Climate change is currently right before our eyes begin, instead, it’s already happening. As we know, the global temperature has been increasing by 1° Celsius in the past century 1).
It affects the rise of sea levels, glaciers meltdown, vague weather, and food shortages all around the world. These issues become a heated discussion for all political leaders around the world since it affects the socio-economic and livelihood of their nation, and the perpetuation of humankind.
One of the critical aspects which are often overlooked is how climate change is interconnected with gender equality. Women have become more vulnerable since climate change will trigger a snowball effect which created a change in reaction to many problems such as sexual violence, gender-based violence, human trafficking, child marriage, and other forms of violence 2).
In lower-middle income countries, women tend to have less access than men, in terms of education, job opportunities, equal rights, and basic needs like food and clean water access 3) but they play an important role in the household. Aside from maintaining the longevity of the family, they often become the natural resources manager while also fulfilling their reproductive activities.
Women and girls around the world spend 200 million hours a day gathering water, and it is the girls in 8 out of 10 homes without running water who are responsible for lugging heavy containers over rough terrain 4). For that, they are at risk of attack or even kidnapping because they often have to walk alone.
Girls are also often forced to drop out of school to help their mothers in the fields who have to work extra to meet the family's food and water needs during the long dry season that occurs in tropical countries 2). However, they received less pay and key information compared to men, which put them into more cornered situations as they still had to work extra hours to feed their families, which put their health in danger.
Natural disasters also create greater risks for women. According to a survey carried out by Oxfam 5), four times as many women than men died in the 2004 tsunami across a dozen countries. The reasons behind this are because women tend to stay back to look for children and relatives, as per their gender roles, and because most of them did not know how to swim and climb trees as the men and boys did, which meant that they couldn’t escape.
A large number of people exposed to climate or weather-related natural disasters will also experience stress and serious mental health consequences. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) women are the largest single group of people to be affected by PTSD 6), and this is linked to a high prevalence of sexual violence and exploitation which can rise during and after extreme weather events worldwide. Besides PTSD, women also tend to face a higher risk of depression and emotional distress following extreme weather events like rising temperatures 7).
In addition, climate change also enhances the spreading of climate-related diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, and the Zika virus, which are associated with worse maternal pregnancy and childbirth 2). The gap created by gender inequality has made women unable to have the same access to information, mobility, resources, services, decision-making, and care. Leaving them in such situations will reduce their survivability and impact their children’s longevity.
As a result, the livelihoods, well-being, health, and recovery of women and girls are increasingly under threat. This creates a vicious cycle of vulnerability to future disasters that hinders the ability of the community to adapt to climate crisis. Therefore, the issue of gender equality and the climate crisis is one of the most critical problems in our time.
Considering these situations, the world shall increase the participation of women in the climate change movement and decision-making, since they are in a pivotal position in current circumstances. Putting gender equality at the centre of climate change solutions means integrating diverse gender perspectives across holistic and enduring climate, environmental, and disaster risk reduction policies and programs 8).
Women’s and girls' full and equal participation in decision-making processes is a top priority in the fight against climate change. Mavisakalyan and Tarverdi 9) found that increased representation of women in national parliaments leads to the adoption of stricter climate change policies.
Women's leadership is also linked to increased transparency around climate impacts in the workplace. Meanwhile, at the local level, the participation of women in natural resource management is associated with better resource governance and conservation outcomes.
Better natural resources management will contribute to reduce greenhouse gas emissions coming from land use and land use changes as the land management becomes more effective and efficient without the need of expanding - or even wasting - natural assets. This could happen because expanding women's access to productive resources can increase agricultural production and food security.
For example, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), if all women farmers received equal access to productive resources (such as land and credit), their agricultural production could rise by 2.5 to 4 percent and the number of malnourished people could be reduced by 12 to 17 percent 10). And by increasing agricultural yields, the pressure to clear more land can be reduced thereby reducing additional emissions.
Finally, sexual and reproductive health and rights are essential for gender equality in climate action. By strengthening health systems to meet the current demand for sexual and reproductive health services, nations could safeguard recent gains made in environmental and biodiversity conservation, adaptation to change, and climate improvements in health, education, and gender equality 8).
Climate solutions must also increase and invest in gender-specific statistics and data to strengthen the link between gender and climate, strengthen and enforce land rights, and promote women-led and women-focused sustainable solutions, in particular indigenous peoples and grassroots nature-based solutions management, and food production activities. Without gender equality today, a sustainable and more equal future remains beyond us.
* This artcle is written Amanda Rahma, Climate Resilient and Inclusive Cities internship.