Climate change is happening, and it can be felt in the different natural disasters the world have been experiencing lately, such as landslides, floods, droughts, as well as the degradation of the natural environment. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), these impacts especially affect people in developing areas, exacerbating their vulnerabilities and intensifying the existing inequalities. Due to the fact that they constitute more that half of the world’s poor, as well as distorted power relations and discriminatory cultural and social norms, women will experience the effects of climate change differently.
Women rely more on natural resources, particularly agriculture upon which their livelihood depends. Worldwide, women are estimated to be 43% of the workforce in agriculture. In this regard, it is important to relate the percentage of women working in agriculture or agricultural-related activities (forestry, hunting, fishing) and the vulnerability to climate change of the country those in which those women live. Drawing on the available data from the University of Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index (ND-GAIN), which summarizes a country's vulnerability to climate change and other global challenges in combination with its readiness to improve resilience, and the data on female employment in agriculture from the World Bank, it seems women in countries like Rwanda, with an average of 84% of women working in agriculture, Pakistan with 74%, Tanzania and Malawi, with 70%, or Ethiopia with 65%, are more at risk, as their countries present high vulnerability and less adaptability to climate change, ranking 130, 126, 139, 152, and 145 out of 180, respectively, in the likelihood of survival.
In addition, they are not only highly dependent on land but they also seldom have full legal rights over it. For example, according to Oxfam, on average, across 10 countries in Africa, 39% of women and 48% of men report owning land, including both individual and joint ownership. Only 12% of women report owning land individually, while 31% of men do so. And, according to FAO, that less than 1/4 of agricultural land holdings in developing countries are being managed by women.
As stated before, climate-related natural disasters are more and more common, and women are being heavily affected. Researchers at the London School of Economics and the University of Essex indicate that mortality rates in a natural disaster are higher among women, as they intensify the existing discrimination patterns. Their study reveals that the proportion of women’s deaths is 14 times higher than men. This is often due to the fact that, in some developing countries, women have more burdens as carers of the sick, the children and the elderly, and they have less information about how to protect themselves and be prepared for disasters. Moreover, some cultural norms prevent women from leaving their homes and seeking shelter. And in the aftermath of the disaster, women can be victims of sexual violence during their stay in temporary shelters, and they find it difficult to find steady jobs while the economy recuperates.
However, even though these numbers and facts show an unequal world, it is important to change the perspective and the way these problems are addressed. Victimising women will not improve matters. It might, in fact, be undermining the efforts in promoting and implementing a real sustainable development. Women are essential for climate change adaptation and mitigation. In this sense, women present different attitudes and behaviours than men. For instance, the Eurobarometer 2014 on environmental attitudes show that 45% of women, against 40% of men, think that they can play a role in protecting the environment. Additionally, women appeared to be more likely than men to take environmental measures. The table below shows the percentage of European women who have taken environmental decisions, compared to men.
Recent research also shows that women on average generate less greenhouse gases emissions than men because they rely more on public transport, and they have a lower consumption of energy and meat. Moreover, in the United States, Michigan State University sociologist Aaron M. McCright found that women were more likely than men to accept climate science, and therefore more women were worried about global warming (35% compared to 29% of men) and believed that !climate change is going to affect them during their lifetime (37% to 28%).
This evidence, however, is not trying to portrait women as the one and only solution or as ‘saviours’, but instead, it presents a way to let go the binary image of men versus women. It is time to move towards a more integrative solution while recognising and respecting their individual capacities, knowledge and rights. Linking women with sustainability alone might actually be detrimental, as men are left out of the equation, and women have yet another burden. The truth is that both men and women are needed if one wants to effectively to tackle the adverse effects of climate change. In their report for the UN Economic Commission for Europe, Warth and Koparanova insist that gender integration should be taken into policies and projects towards environmental protection. Even if gender differences exist, this ‘feminine’ behaviours should be encouraged for everybody.
The time to raise awareness has passed, it is time for action. It is time to go beyond the rhetoric of gender mainstreaming, because it is necessary to bring to the table broader and more inclusive concepts, that permits the world to harness all the capabilities of everyone involved. While it is true that women are having it harder than many men, especially in developing regions, it is also important not to polarise these inequalities even more.
Policy makers should be focusing on engaging men and women in an equal manner, to allow them to make informed decisions and have equal access to resources. As a result, sustainability measures can be easily implemented, sharing the responsibilities and the burdens, as well as the benefits of such inclusive policies and programmes.
-  University of Notre Dame (2014), Global Adaptation Index (ND-GAIN) Country Rankings, Available online at http://index.gain.org/ranking
-  World Bank (2014), Employment in agriculture, female (% of female employment), Available online at http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SL.AGR.EMPL.FE.ZS/countries/1W?display=default
-  Oxfam (2014), Killer factcheck: ‘Women own 2% of land’ = not true. What do we really know about women and land?, Oxfam Blogs, Available online at https://oxfamblogs.org/fp2p/killer-factcheck-women-own-2-of-land-not-true-what-do-we-really-know-about-women-and-land/
-  FAO (2010), Gender and Land Rights, Policy Brief 8 Economic and Social Perspectives, Available online at http://www.fao.org/economic/es-policybriefs/multimedia0/female-land-ownership/en/
-  Neumayer E. and Plümper T. (2007), The Gendered Nature of Natural Disasters: The Impact of Catastrophic Events on the Gender Gap in Life Expectancy, 1981–2002, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, pp. 551–566.
-  European Commission (2014), Directorate-General for Environment, Attitudes of European Citizens Towards the Environment, Special Eurobarometer 416 Wave EB81.3, pp 20-35.
-  McCright, AM. (2010), The effects of gender on climate change knowledge and concern in the American public. Population and Environment 32, pp 66-87.
-  Wrath L. and Koparanova M. (2012), Empowering Women for Sustainable Development, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, Discussion Paper Series No. 2012.1, pp 7-20.