“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.
Photo from Thinkstock
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