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The Gender Bias of Global Warming

The Gender Bias of Global Warming

This post was written by Parker Liautaud and cross-posted from UN Women

In September 1995, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action laid out a framework for empowering women and removing barriers to gender equality, emphasizing our obligation to pursue a world free from discrimination on the basis of gender. In the 20 years since then, in a seemingly different realm, the issue of climate change has spread beyond the laboratories, beyond the scientific journals, and beyond the legislative bodies of the world to become deeply rooted in public debate.

In some countries, the issue is bitterly controversial; in others, the required course of action has never been clearer. Either way, what has become clear in recent years is the extent to which people are already suffering. With this comes the need to mitigate and adapt to new risks that previous generations didn’t face. In an increasingly vulnerable world, women are often disproportionately affected by climate-related risks.

I am not by any means an expert on issues of gender equality, but we don’t have to go far to find abundant evidence connecting gender inequality and climate change. The most recent report on the impacts of global warming from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – which details the most up-to-date knowledge on adaptation, vulnerability and risk – points to imbalances in the ways women and men differ in their vulnerability to climate risks.

The IPCC report outlines how the effects of global warming are often felt most severely by the poor who are exposed to exacerbated risks from low-quality housing, a lack of access to services and inadequate infrastructure. People living in poverty are also particularly sensitive to declining crop yields and increases in food prices, both of which are already occurring. As stated in the Platform for Action, the vast majority of the approximately 1 billion people living in poverty are women, a reality which itself leads to an inherent gender bias in vulnerability to climate change. But beyond this are long-standing inequalities that often put women – especially poor women – even more at risk than their male counterparts.

Extreme weather events such as droughts, floods and storms register a higher mortality rate globally for women than for men. This isn’t random: antiquated gender roles often exclude women from decision-making processes, sometimes preventing them from taking the best course of action in an emergency. The IPCC cites studies discussing how many women in Nicaragua are expected to stay in their home, even in dangerous situations, which can put them at risk in the event of flooding, for example.

In the difficult aftermath of extreme weather events, higher rates of physical violence against women often occur, notably in two of the most economically developed countries in the world: the United States and Australia.

Furthermore, the report points to how a lack of institutional protection or support can put women at risk when it comes to enduring individual extreme weather events and adapting to changing conditions in the long-term, especially where women have less access to information and community resources. These resources could include information on how to respond in a dangerous, extreme weather event, support for methods of adaptation to changing conditions, and even education, which is a critical component in the empowerment of women.

Gender-based inequalities perpetuate the vulnerabilities faced by women in a changing world, and yet, the above represent just a few examples. When it comes to working towards equality between women and men, the human consequences of climate change bring out lessons which demonstrate why the Platform for Action is so important. This is a human rights issue, and one that is closely connected to fundamental components of our society, such as education and health.

Yes, men also face differentiated risks, depending on the region. The difference, however, is that these vulnerabilities aren’t caused by entrenched societal inequalities. Many climate-related risks to women can be alleviated by implementing societal changes that are already morally necessary, and which UN Women is already working towards.

Global warming and gender inequality share an important characteristic. They are both widespread, while having profound consequences on individuals and communities. The interactions between the two are complex, and I could not address them comprehensively in one article, even if I were qualified to do so. To attempt to do so would be trivializing an important matter.

From a moral perspective, equality cannot be a choice or a luxury of the most privileged societies. It must be a non-negotiable priority. In the face of unprecedented global change, we strive to build a resilient world. This will only be possible if we relentlessly pursue equality in every corner of our society.

For more information on Women and the Environment, check out the In Focus editorial package on the new Beijing+20 campaign website.

Parker Liautaud is a polar explorer and climate change campaigner. He has undertaken three expeditions to the North Pole and one to the South Pole. In 2013, he completed the fastest human-powered trek from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole. He studies Geology & Geophysics at Yale University and is a Fellow at the Yale Climate & Energy Institute.

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Photo: Parker Liautaud is an Arctic explorer. Credit: Paddy Scott

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95 comments

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12:08PM PDT on Jun 18, 2014

To my mind, this report is too vague and general. I would have preferred that the authors give specific examples of the ways in which women suffered/suffer from discrimination during the process of global warming. For example, I know that in Moslem cultures, the men always get to eat first in their families. The women must wait, and thereby get to eat the "leavings" (leftovers).

2:10PM PDT on Jun 17, 2014

Just use your brain and be attuned to your surroundings for crying out loud. Men...women..... Look around you to see what is happening on this planet. Not a pretty picture. Thanks for sharing.

1:19PM PDT on Jun 17, 2014

the real sad part is that the poor are suffering excessively from the greed/laziness/selfishness of the wealthy in this issue.

12:53AM PDT on Jun 17, 2014

always good to read what is happening in our world but also very disheartening at times ...hope the big GUYS who make rules realize what a mess we are really in.

10:12AM PDT on Jun 16, 2014

ty

3:48AM PDT on Jun 16, 2014

Thanks for sharing.

5:41AM PDT on Jun 15, 2014

thank you for posting

10:46PM PDT on Jun 14, 2014

Regardless of your gender, stop 1000 tons of CO2 emissions by saving acres of rainforest for the cost of a cup of coffee: https://www.rainforesttrust.org/acres-for-50cents/

1:41PM PDT on Jun 14, 2014

Thank you for sharing.

9:29AM PDT on Jun 14, 2014

ty

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