Women and Climate Change
Women and men are vulnerable in different ways when it comes to climate change and environmental degradation. Women are in fact, the first ones to feel the impact on their daily livelihood and when floods strike or droughts persist. This is perhaps mainly because women constitute the majority of the world’s poor and are also more dependent on natural resources, thus eventually ending up as the most threatened ones when there comes about climate change. It is further worsened by the fact that their coping capacity is lessened by the social and economic barriers that confine them.
UN Women and its partners have stressed that any new agreement on climate must be gender-sensitive, with their concerns being heard and their involvement being ensured. The measures of the agreement should be in consistence with the principles laid down by the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Women are primarily the ones that shoulder the responsibility of securing food, water, fuel etc. But often, they face the challenges of inadequate access to resources, limited mobility in rural areas etc. However, it must also be remembered that women can also prove to be effective agents of positive change in climate and environment. Their strong body of knowledge and expertise can be judiciously used to induce climate change mitigation, disaster management and adaptation strategies. In developing countries, women farmers account for approximately 45-80% of all food production, and they constitute about two-thirds of the labour force. Thus, it is needless to say that they must be incorporated into the decision-making processes as well as given access to the use of land and resources, that are crucial for them to earn a livelihood. Their rights should be safeguarded with regard to food security, availability of resources and participation in decision-making processes.
Also, indigenous women have a necessary role to pay as stewards of natural resources, and thus they can contribute sufficiently in the preservation of biodiversity. Girls are sometimes kept at home and sent to gather fuel, thus disempowering them by denying them education and also making them more vulnerable to injuries, sexual harassment and assault. Also, the burden of fetching water from distant sources leads to poor sanitation, and serious disorders resulting from arsenic contamination.
The IUCN (World Conservation Union) released a report a few years back predicting that the physical, economic, social and cultural impacts of climate change will jeopardize women much more than men. Therefore, it is the need of the hour to ensure their just representation in decision-making about climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, discussions about adaptation and mitigation etc. if we exclude women, we will lose their vital inputs and deep-founded knowledge that may hold a key to adapting to climate change. There is a need to refocus and rethink the debate on climate change and energy to accommodate a human rights perspective. If we take into account women’s particular needs and their human rights with regard to accessing the sustainable and affordable energies, it will benefit them as well as the entire mankind holistically.