The first earth day started in 1970, giving a voice to an emerging public consciousness about the state of our planet. This year it spans across 190 countries, mobilizing over 1 billion individuals. April 22nd marks its anniversary and is a day of action to change human behavior and create global, national and local policy changes. Today, the fight for our planet, for a cleaner environment, to stop climate change, for each of us to raise our concern and step up to the 2015 Paris Agreement is more urgent than ever.
Our first year of this decade has been shadowed by great uncertainty as the COVID-19 Pandemic shed light on many instabilities in our systems. As we adjust and look forward after what was one of the most challenging years in many of our lives, we are forced to ask many hard questions about our future.
At the heart of this lies Climate Change (or more appropriately our climate emergency), its potential impacts - still largely unfelt but with an increasing global urgency - to take action as we enter what will likely become our warmest decade in history, surpassing 2010-2019. [^1] As the climate crisis accelerates, unfortunately, so too does gender inequality, widening the gap between men and women in many parts of the globe.
Climate Action (SDG 13) urges humanity to take initiative and combat these growing risks for our planet. Unfortunately women are much more susceptible to climate in many ways, disproportionately killing them - in some cases by 14x more. [^2]
With the globe increasing in temperature, we suffer more environmental effects such as desertification, rising sea levels and extreme storms. NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), 2020 Billion-dollar disaster report showed that in the United States alone it was a year of historic weather extremes. [^3]
In Australia, we went through our hottest year on record (2020) losing 10 million hectares of trees and over a billion native animals to wildfires. Just pause for a minute - we are so used to big numbers, but never really have any sense of their scale. If you were to count to a billion starting today, you'd likely finish in about 31years. [^4] Yes, we managed to do that to the Australian wildlife in just a few weeks during 2020.
As conditions become more extreme around our planet, more of these environmental impacts will be felt. It will affect each and everyone of us, however the world's poorest and those in the most vulnerable situations, especially women and girls will be the ones who will continue to suffer the most.
Climate change effects women and girls more, simply because:
- More women are likely to live in poverty than men
- They have less access to basic human rights
- There are many systemic problems yet to be solved such as violence
All of these factors are escalated during periods of instability induced by climate change and unfortunately have recently been force multiplied by the COVID-19 crisis.
In many rural villages, women take on the brunt of the work - gathering food, water and household energy resources. Furthermore they make up to 43% of the agricultural workforce globally, farming and producing the majority of the world's food supply. When regions dry up, it often catalyzes further problems that women and girls must face, making their already uphill climb to economic, social and political rights even harder. Studies are now showing that there are extensive direct links between environmental pressures and gender-based violence.[^5]
Some of the tremendous challenges and repercussions of a climate disaster that affect women and girls are:
- When water dries up - they have to travel further and longer for new sources
- Gender based violence - women's safety is at risk when they are traveling these longer distances
- Less time to pursue other avenues of income which makes them less independent
- In areas with scarce resources women are forced to trade sex for fish [^5]
- Displacement and pregnancy - no care/hospitals, ongoing care for the mother, or nutrients from food
- Higher rates of child marriage, sex trafficking, domestic and sexual violence and human rights trafficking
- Droughts destroy crops, erode topsoils, flora and fauna and force women and girls to work harder in order to find food for their families
- Infections, hunger and malnutrition
- Drops in school attendance
- Destruction of what little infrastructure was in place before disasters hit, forcing a long and tedious rebuilding period.
It is evident that there is an extreme urgency to counter environmental degradation alongside gender equality in all forms and that the two issues should be addressed together. There are many policies working to reduce these inequalities, a good example is the Sendai Framework - An international document that was adopted by the United Nations member states four years ago, aiming to substantially reduce the economic, physical, social, cultural and environmental impacts from disasters. It encompasses a gender perspective, stating that “Women are critical to effectively managing disaster risk” and their participation is essential in “designing, resourcing and implementing gender-sensitive disaster risk reduction policies, plans and programs.” [^6] It has helped to highlight gender-responsive actions and shows that they are critical to reducing disaster risk for all members of society.
There are still so many uncertainties surrounding women in disaster struck regions, the effects of climate and displacement and ways to solve these problems. How we make sure that the female voice is heard, while tackling climate issues is of importance and a big part of the answer lies with womens unique insights into these matters. It is necessary that gender-disaggregated modelling approaches remain consistent and that we continue to gather the data to understand the key issues women and girls face, and how climate impacts their welfare. We can then work towards building better gender informed policies for resilience and preparedness. (For example, to help women in agriculture we must help in securing land rights, to ensure productive youth engagement in agriculture and land-based livelihoods, particularly in Africa).
Each region has its own complexities and disasters can be highly localized and event specific. We don't have all the answers, but more people, data and a focused effort can help to fill in the gaps. As Government officials, business leaders, entrepreneurs and citizens of this planet, it is imperative that we design better systems that ensure benefits and risks are carefully weighed, with common values and clear purposes in mind that benefit the people and the earth.
This is the only planet we have, there is no replacement, no second chance. We are all equal and so we must strive to bring parity for women. We owe this to ourselves, our environment and our children.
If you are interested in finding ways to help women and girls, please sign up for our working group programs where you can participate in an ongoing discussion about how we can all help to create some impact.