Womens role in a warming world

In June climate negotiators will reconvene in Bonn, Germany for an interim meeting to discuss the working text of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC, the international treaty that aims to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent climate change’s worst effects. A relatively new aspect of this conversation is how women can help adapt to climate change and their unique circumstances when it comes to the issue. They are severely affected by climate change yet underrepresented and not engaged in solutions.  CAP’s Kari Manlove has the story in this repost.

Women are likely to be hit harder by climate change than men due their social roles and the simple fact that a majority””as much as 70 percent””of the world’s poor are women. As a result, they are much more devastated by natural disasters than men. One researcher concludes that women are 14 times more likely than men to die in a natural disaster such as a tsunami. Experts predict climate change will only exacerbate such inequities.

But over the last few years the increasing portfolio of climate solutions is beginning to include gender-sensitive approaches and women’s involvement. Observers realize that women need to be protected, engaged, and empowered for climate solutions to truly succeed. They also see that a vulnerable segment of the population is in fact one with mass potential to bring positive change.

Women are a largely untapped resource that we must use to effectively and justly combat climate change. They need to be harnessed to prepare communities for global warming’s effects, particularly in developing countries where warming will have the most severe consequences.

Engaging women on adaptation strategies

Women in developing countries have an intimate knowledge of the social and natural systems global warming affects. They are at the heart of their families’ and communities’ resource management and well-being, notably in rural areas. Women and girls, for example, are responsible for gathering cook stove fuel and producing 60 percent to 80 percent of the food in developing countries. According to the United Nations, women in Sub-Saharan Africa spend 40 billion hours a year collecting water. They can therefore provide valuable insight when it comes to formulating adaptation policies and implementing projects as fuel and water become scarcer and agricultural yields shrink.

The first step to making women full participants in adaptation is recognizing their value in international climate negotiations and supporting advocacy group work (more on both of these below). Next is finding concrete ways to integrate women into the planning, development, and execution of climate adaptation strategies.

Climate adaptation strategy literature is minimal, but observers often turn to experience with disaster risk reduction to craft informed approaches. The disaster risk reduction community is also giving gender issues more consideration, which involves evaluating regional, national, and local response systems through a gender lens, collecting supplemental data, and ensuring women have equal access to early warning systems and the resources for preparedness and disaster assistance.

Further, these techniques are made much more possible and effective with targeted financing, which is why some advocates argue that part of adaptation funding should be set aside for gender-specific training, community workshops, and disaster plans. It’s hard to disagree.

Progress in the UNFCCC

U.N. officials, UNFCCC country delegates, and nongovernmental organizations are beginning to integrate gender into their discourse and policy pushes. A handful of NGOs have more publicly championed ¬gender justice,® such as the international antipoverty organization CARE and the Women’s Environment and Development Organization, or WEDO. They held side events at the Copenhagen climate change conference last year on this very issue, and groups like Climate Wise Women have since taken their message on the road.

Negotiators seem to be listening. UNFCCC interim negotiating text released in Bonn, Germany in June 2009 made 13 mentions of gender and 17 of women””a significant advance over previous texts, which excluded both. During the December meetings, NGOs maintained pressure to include gender-sensitive language in the final text, and several governments were on board. Finland, Ecuador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Bolivia, Iceland, Norway, the European Union, and several African countries supported gender-based language going into Copenhagen.

The Copenhagen Accord””the document that UNCCC delegates agreed to at the final plenary session of the conference””makes no specific mention of women or gender, but the tabled Ad Hoc Working Group on Long Term Cooperative Action, or AWG-LCA, text still contains gender-sensitive language (eight references) that will hopefully be retained through the 16th meeting of the U.N. Conference of Parties or COP16 in Mexico this year.

Groups like WEDO and GenderCC continue to push the United Nations to involve women at high-level climate negotiations. They note that at Copenhagen 30 percent of the country delegates were women. On the one hand, this was the peak for women’s engagement, but on the other hand it does not mirror reality. Similarly, in March U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon put together the Advisory Board on Climate Change Financing and appointed all men. The gender justice community subsequently voiced their concern over the apparent apathy to involve women in high-level discussions.

Going forward

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton””while not explicitly a U.S. climate negotiator””has unabashedly placed women as a strategic centerpiece in her foreign policy approach. She appointed Melanne Verveer as her ambassador at large for global women’s issues and stated, ¬Without providing more rights and responsibilities for women, many of the goals we claim to pursue in our foreign policy are either unachievable or much harder to achieve.®

We should similarly place women on the front lines as we craft solutions to abate global warming and adapt to it. They embody much knowledge, responsibility, and unrealized potential, and are therefore essential if we’re to achieve any meaningful degree of success.

Kari Manlove is a Research Associate for the Energy Opportunity team at American Progress. This column was reposted from the Center for American Progress website.

For more information, see:

10 Responses to Womens role in a warming world

  1. Jeff Huggins says:

    Women on Top

    Forgive me for this comment, please, but my impression is that one of the best ways to help get the world on better and more sustainable paths would be to have women in at least 51% of the corporate and governmental leadership positions, right at the top, on the Boards, and throughout all other levels. Period.

