Today, it is recognized that it is the poorest people who bear the brunt of climate change. Yet 70% of people living on less than USD 1 day in the world are women! Women are therefore the first victims. They are often the source of innovative solutions for climate change adaptation and are key actors in environmental protection. However, they continue to be rarely taken into account in programs to tackle climate change.
Women: By far the first victims of climate change
All over the world, women are faced with poverty and discrimination, which make them more vulnerable to climate and environmental changes.
This is particularly marked in developing countries, due to the role that is traditionally assigned to them in households. Indeed, they are the ones who carry out two-thirds of household chores, such as fetching water or wood. They are constantly in contact with the environment, and are directly affected by the increasing scarcity of natural resources, which gives them a heavier workload.
Women are also responsible for the bulk of food production in developing countries. These agricultural activities are hit hard by climate change. Yet women do not have access to the economic and productive resources that would allow them to get back on their feet and diversify their activities in order to face climate hazards. They will not be able to adapt to the new constraints if we do not allow them to obtain the necessary training, financing or technologies. All this discrimination makes women even more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
Finally, women are more exposed to natural disasters caused by climate change. Indeed, it can be a real challenge to escape from them when you are not allowed to leave home without permission, when you do not know how to swim, or when you are not informed by the warning and prevention systems. It is estimated that women are 14 times more at risk than men of dying during this type of climate event.
Women: Key actors in addressing environmental challenges
Women have to directly face the negative impacts of climate change on a daily basis. They have developed innovative solutions and use their specific traditional knowledge and know-how to protect the environment. They thereby provide practical and effective alternative solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change. This is what we have seen with a number of projects supported by the RAJA-Danièle Marcovici Foundation around the world.
Here are a few examples: in Togo, they implement sustainable farming techniques which tackle deforestation by restoring the fertility of land, and limit the quantity of water used for crops. In Myanmar, they manufacture improved cooking stoves which reduce wood and coal consumption, and therefore deforestation. Finally, in Georgia they work to promote the energy transition, by manufacturing and marketing more efficient innovative energy solutions (more energy-efficient ovens, insulation), or renewable energies (solar water heaters and dryers…).
Yet this essential role of women is not always given its full due. Women are still widely excluded from decisions taken about the environment, both at international and local level! This fact was, moreover, confirmed at COP21: there were only about ten women present, among the 150 Heads of State and senior officials.
Support women’s empowerment
It is by empowering women’s action in their personal and economic lives and as citizens that they will be able to cope with climate change. Promoting access for women to education, training, resources and decision-making spaces reduces risks of insecurity and will also improve their capacity for adaptation and resilience in the face of environmental and climate hazards. Supporting women’s empowerment really provides them with the means to implement effective measures for environmental conservation and sustainable development. Recognizing the importance of the contribution they make to environmental issues also allows them to promote and disseminate these solutions around them, in their communities, and society as a whole can therefore benefit from them.
Women’s empowerment is therefore key to the fight against climate change. It must be made central to environmental programs and policies. Taking better account of women will undoubtedly enhance the effectiveness of these programs for the benefit of all men and women.
Consequently, it is essential for sustainable development actors to adopt a dual approach that combines environmental issues with those of gender equality. How can this be achieved?
Keys to implementing a gender approach in environmental projects
First of all, by recognizing and promoting the environmental contributions and know-how of women, in order to facilitate the development and dissemination of the solutions they implement. In India, women have become seedkeepers with support from the association Solidarité, which promotes their specific knowledge. They thereby conserve local biodiversity, while strengthening the resilience of their communities to climate change.
Secondly, by encouraging the participation of women in all the citizen and environmental decision-making spaces, in order to take better account of their needs and thereby enhance the effectiveness of policies and programs. For example, the Enda network trains Senegalese women in leadership and public speaking so that they can join decision-making spaces, particularly forest management committees.
By giving women equal access to rights, and in particular the right to education, information and sexual and reproductive health, in order to improve their capacity for decision-making and empowerment and their resilience to climate impacts. In Bangladesh, while women are deprived of weather information, Care France has organized awareness-raising meetings to teach them how to access this information and thereby anticipate the increasingly frequent flooding.
By helping women access economic and productive resources, such as land, training, technologies, credit, as they allow them to adapt to and face environmental degradation. For example, in Nicaragua, Habitat Cité trains women in earthen construction. They subsequently build houses and fuel-efficient stoves themselves.
Finally, by promoting the division of labor and equal sharing of tasks between men and women, in order to reduce the work overload which places a burden on women and is further increased by the impacts of climate change. For example, in Senegal, Enda Graf conducted a diagnostic with communities in order to quantify the working time of men and women. This brought about a collective awareness of the work overload of women and led to the organization of joint meetings to promote better task-sharing in households.
Everyone needs to realize the role that women already play, must play, and will play in environmental protection. I very much hope that more and more of us will integrate these issues and commit to working alongside all those who, in their environmental conservation projects, take action to support the empowerment of women.
To make progress in this direction, it is essential that the various stakeholders of these projects share their good practices. It is, moreover, for this objective that the RAJA-Danièle Marcovici Foundation conducted a study which highlights the role of women in the fight against climate change and presents innovative projects. Let us promote this experience sharing, and the benefits of our environmental conservation action will be even greater.