“Having a child with a 105 fever and you give her a pat on the head and an aspirin and send her off to school and expect her to function normally, while permanent damage is taking place,” so says Sally Ranney, a co-founder of the 2013 International Women’s Earth and Climate Initiative Summit (IWECI), describing climate change and our very underwhelming response to it so far.
100 delegates including activists, economists, scientists and indigenous leaders met in September in New York for the IWECI Summit, which emphasized the need to give women a larger role in setting policy on climate change. Global warming is predicted to have the most adverse effects on developing economics, in countries where most women are in traditional roles of caring for children and managing households. Yet climate change policy and debates have so far failed to seriously address the huge impact of global warming on women.
Women are still in the minority at global climate conferences. Only one third of the world’s climate delegates are women and “the more a country is affected by climate change, the fewer women there are in its delegation at United Nations climate talks,” Johnannes Kruse, a PhD student at the Bremen International Graduate School of Social Sciences (BIGSSS) in Germany, has found.
Here are some reasons why it’s crucial to include women’s voices in the climate change debate:
1. Natural disasters affect women more severely
Photo of a woman in the city of Banda Aceh on the island of Sumatra, Indonesia, via Wikimedia Commons
Women bear the effects of climate change much more than men. A 2007 report, Gender and Climate Change (pdf), found that women are more likely to be dependent on local natural resources such as water, fuel and fodder, supplies of which can be devastated by natural disasters.
Women often end up tending to both agricultural and household duties when men leave their homes to seek work abroad, but then face extra challenges due to having limited access to technologies, credit and other resources.
2. Women produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions
Photo of a Dutch woman and her child via FaceMePLS/Flickr
Income level affects CO2 emissions: across the globe, women are “over represented” in households with lower incomes and under-represented in those with higher incomes. The latter emit higher CO2 emissions as they’re likely to have larger houses, bigger cars, more electrical equipment and such.
A study of women in Europe also found that, for both work and leisure, they use cars less frequently and for shorter distances and are also more likely to use smaller, energy-efficient vehicles.
3. Women see global warming as more of a threat than men
Photo of a woman and her child in Cameroon via Anthony Asael/Flickr
A 2006 study (pdf) found that women and men have differing beliefs about climate change. In Germany, more than 50 percent of women rated global warming as extremely or very dangerous, versus only 40 percent of men. Women also think that we can all do something to halt global warming as “each individual can contribute toward protecting the climate through his/her individual actions.”
In fact, women actually show “more scientifically accurate climate change knowledge than do men” but still “underestimate their climate change knowledge more than do men,” a 2010 study (pdf) found.
4. Women are often the keepers of traditional knowledge about the environment
Photo of an Inuit woman and her children via Library and Archives Canada/Flickr
The IUCN report on gender and climate change found that women in traditional societies are often the source of valuable knowledge about weather conditions and the environment. Inuit women in Northern Canada have “a deep understanding of weather conditions, as they were responsible for assessing hunting conditions and preparing the hunters accordingly.”
In Micronesia, local women’s knowledge of island hydrology was key in helping them find potable water during a drought as they knew where to dig a freshwater well.
5. Children will suffer the most from the effects of climate change
Photo of children in Dhaka, Bangladesh, via Development Planning Unit/Flickr
It’s no surprise that the IWECI’s Ranney used the example of a sick child to illustrate the effects of climate change. Children will suffer the most from the rising temperatures, extreme weather events and other effects of climate change, even though they are the least responsible for it, a UNICEF report (pdf) says.
More than 600 million children live in the ten most climate-vulnerable countries. The report predicts that climate change will lead to 25 million more children suffering from malnutrition by 2050; a total of 100 million will experience food insecurity.
6. Women can be more effective in implementing measures to address climate change
Photo of protesters in Melbourne, Australia, via Takver/Flickr
Ulrike Röhr, who co-founded the organization GenderCC – Women for Climate Justice, which advocates for women’s voices to be heard at U.N. climate conferences, says that women are the ones who can make a real difference in fighting climate change.
The reason? Women, says Röhr, ”have a significantly greater sense of risk” and “are far more cautious and dedicated when it comes to the environment.” Women are also more willing “to change their lifestyles to adapt instead of choosing technical solutions.” A GenderCC report singles out the resilience of Pakistani women in the face of climate change but underscores that a lack of “vital information and communication tools” hampers them.
The next major U.N. conference on climate change is scheduled for November in Warsaw. Including women’s viewpoints and addressing women’s issues are crucial steps in undertaking a serious fight against climate change.
Photo from Thinkstock