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The ones hit hardest

  • Published at 06:28 PM October 11, 2017
  • Last updated at 02:16 PM October 12, 2017
The ones hit hardest
Women face the brunt of climate changeMEHEDI HASAN

Women suffer the most from the effects of climate change

The effects of climate change — floods, drought, extreme weather, increasing diseases, and growing food and water insecurity — disproportionately hurt the world’s 1.3 billion poor, the majority of whom are women.

As the world struggles to grapple with rapid disasters as well as answer to sluggish degradation caused by climate change, it is critical to ensure that the trouble of women is firmly on the agenda of concerns.

Although women are forced to accept the brunt of the consequences of climate change, they have been methodically excluded from decision-making mechanisms and denied agency in determining when and how to overcome the vulnerabilities they face.

So, it is imperative that we understand the impact of climate change on women, as well as the importance of their actions in addressing its effects.

Climate change not only causes droughts and soil erosion, which disenfranchises women farmers — who are the majority of the agricultural workforce — but also undermines hygiene and sanitation, affecting maternal health, women’s economic productivity, and girls’ education.

Barriers to education and information 

Nearly two-thirds of the world’s illiterate adults are women, a fraction of that has remained unchanged for the past couple of years.

This truth has forced women to become more vulnerable to climate change.

They have less access to education and information that would allow them to tackle climate-related risks that are posed to their livestock and agriculture.

In Bangladesh, many women have considerably less access than men to critical evidence on weather alerts and harvesting arrangements, affecting their capacity to respond effectively to climate variability.

Family responsibilities 

Women are the first ones in a family to have core responsibilities for managing the household, even when they are not perceived as heads of the household.

In most of the world, women are engaged mothers and family care-givers.

They have strong attachments to their families, which expose them to vulnerability at the time of any natural calamities.

At the time of any disaster, men may be able to migrate for economic opportunities, but women are more likely to remain home to care for children and elderly.

To fight climate change effectively and from all sides, the empowerment of women is essential

Climate change has a significant impact on household water, food, and fuel — things that usually are the domain of women and girls. In times of drought and erratic rainfall, women and girls must walk long distances and spend more of their time collecting water and fuel.

Girls may have to drop out of school to help their mothers with these tasks, enduring the cycle of poverty.

Climate change also affects the condition of crops, livestock, and most importantly, women, who are often responsible for producing the food eaten at home.

High fertility and early childbearing
A study found that on average, natural catastrophes kill more women than men. The bigger the disaster, the greater the impact on the gender gap. In the Asian tsunami of 2004, survival was much higher among men than women.

This inequity can be endorsed by many possible and interconnected sources, but the fact that this effect is most prominent where women have a lower socioeconomic status means the causes are more cultural than biological or physiological.

Early childbearing and high fertility are associated with poor health and lower levels of education, and they limit women’s ability to earn and save money and to acclimatise to climate change.

Yet, reproductive health and family planning are largely absent from strategies for familiarising to climate change, as are activities that address rapid population growth and high fertility that result from unplanned pregnancies and an unmet need for family planning.

Cultural boundaries

Lack of authority, independence, and decision-making power limit women’s ability to adapt to climate change.

Women often have limited or no control over family finances and properties.

In many societies, women are under-represented in community politics, considered as second-class citizens, and thus have little influence over community strategies for adapting and over policies that care for women’s rights, priorities, and vulnerabilities.

Without the contribution of women, agendas to replace traditional crops with those who are better suited to the changing environment might focus only on the requirements of men’s arenas and not address the problems women face.

Cultural boundaries on mobility can hinder women’s access to information and services.

In addition, during extreme disasters, women may not be able to relocate and rearrange without the agreement of a male relative.

Traditional clothing may impede women’s ability to run or swim, making it harder for them to escape disasters.

Women who have lost attire in disasters may be less likely to access food and medical aid because they are unable to enter public areas.

In the end, to fight climate change effectively and from all sides, the empowerment of women is essential.

Shooha Tabil is a freelance contributor.

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