    I say “at least” for good reason.

    If you want to see something interesting, totally imbalanced, and downright disturbing (if you ask me), get the latest issue of Fortune magazine, containing the Fortune 500 list. Go to pages 172-173, which contain a two-page spread photograph of “The Business Roundtable”, a “select group of CEOs” that is “one of the most influential lobbying groups in Washington”. Read the caption. Look at the picture. This is a hugely powerful group. The picture shows 12 men, no women. And barely any other sorts of diversity. The caption says, proudly, that the group “helped kill the White House’s push to tax overseas profits and the public-option component of health-care reform”.

    As Grace Slick sings, “Pick up the Cry!”

    Be Well,


  2. If all the delegates had been women in Copenhagen would there have been a fair and equitable global agreement?

  3. paulm says:

    Woman have been eerily absent from Climate Change action.

    Certainly on my personal level, 90% of them do not seem to be concerned enough to be a positive force. Mall Heads?

  4. Jeff Huggins says:

    To paulm (Comment 3),

    I don’t think, at all, that they are “mall heads”. And of course, generalizations aren’t accurate or fair.

    Instead, I think that many women (not all, of course) may be overly hesitant in the sense that they don’t realize the power that they could, and do, have? Perhaps they are sometimes a bit too hesitant to “exercise their incredible power”?

    At this point, we need hundreds — thousands — of female (and male) change agents to hold events, hit the streets, sing the songs, lead some effective boycotts, “burn the bras”, sit in the front of the bus, organize the Be Ins, awaken campuses, and so forth.

    Go for it.


  5. prokaryote says:

    Women hit hard by the effects of climate change — drought, floods, sea level rise and crop failure — gathered on Monday to plan a Capitol Hill push for U.S. legislation to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

    Climate “witnesses” from the United States, Peru, Senegal, Uganda and other countries aim to tell their stories to members of Congress on Tuesday in a lobbying effort timed to follow Monday’s International Women’s Day.

    Beyond trying to cap climate-warming carbon dioxide emissions, the women said they want to make the strong link between poverty and climate change, and to stress that poor women suffer disproportionately as a result, so adapting to climate change is key.

    “Nature is disrupted,” Marisa Marcavillaca of Peru said through a translator. “It rains when it shouldn’t rain. We have freezing temperatures when we shouldn’t have freezing temperatures. Because our yields are down, it is difficult to feed our children.”

  6. prokaryote says:

    Women will fix the planet
    At a recent eco-fashion forum in Brisbane I had the pleasure of meeting Natalie Issacs – the motivation and inspiration behind One Million Women.

    With long curly hair and a svelte figure in skinny jeans and boots, the trendy mum of four spoke passionately about what led her to change her habits and devote herself to influence environmental change in others.

    “I would sit at a dinner party and talk about climate change, how bad it all was. And then at the end of the night, we’d all go home and do nothing about it.”

    “I had an epiphany and realised it wasn’t somebody else’s problem. Climate change was all about me, my family, my friends.”

  7. fj2 says:

    This is an extremely important win-win issue that The President, First Lady, and Secretary State must focus on immediately since women represent one-half the global population yet suffer horrific levels of exploitation and denial of basic human rights.

    The United Nations’ allocation of resources to global women’s rights is a paltry $1 million and a severe embarrassment.

    Comprehensive and broad deployment of resources, social science research and application, and education are crucial.

    Microsoft’s Bill Gates (The Gates Foundation) seems to be a modern hero in this regard considering the recent decline in global maternal mortality.

  8. Marcus Popo says:

    I think women can start by helping to pare back a lot of the frankly useless economic activity that goes on to support their consumptive habits. Go to any mall on a weekday, and well over 80% of the people buying useless crap are women. Now add in all the gasoline it takes to get them to the mall as well as all the energy that goes into shipping crap over from China… Yeah, women in poor countries might get hit hard, but women in rich countries are primarily responsible.

    Anyways, sitting around and finding more ways to blame and exploit men won’t solve a damned thing. It’s just more pinko post-modern garbage cooked up in the head of some closet Marxist academic and eagerly seized upon by these UN bodies composed of have-nots trying to find more ways to redistribute from those who produce to those who don’t.

  9. Adrian says:

    And, as far as I can tell, the comments on this piece, pro (thanks Jeff and prokaryote) and con, are from…men.

    What will mitigate climate change and all the other environmental disasters, if they can be mitigated or at least tackled in a productive way, will be men and women working together. To exclude half of humanity in this effort is suicidal for our species. BP anyone?

    Many of the environmentally-concerned women I know, myself included, are, say, raising environmentally aware children, or helping fuel the organic food movement, or trying to reduce our household consumption, or starting small green businesses–and so forth. Mostly non-technical, unglamorous, often unpaid, often invisible work.

    To fully include women in the climate change discussion would fundamentally change the discussion, in a potentially world-saving way. Literally.

  10. Adrian says:

    Also thanks, fj2. Very good points and information.