Climate Change Hits Women First and Hardest


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.”

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Mangrove photo by Cathryn Wellner

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Manuela B.
Manuela B.3 years ago

interesting and true thanks

Carole N.
Carole Nixon3 years ago

It's all down to people power. We don' t like something we boycott, protest, or find an alternative, then the big boys have to sit up and take notice.

Rin S.
Rin S.3 years ago

Great article on the importance of gender equality. And as for the poll, yes!

Sarah M.
Sarah M.4 years ago

so true

Eternal Gardener
Eternal Gardener4 years ago


Michael C.
Michael C.4 years ago

Women have always played an important role in the area of change, in many cases, women are truly the backbone of many communities. Men earn and off they go for cerveza, women work and the job gets done and their children get fed and clothed.

Scott F. How true. HAARP is one of the most dangerous WEAPONS of Mass Destruction ever devised by Man. Ask a Haitian, in Port-au-Prince, or perhaps the people of Bamm, Iran, it is widely believed that they both experienced the wrath of HAARP.

Anastasia F.
Anastasia F.4 years ago

So glad to learn that local people are getting involved and protecting their own swath of ecosystem. Don't wait for the US to get on board--- it'll be too late.

Tish L.
Tish Levee4 years ago

As women, we are intimately aware of the future generation and the effect that climate change can have on the children we bear, so it only stands to reason that we need to lead in making a difference and taking action on global warming.

Judith Corrigan
Judith Corrigan4 years ago

Maybe if the men are doing nothing then they can go out on their wives behalf and address climate change,they don't seem to be doing anything round the house?

Joe R.
Joe R.4 years ago

Sadly enough I think climate change is hitting the animals first and hardest. I'm feeling little sympathy for the human race here, male or female.