Diverse gender perspectives needed in climate change discussions

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Channel 5, Great Belize Television, Belize

Marie Arana of Belize says she had never experienced a hurricane like the one that swept across her village last October. 

"So everything was destroyed and I wasn't able to save anything. They didn't want us to return [to our home], but we had to come back and live in this same old house. If the rain comes, it wets us. We sleep under the stars and we awake to the sun.  We go to sleep getting wet and wake up being dried by the sun. That is how it is."

Women are more likely than men to be affected by extreme weather events. Data from the United Nations shows that 80 percent of the people displaced by climate change are women. And some of the most vulnerable women come from poor and rural communities.

“What we have been hearing is that women are the ones that are disproportionately affected. Whether that is a consequence of working in agriculture -- their small holdings, their market gardens, are wiped away. Their livelihoods are wiped away in those storms or in the aftermath of those storms; women have been called upon to do the bulk of the clearing up, caring for people that have been injured, picking up the pieces of families that have been torn apart by these devastating climatic events," said Vijay Krishnarayan, Director-General of the Commonwealth Foundation.

Many women who face higher risks when responding to natural disasters and who bear greater burdens from the impacts of climate change live in the Caribbean. And Panos Caribbean is using its position to highlight the challenges women face because of their gender roles. At the United Nations climate change summit, COP 24, Panos introduced testimonials to shine a light on this inequality and to spur action with the message, “Climate Change is a Gender Issue."

“If you have an extreme weather event, you are going to be put out of water and electricity for weeks. And you are the sole adult in your household, responsible for the children. I ask you to imagine what it must be like," said Judith Wedderburn a gender and development practitioner.

“Hurricanes or droughts, women have the responsibility, and sometimes it becomes a burden to look after children and thereafter her own safety and security is a bit compromised if she is the only one responsible for herself and others," said Ambassador Dessima Williams, Chair of the Alliance of Small Island States from 2009-2011. "If there is flood or hurricane and food is reduced or lost, by large women are responsible for feeding the children. So, she has a differential role to play.”

Now, it is more important than ever to empower women to make sure that they not only survive but thrive in a world with a rapidly changing climate. Because women are most dependent on resources like land and water, they must be equipped to find and be a part of a solution to the growing threats on their homes and in their communities. Since last year’s COP, a roadmap to incorporate gender equality and women’s empowerment in climate change discussions and actions called the Gender Action Plan was adopted. And today as “Gender Day at COP 24” is observed, one of the leading voices for civil society, the Commonwealth Foundation, points out the need for diversity in gender perspectives in climate discussions. 

“What we want to do at the Commonwealth Foundation is to encourage and support a discussion among the Caribbean Civil Society organisations on the ways in which women are adversely affected by the impacts of climate change," said Vijay Krishnarayan. "For us, when we talk about gender, it is not just about men and women, but about the ways in which, women with disabilities, for example, are doubly impacted; ways in which poor women are doubly impacted; the way in which indigenous women are doubly impacted by the way climate change impacts on gender."

That is why women activists in the Caribbean believe that all women, across roles, must be empowered with the skills and the resources, as well as be included at all levels of the climate change decision and policy-making,.

“It does mean that if those women’s concerns or gender concerns and their gender needs are not properly met, or adequately addressed, what we are looking at is intergenerational poverty,” said Wedderburn.

“And to correct that," noted Ambassador Williams, "the status of women, the role that women can play, the policy on climate change, an important corrective to the system is to include women in decision making.”

“It becomes really, really important when you are making policy and when you are crafting public policy to ensure that the gender lease is placed on these policies," said Unamay Gordon, Director of Climate Change Division, Jamaica.

This story was supported by the 2018 Climate Change Media Partnership, a collaboration between Internews’ Earth Journalism Network and the Stanley Foundation.