A friend who worked in an orphanage in Guatemala for many years described a rural scene: the women would rise early and prepare food for their families. Then they would pick up their water carriers and walk miles to the nearest well. The daily water trip took hours, in every kind of weather. The rest of the day they spent gathering firewood, tending the small plots that fed the families, washing and mending clothes, cleaning their homes and preparing food.
According to the U.N.’s Women Watch, these women, responsible for their families’ welfare and dependent on the natural resources around them, are the first to suffer from climate change. Yet they are voiceless when countries come together to discuss climate adaptation.
One group of women on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula decided not to wait for the rich and powerful to stop sheltering their own self-interest and act on behalf of the planet. According to IPS News, they live in a coastal area where climate change is bringing more hurricanes and flooding. With heavy storms and changes in seafood species affecting their livelihood, they acted.
In 1999 they formed Mujeres Trabajadoras del Mar cooperative. Three years later Hurricane Isidore battered the Yucatan Peninsula, ripping out coastal vegetation. Storm chaser Geoff Mackley pieced together the video below, which shows some of the horrendous devastation.
Without the mangroves to regulate water temperatures in the lagoons, the women’s livelihood was threatened. They trained in “mangrove ecology” and have worked to restore the habitat that protects breeding grounds for species they fish. They have organized waste management and environmental initiatives.
The cooperative is one effort to address gender inequity in dealing with the impacts of climate change. A study by the Gender and Environment Network (Red de Género y Medio Ambiente) gives a sense of how much is yet to be done to address the inequities: “women are in a position of greater social vulnerability due to the rigid gender roles that persist in local communities and relegate them to a subordinate position in decision-making, and they are aware of this.”
Initiatives like the Mujeres Trabajadoras del Mar cooperative are working on gender and climate change issues in spite of being absent from high-level discussions. Cecilia Navarro of Greenpeace Mexico says, “Women need greater access to public forums of debate at all levels. The measures that are adopted cannot ignore the question of gender or exclude women.”
Mangrove photo by Cathryn Wellner