Beyond “Mother Earth” to the Women of the World
In front of audiences I regularly say, It’s funny, I’m not an environmentalist, but I am concerned about climate change as a women’s issue. (I also claim it is a queer issue, a human rights issue, and a Black Lives Matter issue.) When I mention it as a women’s issue, I add, Globally women are affected by climate change more than men. I usually get curious incredulous stares.
In the midst of the dreadful news about the terror attack in Istanbul, the general panic over Brexit, and the bizarre and banal US Presidential election coverage, this week I return over and over to a story about women. I read it in the Princeton Review’s Law Street. Inez Nicholson highlights The Victimization of Women From Climate Change.
In her piece about women and climate change, Nicholson explains:
In developing countries, most women must rely on collecting natural resources (water, food, and energy for cooking and heating) to sustain their livelihood and the livelihood of their families. Uncertain rainfall, drought, and deforestation–all common symptoms of climate change–make it harder for women to maintain their livelihood. Compared to men in these poor countries, women are disadvantaged because of their limited access to education, economic assets, and a place at the table to make decisions on how to combat the problem.
Having just returned from South Africa with extended stays in rural villages, I witnessed what I also saw when I lived in Zambia and Ecuador. Women and girls spent hours a week carrying water, collecting wood to for cooking fires, and working the in the gardens. Because of the economic structure in South Africa, many of the men in these remote rural villages were far away in cities where they could earn money. Many women, young and old, run the farm and look after the family. The worst drought in 30 years has made it harder for these women to get water and grow crops.
In her article, Nicholson writes about a panel presentation she heard on June 23rd in Washington. One of the panelists of Eye of the Storm: Women and Climate Change included Jacqueline Patterson, director of the NAACP’s Environmental and Climate Justice Program. She made it clear “Climate change exposes gender vulnerabilities.”
Women Globally and in USA are affected
Speakers from both the US and abroad, stressed that the dangers to women on a changing planet have already affected women all over the world, including in the USA.
The panelists shared stories of how violence against women during times of environmental crisis are happening right in our backyards. Patterson elaborated on this by sharing a startling stat from Hurricane Katrina–nearly 300 women were raped during and after the lawless days of the storm.
Climate change magnifies existing conditions. We have always had droughts and floods, but on a warmer planet these events are more severe and last longer. Similarly the dangers of sexual assault, domestic violence, and everyday suffering that women face locally and globally are being increased with global warming. We are seeing this with other community members who do not enjoy the same privileges as white middle class. Jacqueline Patterson regularly speaks out about how climate change directly affects Black communities in the USA.
Deepen your understanding of women and climate change–beyond victimhood
The United Nations created an informative fact sheet that goes deeper into the issues affecting women in a time of climate change. The writers of the fact sheet point out what the panelists in DC also stated: women are not helpless victims in regards to climate change–they can and are providing solutions. From the UN Fact Sheet:
It is important to remember, however, that women are not only vulnerable to climate change but they are also effective actors or agents of change in relation to both mitigation and adaptation.
Women often have a strong body of knowledge and expertise that can be used in climate change mitigation, disaster reduction and adaptation strategies. Furthermore, women’s responsibilities in households and communities, as stewards of natural and household resources, positions them well to contribute to livelihood strategies adapted to changing environmental realities.