WEATHErING THE STOrM The climate crisis is a feminist issue, writes Mary Robinson, so must be its solutions
‘We must be careful not to view women and girls through a lens of vulnerability but appreciate them as the vital agents of change they are’
The world has witnessed tectonic shifts over the past months. The Covid pandemic has both exposed and exacerbated fundamental cracks in our societies. A phrase commonly used about differing experiences of the pandemic is, ‘the same storm but different boats’.
This analogy is just as apt for the climate crisis. We are all riding the terrible waves of the climate crisis, but we are not all in the same boat. Some are not in a boat at all, but already feel as though they are clinging to a lifebelt and at the mercy of the tide.
The climate crisis affects countries and communities disproportionately and it affects women more than men.
The climate crisis is unquestionably a feminist issue. A mapping analysis of peer-reviewed studies published by Carbon Brief shows that women and girls often face disproportionately high health risks from the effects of climate change when compared with men and boys.
As the latest report from the International Panel on Climate Change shows, there is growing evidence of the role climate change plays in complex extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, droughts and wildfires.
Nearly two thirds of the studies Carbon Brief scrutinized in show women as more likely to suffer an injury or to die in an extreme weather event. Additionally, per cent of the studies show women as more likely to suffer from climate-driven food insecurity.
Climate change threatens reproductive and maternal health by raising the risks for pregnant women and their unborn babies and by limiting access to quality reproductive and maternal health services. Women’s roles as caregivers and providers of food, water and fuel often means they are first to be affected by the slower changes brought on by the climate crisis.
I once described African farmers as the ‘barometers and first detectors of climate change’. But what was once happening slowly is now happening at pace.
Lake Chad was one of the largest lakes in the world, but as much as per cent of it has disappeared in the past years. Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, an environmental activist from Chad, speaks of the burden this places on women. As the shoreline recedes, women have to walk further and further to collect water. We must be careful though not to view women and girls only through a lens of vulnerability. We need to appreciate them as the vital agents of change that they are.
Women must play a crucial role in the climate change adaptation and mitigation needed to navigate a path to calmer waters. It is often women who have the understanding of what is needed to adapt to changing environmental conditions and to come up with practical solutions – but they remain a largely untapped resource.
The United Nations has highlighted the need for gender-sensitive responses to the effects of climate change, yet the average representation of women in national and global climate negotiating bodies is below per cent. More needs to be done to ensure women are heard; that climate finance is accessible to both men and women; and that those responses are designed to redress and not exacerbate patterns of inequity.
As we approach COP in Glasgow, it is important that national plans and policies to counter climate change do not further entrench gender-based inequalities.
Throwing out life rafts Ta r g e t s must en s u r e t he t r an s f o rmat i on o f societies and economies in a way that leaves no one behind. Therefore, it is so important that there is space given at COP for all voices to be heard. These voices must include the voices of women and girls, particularly the voices of those from the Global South, climate-vulnerable nations and from marginalized groups or communities.
The window of opportunity to limit global temperature rise to . C is very narrow but still scientifically possible. The global community must grasp this opportunity to not only move urgently away from fossil fuels but to aim towards societies that put care, social justice and human rights for all at the centre. We are not all in the same boat. If we are one of the privileged few to be seated on a steady, well-maintained ship as we watch the calamity around us then we should be doing all we can to reach out to those in the most treacherous waters. We must throw out l i fe raf t s , not only because of the moral imperative to do so but because we need each and every one of us in this fight. Only if we face this storm together will we come through it.
Mary Robinson is an advocate for gender equality and climate justice. She was the first woman elected to be the President of Ireland and the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. She is currently chair of The Elders