Climate change affects all of society in different ways based on gender, geography, disability, age, socio-economic circumstance and more. For this reason, comprehensive policies around climate change must be developed by all of society. A clear starting point lies with the inclusion of women on local, national and international levels. We account for 50% of the global population – without our participation in climate change action, how is holistic and enduring action meant to be taken?
Fast facts on Women and Climate Change
UN figures indicate that 80% of people displaced by climate change are women.
In developing countries, about two-thirds of the female labour force are engaged in agricultural work. This increases to more than 90 percent in many African countries.
The average representation of women in national and global climate negotiating bodies is below 30%.
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that to feed everyone on Earth, we need to increase food production by 70% by 2050.
According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, gender-based violence and exploitation rise as resources dwindle, land becomes increasingly unliveable, and climate change increases.
Why we need women’s empowerment for climate change
Women provide unique and effective solutions
The way any given situation is perceived will differ significantly between a man and a woman. Both opinions are necessary to respond holistically and effectively. For example, in farming a man will typically mass produce a small variety of crops in order to make the most money possible, otherwise known as monoculture farming. While this tenders financial gain, it can damage the environment by draining nutrients from the soil. A woman on the other hand, typically farms with cooking and providing nutrient-filled meals in mind, therefore growing a diverse group of crops that protect biodiversity and improve soil resistance.6 In this scenario, a woman’s perspective serves her interests without compromising on environmental care.
Women are disproportionately affected by climate change
Climate change affects some more than others. Studies show women are more at risk during extreme natural events because they are often caring for young and elderly family members and, in many cultures, aren’t educated on how to physically survive such events. One such example is the Southeast Asia tsunami from 2004 where 227 000 were killed, 75% of whom were woman.1 No direct cause is attributed to this figure, rather that it is the result of interconnected systemic and cultural expectations that left those women trying to save children and elderly as well as themselves, while also not being able to swim. Diversifying the domestic workload between men and women as well as educating women on basic survival techniques is part and parcel of women’s empowerment. It is also the kind of female empowerment that may affect whether a woman lives or dies.
Women are better leaders in times of crisis
Studies show that women lead more successfully during times of crisis (see this study on Covid-19 pandemic responses by female-led governments). It stands to reason then, that women should be actively encouraged to take up leadership roles in response to the climate crisis. In Sudan, a group of women identified gender inequality and climate change as their greatest obstacle to farming. Demonstrating initiative and leadership, these women formed the first and only Women’s Farmers Union. The union provides tools, training and seeds, empowering more women to work and earn an income. Empowering women in this way bears a flow on effect for climate change by cultivating crops and boosting biodiversity all year round.
Women are more eco-conscious than men
In 2018, research was conducted by a market research firm Mintel into ethical consumerism in relation to sustainability. It found that “71% of women try to live more ethically, compared to 59% of men”, leading to the coining of the term ‘Eco Gender Gap’. The statistics show that not only are women more concerned than men for the environment but that they act on their concerns. With such proactive consumption habits, it begs the question – why aren’t women more involved in climate change action and policy making?
On all levels, women must be present to provide effective, inclusive and enduring solutions to the climate crisis. Global bodies have acknowledged the inextricable link between female empowerment and climate change – the UN lists ‘gender equality and female empowerment’ 5th in its list of sustainable goals. It is time we acknowledge it too.
Written By: Teresa