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Women at More Risk of Effects of Deforestation, Land Degradation, Drought, New UNCCD Study Reveals

 A new study titled “Differentiated Impacts of Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought on Women and Men” released this week at COP15 by the United Nations Convention to Combat Deforestation has revealed that women are twice more affected by drought, land degradation and deforestation.

Drought and land degradation tend to increase the burden of unpaid care and domestic work shouldered by women and girls, which has also been further compounded by the pandemic.

In countries where women have the same legal rights as men to own and access land, only 15.6% of women have ownership in their hands in Costa Rica as a case study, while in the Middle East and North Africa women’s access accounts for just 4% and in Asia, 23%.

“Gender disparities remain the most pervasive of all inequalities and it hinders best development efforts. Less than 20% of landowners globally are women with men accounting for over 80%,” said Lorena Aguilar, the lead author of the report.

The study highlights some of the most relevant problems, as well as solutions, associated with how deforestation, land degradation and drought affect women and men differently, with an overall impact on the environment and societies in general.

It also considers gender equality in the context of the UNCCD with the aim to better bring about decision-making processes that relate to gender equality in the context of the UNCCD, specifically around the formulation of concrete policies and measures aimed at the implementation of the UNCCD’s Gender Action Plan.

Because women are often the ones responsible for securing water, food and fuel for cooking, they are the most vulnerable to deforestation, land degradation, and drought, UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw said.

On top of that, women and other disadvantaged groups are more susceptible to climate shocks due to the lack of diversification of their assets, as well as less access to resources to cope with and recover from the damages.

Several factors were highlighted to be responsible for the huge indifference between men and women. They range from indirect gender-related barriers that limit the adoption of sustainable land management (SLM) practices by women, land tenure insecurity, land availability, education and literacy, gender norms and roles, access to information, agricultural inputs, extension services, and financing.

As a result of the factors that limit women, Lorena added that women tend to adopt Sustainable Land Management (SLM) technologies at a rate far lower and slower than their male counterparts across the globe and particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.

Presenting the final report at the COP15 conference, Lorena informed delegates that of the 40.5 million global displacements resulting from disasters and conflict, drought account for 32,000 people displaced across 149 countries, the highest number ever recorded in the world. She however lamented that, in the face of these displacements, less attention is paid to the particular needs of women and girls.

“During droughts, women’s work of ‘caring for others’ is expressed partly by them standing in lines and waiting for water, walking long distances and protecting the sick from unsafe water," she said.

The report further advances a series of recommendations to the Conference of the Parties and the world bodies for policy decisions and actions. Key among the recommendations is the call to promote equal participation of women and men in UNCCD processes and structures and analyze the barriers that prevent gender balance.

This stems from the high gender inequality even at the level of the Conference of the Parties (COP) itself. Lorena disclosed that women’s participation in the COP has been quite low, as men accounted for 79% of delegates that attended COP14 in 2019 while women accounted for 21% and of the 55 countries represented that year 35 of those countries had no women participants among other things.

Other recommendations include increasing countries’ commitment to equal participation of women and men, promoting ongoing linkages, communication, and data sharing among offices and committees working on gender in DLDD among other key recommendations. 

This story was produced as part of the 2022 UNCCD Virtual Reporting Fellowship, a journalism fellowship organized by Internews' Earth Journalism Network and the Robert Bosch Stiftung. It was originally published in Front Page Africa on May 19, 2022. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Banner image: Women farmers / Credit: Front Page Africa.