a MAN-MADE PROBLEM WITH A FEMINIST SOLUTION: THE CASE OF CLIMATE CHANGE AND GENDER JUSTICE

 

 

By Hadasa McFarland Dias

When it comes to the dialogue surrounding climate change, the focus tends to lie on how the environment is put in jeopardy and how the future generations will suffer from the burden of this crisis. However, the neglect toward the ‘less evident’ threats posed by climate change is long-standing:  have we stopped to contemplate how climate change greatly and directly affects the lives of women, aggravating gender inequality through heat waves, rising sea levels, extreme storms, and other climate-related disasters? The UN has reported that out of 100 people suffering from climate change, 80 of them are women, in light of this, the following question becomes imperative to analyse: why does climate change disproportionately burden women?

 

A GLOBAL, PATRIARCHAL PROBLEM

Historically women have faced discrimination and inequality, and when disaster strikes, these injustices become accentuated. As established by the United Nations, women “commonly face higher risks and greater burdens from the impacts of climate change” as they have  less access to basic human rights,  such as the ability to freely move and acquire land, and face systematic violence that escalates during periods of instability. Pre-existing and overlapping inequalities are magnified by climate change, as it impacts poor populations the hardest, due to lack of preparedness and infrastructures that safeguard their rights, for instance, the right to water and sanitation. Women are most likely to live in poverty than men, as 70% of the world’s poor are women, thereby rendering them more vulnerable to the impacts of the environmental crisis. Furthermore, increasing burdens often occur within the confines of discriminatory legal frameworks that exclude or marginalise women in land tenure or property rights: 90 percent of 173 economies have at least one law impeding women’s economic empowerment, which further hinders their ability to protect themselves (and their families) from the effects of climate change. In most communities where the population depends on farming, women are the ones who are responsible for producing and collecting the food, water, the wood for the fire, nonetheless, as climate change impacts them through floods, heat waves, droughts, etc., they become vulnerable as they cannot access these resources. As a devastating result of anachronistic legal frameworks and persisting inequalities, women’s survival “hangs from a thread” due to an ever-changing climate coupled with multifaceted barriers to their independence.

 

In fragile and conflict-affected settings, limited governance, political instability and violence leave communities particularly ill-equipped to cope with a changing climate. Climate change exposes women to security risks, including sexual and gender-based violence, or creates additional barriers to education. Consequently “the global threat of climate change and environmental degradation is poised to exacerbate the already increasing number of complex emergencies and inequalities, which disproportionately affect women and girls”, as stated by Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General. Extreme weather phenomena such as cyclones and floods further aggravate gender injustice. For instance, as climate change becomes more extreme and unpredictable, hundreds of thousands of people living in poverty in Somalia are already paying a heavy price. As well as facing a fragile political situation after the collapse of the government in 1991, Somalia has experienced recurrent droughts which have in turn increased clan conflicts.  Climate shocks – creating resource scarcity and stress on livelihoods – have shifted many cultural norms in Somali society and are having an impact on gender dynamics. This in turn has resulted in increased levels of gender-based violence: “The loss of livestock because of drought has resulted in men being unable to secure income for the family. This is causing tension and conflict in households and driving domestic violence towards women and children”.

In 2005, when Bangladesh faced intense floods, multiple Sarmin girls were forced to get married at the mere age of 14: the parents had lost everything in the floods and consequently struggled to secure livelihoods, meaning that marrying their daughter to wealthy men as it is their ‘ticket-out’ from poverty and hunger. Extreme weather conditions have the “collateral effect” of hindering girls’ access to education, as child marriages undoubtedly deprive girls of their basic human rights,  for instancethe right to education, and reduce their preparedness in the face of the climate crisis. “If we gain ground on gender equity, we also gain ground on addressing global warming. 130 million girls are denied access to their basic right to attend school, therefore too many girls are missing a vital foundation for life. Education means better health for women and their children, translating into greater agency at home and in society, therefore more capacity to navigate a climate-changing world” said Katharine Wilkinson, environmentalist and vice-president at Project Drawdown.

