theme set by the UN, Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow, I had to admit I was unable to confidently explain the relationship between gender equity and sustainability through the lens of climate change. So I set myself a task to do some research.
This article serves as a self-learning summary and perhaps a resource for others who wish to learn more about the role of gender equity in creating a sustainable future.
Why does gender matter in climate change?
So the very first question I had is “why does gender matter in climate change?”
The short answer given by Stockholm Environment Institute is that when living conditions worsen due to climate change, women and girls are the ones who bare the burden the most. The burden may manifest in the form of spending more time to secure food and shelter, limited opportunities for education and income generation while facing a higher risk of violence.
As I expanded my reading, I came across examples clearly illustrating how climate change can disproportionally impact women and girls. Here I list three.
1. Women and girls rely heavily on natural resources for livelihood.
Before doing my reading, I did not realise women contribute to 50-80% of the world’s food production and, in may parts of the world, are responsible for household livelihood. It turns out women and girls rely on land, sea and other natural resources for immediate survival. Interestingly despite this, women own less than 10% of the land and, therefore, are usually left out of the decision-making process.
When extreme weather events such as floods and droughts happen, women and girls affected will need to spend more time to secure food to ensure household livelihood, which takes away their time and opportunity to access education, for example.
When combining inability to access opportunities and lack of decision-making power, the long-term result is that women and girls are disproportionally affected by climate change.
2. Women and girls face increased risk in violence during climate-related crises
According to the UN, 80% of people displaced by climate change are women. This means having to abandon home and familiar environment and move into temporary accommodation such as a refugee camp. The climate-related displacement creates a situation that makes women and girls more vulnerable to violence including sexual assault.
3. Women and girls have worse health outcome as a result of extreme climate events.
A 2016 report commissioned by the Global Gender and Climate Alliance, which analysed 130 peer-reviewed studies, showed that women and girls often face disproportionately high health risks from extreme climate events. For example, women and girls are more likely to die when tropical cyclones hit in Bangladesh and the Philippines and during heatwaves in France, China and India. As noted in the report, “the heightened risks faced by women most often reflect their standing in societies around the world.”
What can we do?
Clearly if we wish to create a sustainable future, it is only logical to involve and include women and girls in the decision-making process. After all, women and girls’ contribution to society is immense – just think about how women and girls are responsible for up to 80% of the global food production!
So how can we support women and girls in combating and adapting to climate change? Here I list 2 actions that I personally would like to commit to:
- Keep on learning: Meaningful change starts with learning and learning is an action that I can take. If you are interested in building up your knowledge and awareness in this area, I have listed some resources to further your understanding. Scroll down to check out the resources.
- Exploring opportunities to impact invest in women-led climate and disaster resilience initiatives: The idea of putting money where it is most needed is important to me. I would be keen to explore opportunities to put money in women’s hands by investing in grassroots and high impact women-led initiatives,
Want to learn more?
- The Women, Gender Equality and Climate Change factsheet by the UN is a good start.
- Interested in reading some personal stories? Check out UN Women for inspirations.
- If you are a visual learner, Mapped: How climate change disproportionately affects women’s health has a great map, showing data from 130 studies, on how climate change affects the health of both women and men.
- There are also a number of free online courses available. The UN’s self-paced Gender and environment course, for example, helps participants better understand the linkages between gender and the environment and why promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment can help deliver better environmental outcomes.