Lessons Learned: Women and Climate Change

by Lurette Paulime

While women represent more than 50 percent of the worldwide population, they are the most affected by the adverse impact of climate change. In many developing countries, women are the ones responsible for the agricultural production. Those who live in rural areas make substantial contributions in promoting sustainable development. Even with scarce resources, these women have to find ways to, not only allocate such resources, but also ensure local food security. Most of these women, who depend on farming for feeding their families, have to cope with adverse weather conditions which severely impact crop production. When natural disasters affect their crops, it means that they would not have enough food to feed their families. How can we talk then about climate justice when those women are not only struggling to ensure food security but also suffering from the threat of climate variability?  Their participation makes a huge difference in improving their livelihoods. Despite their large contribution in ensuring food security, their roles are considerably neglected in many developing countries. Climate justice cannot be fully appreciated without understanding the ways in which women have contributed to agriculture. Under the Rome Declaration on Food Security and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “Everyone has the right to adequate food and access to water” however climate events lead to world hunger and water scarcity where women are the most exposed. 

I am delighted that this subject is a focus of the discussions at the COP 18 in Doha this year. It addresses not only the role of women in response to climate change but also their substantial participation at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Women are involved in different bodies at the UNFCCC but there is no article under the convention that underlines the role of women. When women are absent from the political decision making process, this implies that they are prevented from forming part of the solution. At Doha this year, suggestions have been made for the enhancement of gender equality to increase women’s participation in both representation in bodies and the UNFCCC negotiations. This idea is acclaimed by all women’s participants for having raised this bold point. Catalyzing women’s participation in both bodies and the UNFCCC negotiations will allow women’s voices to be heard, not only at the negotiation, but also by their respective governments.

Seriously, if we want to promote climate justice at the negotiations, we have to take some times to think about the living conditions of these women farmers. What worse thing can we do than being egocentric and self-regarding when trying to solve a humanitarian problem. Negotiation is a very complex issue that isn’t only based on the selfish interests of the negotiators, but must also address the needs of other threatened groups. It is imperative that each country must nationally empower women’s rights and provide necessary resources to address their needs. However, the issues affecting these women cannot be addressed without taking into account their roles and responsibilities on mitigating climate change. Take a look at some areas of the African region, one part of the world that is heavily stricken by climate events such as flood, drought, and inundation. What was the condition of this region long before the initiative of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change? Is there any difference on how women are adapting to climate change now? Either way, negotiators must put greater efforts at finding more equitable ways to assist these women in dealing with climate change, while attempting to mitigate its impacts.

 We have to recognize that women have high uncertainties when dealing with climate change risks. If we really want to address the threats that climate change pose to agriculture and food security from a gender perspective, it is crucial to focus on the nature of those treats and raise awareness among parties to empower women. As stated by the famous American entrepreneur Bill Gates: “As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.”

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