 

 “Climate change is a man-made problem with a feminist solution” says Robinson – Mary Robinson, first female president of Ireland and former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The above is corroborated by Verona Collantes, intergovernmental specialist with UN Women, as “Gender inequality hampers women’s capacity and potential to be actors of climate action. These gender inequalities — access to and control over resources, access to education and information, and equal rights and access to decision-making processes — define what women and men can do and cannot do in a particular context of climate change”. It is vitally important to highlight how women are not helpless victims, as their participation and leadership in decision-making can have transformative effects in their countries and communities.

 

It is with no doubt that women are the ones who have mostly been leading movements which promote a solution to climate change that is more quotable and sustainable, they offer innovations and expertise that have transformed innumerous lives across the globe. Therefore, systematically depriving them of their rights, such as that to education, and of their empowered role in leading the fight against this crisis, stops them from being that variant in the equation to tackle climate change and thus from being an active part of the solution.  Women represent about half of the world and it is so important that they feel safe and can have access to participate in any decisions, particularly those that greatly impact them. Activists such as Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim asserted that“Climate change is not a fight for power, it’s a fight for survival” and many women fight to survive when they find themselves being affected by climate change.

 

WHAT MUST BE DONE? INCLUDE WOMEN IN DECISION-MAKING

Socio-cultural systems may limit women’s voice and agency in decision-making, where they are often ignored, excluded, and not represented as stakeholders. There are still visible (and persistent) gaps between acknowledging the problem and implementing long-term community-oriented, gender-sensitive solutions. The 2015 Paris Agreement has made specific provision for the empowerment of women, as these are underrepresented in politics and decision-making. Governments must include gender equality as a crucial component of climate change mitigation policies, reinforcing the proposal that the transition to a climate-neutral economy must be accompanied by women’s empowerment.

The Gender Action Plan (GAP), established under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), promotes the incorporation of gender equality and empowerment of women into climate policies at all levels of action. States must guarantee the implementation of SDG5 (to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls) in combination with of SDG13 (to take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts).

Frameworks must be developed to “profit” from the fact that climate change impacts gender roles, power relations and livelihood patterns, creating opportunities to overcome longstanding barriers hindering women’s empowerment. These must widen peace networks, strengthen dialogue and secure inclusive political, social and economic structures that rotate around gender equality and environmental sustainability. 

Fundamentally, girls’ (and women’s) access to education must be unconditional: Education means better health for women and girls, which translates into greater agency at home and in society. This empowers women with strengthened capacities to navigate a climate-changing world.

By applying a gender lens to actions mitigating the environmental crisis, the recognition of the co-benefits of gender equity, women’s empowerment and climate resilience constitutes an important avenue for effectively tackling climate change. 

 

WAYS TO HELP:

WE NEED TO EDUCATE OURSELVES:  SOME IMPORTANT RESOURCES: 

SUPPORT ORGANISATIONS THAT EMPOWER WOMEN, AIMING TO TACKLE THE DEFICIT OF WOMEN IN POSITIONS OF NATIONAL AND GLOBAL LEADERSHIP

PETITION TO THE AUTHORITIES FOR FUNDS TO BE ALLOCATED AND INVESTED IN WOMEN EMPOWERMENT AS A TOOL TO FIGHT CLIMATE CHANGE

 

CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Hadasa McFarland Dias

Hadasa is at present pursuing a BA in Social Work at the University of Stirling. She is intrinsically passionate about human rights and justice in all of its forms. Hadasa hopes to contribute to the field of Social Work, for instance by exploring how the climate crisis impacts the most vulnerable communities, thereby contributing to long-lasting, ethical solutions that make the principles of justice a priority (and an unconditional reality) within her area of expertise and in society as a whole.

 

 

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