Women must be enrolled in climate campaign, says UN

Posted: 17 November 2009

Women bear the disproportionate burden of climate change, but have so far been largely overlooked in the debate about how to address problems of rising seas, droughts, melting glaciers and extreme weather, concludes The State of World Population 2009 report, released today.

Percentage of agricultural work carried out by women
Percentage of agricultural work carried out by women
Percentage of agricultural work carried out by women, selected countries
"Poor women in poor countries are among the hardest hit by climate change, even though they contributed the least to it," says Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) which publishes this annual report.

It is the first to specifically address the linked issues of population and climate change, and to point out that women with access to education and health services, including family planning, will be stronger 'agents of change' against poverty and greenhouse gas emissions.

The poor are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and the majority of the 1.5 billion people living on $1 a day or less are women, the report says. The poor are more likely to depend on agriculture for a living and therefore risk going hungry or losing their livelihoods when droughts strike, rains become unpredictable and hurricanes move with unprecedented force. The poor tend to live in marginal areas, vulnerable to floods, rising seas and storms.

Cities at low-elevation coastal zones
Cities at low-elevation coastal zones
The report draws attention to populations in low-lying coastal areas that are vulnerable to climate change and calls on governments to plan ahead to strengthen risk reduction, preparedness and management of disasters and address the potential displacement of people.

Vulnerable women

Research cited in the report shows that women are more likely than men to die in natural disasters - including those related to extreme weather - with this gap most pronounced where incomes are low and status differences between men and women are high.

The 2009 report argues that the international community's fight against climate change is more likely to be successful if policies, programmes and treaties take into account the needs, rights and potential of women.

Somali refugees in Kenya
Somali refugees in Kenya
More than 60,000 Somalis crossed into Kenya during the first two months of 2008. Photo: UNHCR/ E. Hockstein
The report shows that investments that empower women and girls - particularly education and health - bolster economic development and reduce poverty and have a beneficial impact on climate. Girls with more education, for example, tend to have smaller and healthier families as adults. Women with access to reproductive health services, including family planning, have lower fertility rates that contribute to slower growth in greenhouse-gas emissions in the long run.

In an introduction to the report Thoroya Obaid said the report shows that women have the power to mobilize against climate change, but this potential can be realized only through policies that empower them.

She said "a broader, more nuanced approach... that factors in gender and population" was needed in dealing with the long-term problem of climate change..

"With the possibility of a climate catastrophe on the horizon, we cannot afford to relegate the world's 3.4 billion women and girls to the role of victim," Ms. Obaid says. "Wouldn't it make more sense to have 3.4 billion agents for change?"

Click here to view the full report, "The State of World Population 2009: Facing a changing world: women, population and climate."