Global Policy Forum

Put Women at Core of Climate Change Debate, Say Activists

October 13, 2009

Women are being excluded from the debate over climate change, despite being most at risk, and governments should do more to ensure their situations and views are represented, campaigners and experts say.

So far, climate change negotiations have responded poorly to the effects on women, activists say. And while global policies advocate a gender perspective, and including women in environment and development efforts, few governments have incorporated such policies into their national plans.

"Extreme events and environmental degradation become a women's issue because we are responsible for providing for the whole community," said Anna Pinto, program director with the Centre for Organization, Research and Education (CORE), based in north-eastern India.

"If the rice yield is bad, men have to migrate, find a job and send money back, while women have to ensure the day-to-day survival of the helpless.

"When the environment degrades it becomes more of a women's problem. These issues need to be genderized on behalf of everyone," she said.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last month called for women to have a greater role in climate change debates. "The special perspective of women is often overlooked in global discussions on climate change," Ban told an event on women's leadership held in New York.

Climate change-related weather events claim between two and three times as many female as male victims, according to the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

"Women are prone to more danger," Robert Dobias, the ADB's senior adviser on climate change, told IRIN. "It's the clothes they wear. Maybe they will run back and get the kids. They are often not in public places where information surfaces about disasters," he said at the sidelines of recent climate-change negotiations in Bangkok.

Excluded from adaptation

"Well-designed, top-down approaches to adaptation can play a role in reducing vulnerability to climate change; yet they may fail to address the particular needs and concerns of women," said Christina Chan, senior policy analyst for CARE International.

In Africa, women farmers produce up to 80 percent of the continent's food, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

However, because most women work in the subsistence sector, they cannot take part in market-based adaptation schemes, according to Rose Enie, from Women for Climate Justice (GenderCC).

"It doesn't work for women because they are mostly in the informal sector," she said.

Campaigners say such omissions mean women will continue to be bypassed by resilience-building initiatives - including access to land, credit, support services, new technologies and decision-making.

In addition, women are particularly overlooked when it comes to the development of environmentally friendly technology that can be used in their daily activities, said GenderCC's Ulrike Roehr.

"Men tend to look at big-scale technology, while needs for smaller-scale technology, such as energy-efficient cooking stoves, are not taken into consideration," Roehr told IRIN.

"These are the technologies which help in reducing women's double and triple burdens, having benefits not only for emissions reduction, but also for poverty reduction and health," she said.

Alternative energy

Women and the communities they look after could be big losers in schemes being considered by governments to mitigate the emission of greenhouse gases, activists say.

These include plans to preserve forests, so trees can absorb and store carbon in the air. The UN's Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) scheme, for example, will see large areas of land closed to women who had hitherto depended on the fuel, medicine, food and fodder they could find there, said Jeannette Gunung, director of Women Organizing for Change in Agriculture and Natural Resource Management (WOCAN).

"Women's exclusion from forests is not new, but as long as forest land had little economic value they could get away with these practices," Gunung told IRIN.

"When the resource becomes of central importance, women have little voice in decision-making and are denied access," she said.

Yet environmentally friendly solutions, such as the use of biogas - flammable gas produced by the fermentation of organic material - as an alternative and cleaner source of energy than firewood, are available, Gunung said.

"Once planners put rural women's needs as a priority, they will come up with solutions that involve sustainable forest management and alternative energy resources," she said.


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