How empowering women can lead to better environmental outcomes?

By Laura O’Connor

Fighting climate change necessitates a global collective effort, and often requires engaging those who are impacted the most. If we look at the most vulnerable communities in the face of climate change, we often see some of the highest degrees of innovation and unlocked insight on addressing the issue. A prime example of this is the potential of women and girls in the global fight against climate change. Women and girls, specifically in developing communities, are some of the most highly-affected demographics in the wake of increasing natural disasters and volatile farming conditions, and there is plenty of evidence to suggest that female empowerment could be a key step in creating a sustainable future. This article will first examine the particular vulnerabilities experienced by women and girls in the wake of climate change. It will then examine the impacts of empowerment through an increased agency, engagement in political discussions, and heightened economic participation on climate change and sustainability.

Women Deliver highlights a study which states that women make up 43% of the agricultural workforce in developing countries, making them particularly affected by any adverse effects on climate and farming conditions. Women and girls are consequently tasked with securing food and water in times of natural disasters, particularly flooding or droughts. We see heightened levels of young girls dropping out of school during these periods of increased workloads. Furthermore, as displacement and the climate change refugee phenomenon becomes more common, gender-based violence, sexual assault, and trafficking of women and particularly young girls becomes more common. Women Deliver’s latest policy brief states that this can be attributed to overcrowding and unsafe living conditions in temporary displacement camps and increased poverty levels. This leads to many women and girls feeling unsafe in their environment and minimizing their public outings, which has been seen to cause heightened infant mortality rates and women dying from childbirth as access to proper medical care becomes limited.

This forces one to ponder the solution — how can we protect women and girls in the fight against climate change? Evidence suggests that by giving women and girls an increased role in the global conversation around climate change and sustainability initiatives could be key in both protecting women and girls and fighting climate change. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change explains that women’s equal voice and role in development initiatives, particularly climate change initiatives, is crucial for effectiveness and minimizing gendered vulnerabilities.

UNFCCC highlights a particular endeavour in which women-led groups collect savings of the equivalent of $1 USD per week, generating a resource pool which women borrow and invest in to fund income-producing endeavours addressing climate change. As explained in the case analysis, once women are mobilized, half of the population is essentially engaged in sustainability initiatives, innovating production methods to minimize carbon emissions, pressuring governments to propose sustainable policies, and providing education and outreach on climate change to other populations. Not only is this maximizing lobbying and innovation capacities, but it is also empowering women and girls and giving them heightened autonomy within often patriarchal social structures. UNFCCC also explain a “domino effect,” in which communities of women and girls who have been further engaged in climate change initiatives are more engaged with surrounding communities, and knowledge is transferred faster and with a larger outreach.

BSR (Business for Social Responsibility) further corroborates that women’s empowerment and development are linked to effectively combating climate change. Specifically, increasing women’s access to land ownership (inheritance lineages are often male-to-male), and thus giving women increased leadership roles and agency can lead to increased innovation in sustainable farming initiatives, and increase resilience to increased natural disasters and changing farming conditions. As natural disasters increase, men are often forced to move to urban areas while women are left to care for children and elderly and perform subsistence work. This not only renders women even more vulnerable to climate disasters, but it also means their role is particularly important as they carry first-hand knowledge of farming, whereabouts of resources and whereabouts of people in the case of emergency. Their proximity to climate change is thus important to acknowledge, and studies demonstrate that in the wake of environmental changes, some of the most adaptable members of their communities to such changes.

In short, women’s empowerment is quickly becoming a central topic in climate change discussions. There is evidence to suggest an almost linear relationship between women’s empowerment, climate change resilience, and sustainability. Women and young girls represent some of the most vulnerable communities in the face of climate change, yet hold valuable knowledge and potential for sustainable innovation and particularly agriculture technology.

To learn more about the linkages between gender and the environment, the tools to mainstream gender and how to be an effective change-maker for sustainable development, register now to our e-course on Gender and Environment.

About UN CC:Learn

UN CC:Learn is a partnership of more than 30 multilateral organizations supporting countries to design and implement systematic, recurrent and results-oriented climate change learning. Through its engagement at the national and global levels, UN CC:Learn contributes to the implementation of climate change training, education and public awareness-raising.

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