Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/washington/news.aspx?id=83755
Story Retrieval Date: 5/25/2013 10:06:54 AM CST
WFP Jessore Field Office Situation Report
WASHINGTON -- On the climate change stage, several groups are placing a spotlight on women.
Representatives from these organizations, which include the Women’s Environment Development Organization and The World Conservation Union, say women’s economic, social and cultural roles put them at a disadvantage when facing the threats of climate change.
Women in developing countries are “the world’s principal food producers,” according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, which leads international efforts to defeat hunger. Women are also largely responsible for securing water and energy for cooking and heating.
With an increase in droughts, floods, desertification and erosion – possible impacts of global warming – women will have to work harder to secure these vital resources, say experts on women’s issues. As a consequence, they would have less time to care for their families or get an education.
This effect can already be seen in Tuvalu, a group of islands in the South Pacific Ocean, where increased time spent on securing water and fuel is directly related to decreasing girls’ enrollment in school and lower literacy levels, said Rebecca Pearl, a program coordinator at WEDO, the women’s environment group.
While women’s livelihoods are threatened by environmental change, their lives are at greater risk when disaster strikes.
“In many Asian and Latin American countries, skills such as swimming and tree climbing are taught mainly to boys,” said Lorena Aguilar, an adviser at the World Conservation Union. “These skills help them survive and cope better during floods.”
In rural Bangladesh, Aguilar added, women’s dress codes can restrict their ability to move quickly during a natural disaster, and some women cannot leave their households without the consent of a male relative.
Oxfam International reported disproportional fatalities among men and women during the Tsunami that hit Asia at the end of 2004. According to an Oxfam briefing, females accounted for about three quarters of deaths in eight Indonesian villages, and almost 90 percent of deaths in Cuddalore, the second most affected district in India.
The report stated that many of these women perished because they were at home while men were out running errands away from the seashore, or because they lacked the stamina to stay afloat while simultaneously clinging to their children.
Skeptics might write off this evidence as anecdotal, Aguilar acknowledged. So she pointed out a recent study by the London School of Economics, which analyzed natural disasters in 141 countries and found that gender differences in deaths were directly linked to women’s economic and social rights.
“That is, when women’s rights are not protected, more women than men will die from disasters,” Aguilar said.
Despite these facts, she explained, women are underrepresented in decision-making related to climate change.
Furthermore, the climate change response plans in many developing countries leave out or brush over the need to address the hardships women face, Pearl said.
There’s also the question of climate change policy funding, which is not being directed to vulnerable women, said Liane Schalatek, associate director of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, a think tank that specializes in global environment issues.
However, some progress has been made in the last two years.
The Global Gender and Climate Alliance, formed in December, 2007, is working with a key policymaker, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
And the Hyogo Framework for Action, created at the 2005 World Conference on Disaster Reduction in Japan, mentions the need for a gender perspective to be integrated into all disaster risk management policies.
“Hopefully you’ll see a lot of change in the next couple of years,” Pearl said.