Global Policy Forum

Poor Women "Bear Climate Burden"

November 18, 2009

Women in developing countries will be the most vulnerable to climate change, a report from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has warned.

The agency said there was a disproportionate burden on those women and called for greater equality.

They do most of the agricultural work, and are therefore affected by weather-related natural disasters impacting on food, energy and water, it said.

Slower population growth would help cut greenhouse gas emissions, it added.

The report suggested family planning, reproductive healthcare and "gender relations" could influence how the world adapts to rising seas, worsening storms and severe droughts.

"[There] are fundamental questions about how climate change will affect women, men, boys and girls differently around the world, and indeed within nations, and how individual behavior can undermine or contribute to the global effort to cool our warming world," UNFPA executive director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid said.

'Cycle of deprivation'

She called for any treaty that might come from the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen next month to take into account individuals' power to "reverse the warming of the Earth's atmosphere".

Temperatures are predicted to rise by 4C to 6C by 2100, with a "likely catastrophic effect" on the environment, habitats, economies and people, the report said.

Migration could be affected, as rising sea levels and droughts prompt people to leave uninhabitable lands, and poor people could lose their livelihoods.

But women, particularly in poor countries, will be affected differently from men, the UNFPA added.

Describing "a cycle of deprivation", the report said that women in developing countries did a larger share of farming and had less access to income-earning opportunities.

They also managed households and cared for families, which limited their chances of moving around and increased "their vulnerability to sudden weather-related natural disasters".

'Centuries' to tackle

When drought strikes, the women had to "work harder to secure food, water and energy for their homes".

"Given women's significant engagement in food production in developing countries, the close connection between gender, farming and climate change deserves far more analysis than it currently receives," the UNFPA said.

Societies which will be more resilient to climate change are those with education, healthcare and legal protection for all, and where people have more say in their own lives, it added.

It warned it was a long-term goal - taking "decades, even centuries" - to keep the atmosphere suitable for human habitation.


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