As the nations of the world meet in Paris to address climate change, it is critical that women play a central role in these historic negotiations. Gender equality is central to effective climate action. The world cannot afford to neglect the needs of half the world’s population, nor ignore their talents and potential in innovating solutions.
Structural and cultural disparities make women disproportionately vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Women are more likely than men to die during and in the aftermath of natural disasters and climate change-related events. For the women who survive, many often lack legal assets and rights to property, which leaves them few resources with which to rebuild their lives. As women travel greater distances to collect essential resources like water, firewood and food to support their families, they are often threatened and abused.
Climate change has also contributed to high levels of displacement and forced migration due to environmental degradation and natural disasters. While migration can be a lifesaving tool for adaptation to climate change, forced migration often perpetuates and worsens the inequalities that women face. When male family members migrate, female members are often left to perform traditional roles as caregivers, in addition to becoming the sole breadwinner. When women must migrate, their economic and physical security is compromised, often leaving them to become targets for human traffickers and smugglers.
The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security recently released a new study that examines climate change as a human rights imperative, global security threat and a pervasive strain on economic stability. The report highlights how women bear severe gendered impacts of climate change – including adverse health, economic, social and physical consequences – but systematically lack equal representation in decision-making.
The report also demonstrates – through a plethora of examples from around the world – that women are critical agents of change. Despite their vulnerabilities, women contribute to both adaptation and mitigation efforts in many parts of the world through creative, localized solutions. Numerous mediating institutions are working to provide women with opportunities to create their own sustainable businesses that also serve to reduce the global threat of climate change.
Consider Grameen Shakti, a renewable energy social enterprise that trains women as solar technicians. To date, more than 1,000 women have been fully trained in this program, and thousands more have played related roles in solar construction and installation. They have installed nearly 800,000 solar home units in Bangladesh, a country that is particularly vulnerable to the worst consequences of climate change.