Climate change’s increased impact on women

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This guest post is written by Kate Harveston, a writer and political activist from Pennsylvania. She blogs about culture and politics, and the various ways that those elements act upon each other. For more of her work, you can follow her on Twitter or subscribe to her blog, Only Slightly Biased.

Climate change is something that affects everyone, but as with many things in this world, it actually doesn’t affect everyone equally. New evidence has suggested that the changing climate can have unique adverse effects on women specifically.

Through a gendered lens

The Paris Climate Agreement, which all but one or two countries have signed now, is working to address climate change in countries around the globe, but it is primarily a male-dominated field. Most of the policies are made in committees that are predominantly male, which can make it difficult to get women-specific issues addressed.

Catherine McKenna is the minster of environment and climate change for Canada and has spoken up repeatedly about the seemingly disproportionate impact that climate change has on women — maybe not in first world countries, but in the developing world. She has stated that there should be more women included in the policy cabinets so that these issues can be viewed “through a gendered lens.”

Impacts in the developing world

We might not see the impact of climate change firsthand in countries like the U.S. and Canada, but in the developing world, the direct impact of these changes becomes much more apparent, especially for women.

In many developing countries, women are responsible for the majority of the farming and food production. Higher temperatures and drought conditions make it harder to grow crops, reducing overall crop yields and making food shortages a bigger problem than they already are.

Speaking of drought conditions, women and young girls are also more likely to be seeking water supplies if there are none available in their immediate area. To gather water, these women will have to travel further and further each day, taking up time that could be spent on other activities both in and out of the home.

These climate changes are also causing stronger and more frequent natural disasters — you just have to look back at the past few months to see some of those impacts. We’ve seen the catastrophic impact of fires in California, and Hurricanes Irma, Harvey and Maria in the Gulf of Mexico and Puerto Rico just in the past few months — and these are in areas that actually have access to more of the means and the resources to recover from a natural disaster.

Hurricane Maria landed in Puerto Rico as a Category 5 storm and decimated the island. Now, more than 2 months later (at the time of this writing), large swaths of the island are still without power, and it may be months or even longer before utilities are fully restored. And Puerto Rico is considered part of the developed world.

In areas where there is a cultural difference between men and women — where women aren’t allowed to learn to do certain things, for example — a natural disaster can lead to a higher chance of death for women. Flood waters aren’t great for swimming in but you do have a distinct advantage if you at least know how to swim — which some women aren’t allowed to learn.

Changes for the better

Some countries are already starting to make changes to make it easier for women to weather the effects of climate change — no pun intended.

In rural India in 1995, the Self Employed Woman’s Association made strides in water collection, improving irrigation and water systems so that women had to spend less time gathering water each day. They even challenged societal norms at the time by having female technicians build and maintain the water systems. Similar initiatives are springing up in the developed world too, as more people become aware of the unique issues that citizens in developing countries face.

In Bolivia, much of the farming is done at high altitudes which add a new level of difficulty to what can already be a difficult task. To help farmers adapt to this, the country started a program that encourages traditional farmers to train other farmers how to use local flora and fauna to predict weather patterns for the coming year. They also rely on women, who traditionally carry the knowledge about storing and planting seeds, to share that information to improve overall crop yield.

We’re not there yet — women still don’t have much of a say in a field where they are so heavily impacted, but we are making strides to improve this. Climate change has the potential to affect everyone, whether you’re rich or poor, male or female. We need all of our great minds, regardless of gender, working on this problem.

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