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Women, Climate Change & Human Security

Women are already facing consequences of climate change. Severe weather events are creating droughts, floods and dangers to food and water supplies for families cared for by women -- women's work around the world.

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In the heat of the economic crisis, concerns about climate change have been largely muted. But it's important to keep in mind that there's a cost to risk management even during tough economic times.

Can we afford ANOTHER 10% global economic impact?

Women are more closely aligned with the earth and thus, climate change because we are more often directly responsible for food, water and clothing for children and the elderly. Climate change affects women first -- and indeed -- already is affecting millions of women in countries that are already facing increased severe weather such as droughts and floods.

Margaret Beckett, UK’s Foreign Secretary, has warned us about migration on an unprecedented scale due to flooding, disease and famine. She also said that drought and crop failure could cause intensified competition for food, water and energy. “It is about our collective security in a fragile and increasingly interdependent world,” she explained to the United Nations in 2007.

Climate change also has major economic implications. According to a 2006 report by Sir Nicholas Stern the costs of adapting to climate change could be as much as 10% of world economic output (Stern, 2006).

In many poor countries such as Senegal, the most important challenge remains the daily lives of women who are still confronted with hardships, especially in rural areas where they constitute approximately 70% of the labor force. They operate with very limited resources and they ensure 80% of agricultural production. They are vulnerable to poverty due to lack of resources and income.

There's a practice in economics that says, "what you measure you can manage," but women’s activities are not really taken into account in most economic surveys and number crunching. Women greatly support the livelihoods of the majority of households (budget and time). The absence of gender-disaggregated data hampers a realistic interpretation of statistics related to the real contribution of women in the national economy. The REAL economy of survival.

Gender roles tend to undergo transformations because of the changes that occur in people’s lifestyles. As living conditions worsen, and poverty escalates, there is a greater need to generate earnings, thus reshaping relationships between men and women. Women acquire more freedom. They get involved in women’s organizations; they sell in local markets, if they have capital. Today, women want to be able to meet their needs and look out for their own interests. Nevertheless, they are still dependent on the environment, the opinion of their husbands and the expectations assigned to gender roles in public life.

Impacts of climate change and women: vulnerability in accessing resources

Women who were interviewed by ENDA in the field state the following: “We walk for long hours to find wood. Our wells are empty. Goods for sale are hard to find. Our land becomes idle. We don’t have money. It doesn’t rain the way it used to before” (Denton, 2005).

Current Victims of CURRENT Climate Change

Women who have been exposed to hardships and environmental insecurity have changed their lifestyles due to these issues. Today, we can assert that they are the primary victims of climate change in light of all their responsibilities in the family and the community.

Rainfall is a big determinant in women’s activities since most of their activities to sustain livelihoods revolve around the environment and depend on natural resources. However, since 1996, there has been a 35% decline in rainfall, shortening of the rainy season and making the drought season more frequent (Diagne, 1997). The relationship between gender and climate change can be assessed best through a development approach because it encompasses all data related to health, education and women’s training to improve their socio-economic conditions.

Access to water The 35% decline in rainfall in Senegal—with a range of magnitude from 20 to 40% depending on the region—has been confirmed by a recent study on the impact of climate change on water resources (Ndiaye, 2007). In this context, women experience great difficulty accessing water, particularly in areas where there are no bore-wells, electric wells, or worse, no connection to a water distribution network.

Climate change and human security

Climate change is an emerging human security issue that threatens numerous communities. The nature and extent of climatic changes not only hinders human development and environmental security, but also forms a major human security threat at national and livelihood levels, particularly for the world’s most vulnerable groups....women and children.

Climate change, its mitigation and adaptation may potentially also create new inequities, vulnerabilities and insecurities (O’Brien, 2007). However, authors also mention that this global phenomenon with its local impacts, offers interesting opportunities to challenge existing paradigms and practices and to develop alternative livelihoods. The best way to mitigate the negative impacts of a disaster is to be prepared for it.

It is now widely acknowledged that negative effects of climate change affect women the most because they depend on natural resources and the environment for all their activities and the basic needs of their families (Diagne Gueye, 2008).

As a result of climate change, women face specific risks and vulnerabilities in a range of sectors. Gender-specific climate change vulnerability and adaptive capacity are place and context specific. Already in several countries, including the case study countries, women experience the impacts of climate change through increased frequency, intensity and impacts of floods, droughts and cyclones. This changing nature also has an impact on their ability to cope, and therefore has major consequences on their security and that of their families.

Climate change not only affects women’s health and wellbeing directly, but it also impacts negatively on their work burdens, opportunities and capacities through changes in their livelihoods.

Read the complete report at Women's Environment & Development Organization (PDF download).

Edited by Carolyn Allen
| women | climate change |


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