Each year on April 22, the world recognizes the importance of environmental protection through various events and demonstrations. Earth Day first started in 1970 and its importance has gained strength each year as we collectively face the realities and repercussions of climate change. Within its movement, a separate undertaking has taken shape that stems from women’s rights. When it comes to climate-related disasters, women of the world tend to suffer more than men.
This is not to say that men do not feel like effects of climate change and natural disasters. In March 2014, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification projected that “by 2020 an estimated 60 million people could move from the arid desert areas of sub-Saharan Africa towards North Africa and Europe.” Perhaps even more troubling:
“By 2050, 200 million people may be permanently displaced environmental migrants.”
Many developing countries are vulnerable to natural disasters (i.e., floods, earthquakes, tsunamis) and extreme weather can lead to problems with water access, sanitation, crop shortage, disease, and even death. Organizations like the Global Fund for Women and the Women’s Refugee Commission have suggested that active measures must be put into place to protect women from the devastating effects of natural disasters and climate change. Suggestions include:
- Include women in pre- and post-disaster planning
- Create safe spaces for women and girls to protect from violence
- Rebuild and replace schools quickly to protect girls’ education
- Ensure aid is distributed equally
- Focus on women’s health needs (i.e., sanitary supplies, prenatal and maternity care)
While relief is critical, the needs of women do not simply begin and end with a natural disaster. Women must be included in all aspects of climate change and development, including planning, decision-making, and evaluation of aid services and healthcare. Initiatives like the Global Gender & Climate Alliance and the SEED Initiative recognize the importance of integrating issues of sustainable development, women’s health, and climate change, and are working to ensure women make it to the top of the agenda.
Consider the following:
An estimated 220 million women in developing countries report they would like to space their births or have already met their desired family size.
- Increasing access to contraception and family planning options can reduce the number of people in vulnerable areas, making them more resilient to change.
Birth spacing can slow down population growth, as well as carbon emissions.
- Post-disaster relief must include the reproductive needs of women to ensure children are not born into further poverty, and that mother/child are safe and healthy.
More than 80 percent of the world’s farmers are smallholder farmers, majority of whom are women. Yet, women in developing countries control less land and have little resources.
- Increasing access to resources could feed an additional 100-150 million people, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
Women are more likely to take low-paying jobs to make up for lost income opportunities when disaster hits.
- Increasing economic opportunities and self-sufficiency for women can decrease the burden of supporting a family and increase the likelihood of these values being passed to next generations.
Collectively, women in Sub-Saharan Africa spend about 40 billion hours each year collecting water.
- Replenishing underground sources and ensuring women have access to water leads to decline in malnutrition, diarrhea, and may protect from sexual violence for women who travel on unsafe roads/paths.
Climate change has widespread repercussions — from the exacerbation of poverty to the loss of environmental, political, economic and social security. This threat has the potential to set back development efforts, placing already vulnerable populations at an even greater risk. While the United Nations debates on signing a new series of environmental regulations in 2015, we must continue our work to invest in girls and women by bringing cost-effective technologies to farmers, increasing access to contraception, and adapting to build more resilient, healthier, and greener cities.
- What do we really know about the number of farms and family farms in the worlds? – Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
- United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification publication