Solutions to climate change are usually discussed in terms of what's best for business or politics. But what's best for those who have the most to lose as climate change worsens? Namely, women, especially those living in the poorest regions of the world.
Women are “disproportionately vulnerable” to environmental changes, reports the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Women's Environment and Development Organization (WEDO) . The statistics they’ve compiled draw a disturbing picture of the threats women face as natural disasters, droughts, and floods worsen as the globe warms:
* Women and children are 14 times more likely to die than men during natural disasters (like heat waves, droughts, and hurricanes -- all of which are direct consequences of climate change).
* Hurricane Katrina, which struck New Orleans in 2005, predominantly affected African-American women, who were already the region's poorest, most disadvantaged community.
* An estimated 87% of unmarried women and almost 100% of married women lost their livelihoods when a cyclone hit the Ayeyerwaddy Delta in Myanmar in 2008.
"Natural" disasters like these aren't the only ways climate change takes its toll on women's lives.
* Health: Pregnant and lactating women are more vulnerable to diseases like malaria and dengue fever, both of which are extending their reach into new regions of the world as temperatures rise.
* Children: Kids are spending more time in medical clinics and hospitals as they suffer more cases of climate change-related asthma and poison ivy.
* Lifestyle: In areas of spreading drought, especially in Saharan and sub-Saharan Africa, women spend a disproportionate amount of time gathering firewood and trying to coax reluctant crops out of the ground, reducing the amount of time they can spend getting an education or taking care of their kids, and perhaps leading them to turn to early and undesirable marriages as a survival strategy.
* Economics: Women also bear an unwieldy economic burden when they live in areas prone to environmental threats. As the primary managers of their households, women find it harder to make ends meet as food prices rise to compensate for agricultural shortages due to drought or natural disaster. In developing countries, women may be forced to migrate if their lands become uninhabitable. Yet moving off their land to relocation camps or crowded urban areas makes many women homeless and unable to support themselves and their children.
* Safety and Security: While men are more likely to be killed or injured in fighting, women suffer greatly from other consequences of climate change-related conflict, including rape, beating, anxiety and depression.
The United Nations' State of World Population 2009, warned, "Unless climate policies take people into account, they will fail to mitigate climate change or to shield vulnerable populations from the potentially disastrous impacts." The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has concurred. An agency analysis says a “thorough examination of the scientific evidence" led it to conclude that "greenhouse gases threaten the health and welfare of the American people," and, presumably, people of other nations as well.
The UN's Commission on the Status of Women acknowledges that climate change is not a gender-neutral phenomenon. Rather, it has a direct impact on women’s lives and makes their everyday sustenance even more difficult. The Commission has called for governments to: "integrate a gender perspective into the design, implementation, monitoring, evaluation and reporting of national environmental policies” and to “provide adequate resources to ensure women’s full and equal participation in decision-making at all levels on environmental issues, particularly on strategies related to the impact of climate change on the lives of women and girls.”
Groups like the United Nations Foundation, working in conjunction with the U.S. State Department and many international partners, have launched a promising program to help both reduce climate change and protect and empower women by teaching them how to build and use cleaner-burning cookstoves. Traditional cookstoves in developing countries contribute greatly to the respiratory diseases that women and their children contract because they’re breathing dirty cookstove smoke. As it turns out, this same smoke is also one of the largest contributors to global climate change. The cleaner stoves burn fuel far more efficiently with less environmental and human health impact.
What Can You Do?
* At home, do what you can to save energy and reduce the greenhouse gases that cause climate change. Here's how
And if you need any more arguments as to why you should care about climate change, here are ten.
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