Climate change and gender: The world depends on independent women
by Dominique Cutts.
The relationship between gender and climate change is gradually becoming more understood and involved in policy making. It is a thought provoking reality and an interesting area of discussion- and by reading this, I’ll presume that you agree, or, at least, you’re searching for a starting point to form your own opinions.
In honour of international women’s day (whether you’re female or male- welcome!) it appears appropriate to acknowledge and understand global gender issues, drawing attention to issues that may usually go unrecognised or ignored. Both climate change and women’s inferiority are lived experiences for majority of earth inhabitants- some more than others- but needless to say, they are never addressed within the same discourse. Many of you may not have viewed the two as being compatible nor care/thought about either of them enough to see any relevance but why you should care is because what links them together is at the very core of western society: capitalism and industrialisation.
Since the mid 20th century industrialisation and economic expansion has caused dramatic affects to the planets climate. Climate change is largely the result of human intervention (as well as natural sources such as volcanic eruptions) and a report published by the United Nations in 2015 predicts that by 2050 the world population will exceed 9 billion. From how we travel to school and work, to the food we eat, our everyday lives contribute to the increased levels of carbon dioxide production in the atmosphere. Ultimately, we are destroying our own planet and with that, our futures!
So how do women fit into this?
Climate change has created a clear divide between the global north and the global south due to differences in traditional roles and societal expectations. The majority of the decline in biodiversity affects poor people, particularly women. Changing global temperatures impact the everyday lives of those in developing countries as a result of extreme weather. ‘Women produce 60%-80% of the food (US Aid) but severe draughts can reduce crop yields’. It is also the responsibility of young women and girls to collect water for their families, but their safety and health is put at risk during the process because they have to travel further for cleaner water. These challenges are an obstacle to their daily routine, making it harder to carry out agricultural work or feed their families.
Women may be disproportionately affected in comparison to men but can also be part of the solution. As a result of women feeling the strains of climate change they consequently have a better understanding of the impacts upon both ecology and society. However, they are largely ignored and underrepresented in deliberations for lack of authoritative positions. ‘Female scientists made up only 15% of the authors of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) climate assessment reports and the report itself dedicated only half a page to gender issues associated with climate change’ (Quaraishi, 2009). Similarly, energy companies are one of the biggest contributors to climate change yet ‘more than two thirds of the 100 biggest energy companies fail to count a single woman on their boards’. (Greenpeace, 2016).
With this in mind, women are more likely to believe in climate change. Yet, it’s their views that go generally ignored! Few of those males who do occupy such positions do not believe in the existence of climate change despite scientific evidence proving otherwise. Wake up, smell the coffee gases- it exists! Though, it is not surprising that those who earn large sums of money through the oil industry, large corporations and the like do not care. They’re fortunate enough to not deal with the direct daily consequences of their actions. Why would they care about something that does not affect their livelihood?
Despite ignorance, many positive human interventions are emerging. Women’s skills and knowledge of natural resources is being considered alongside that of men. Sustainable development projects such as the Greenbelt Movement, started by Wangari Maathai in 1977, aim to provide measure to elevate some of burdens of daily life felt by those affected most by climate change. The project started as a grassroots tree planting program but gradually expanded to include the construction of more than 600 nurseries across Africa. She was eventually imprisoned for her opposition to the current regime and persistence in fighting for women’s rights- barbaric, I know! But her work did not go unrecognised. Wangari became the first African women to receive a Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. Women like Wangari have begun to pave the way for women’s involvement in sustainable development and consequential preventative measures against climate change, something that we should all encourage!
The Green Belt Movement
Johnson, G. (2016) ‘Why Climate change is a gender equality issue’
Quaraishi, J. (2009). ‘Is climate change a feminist issue? Mother Jones. Accessed online: 8th March 2017.
United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2015). World Population Prospects: The 2015 Revision, Key Findings and Advance Tables.
US Aid fact sheet
Women and Climate Change Factsheet