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What Does Gender Justice Have to Do with Climate Change?

Editorial note: To save Mother Earth, we must invest in our mothers, daughters, and sisters. 

Women and girls are some of the most excluded people in the world because of existing systems of oppression—that’s before climate catastrophe, which deepens inequities and makes girls and women even more vulnerable. And yet organizations, activists, academics, and economists link the effect of girls and women having equal access to the educational and economic opportunities that boys and men have access to, with solving our global climate crisis. 

All kinds of good stuff like the greening of economies and sustainable development come out of empowering girls and women. They call this the girl effect. And if you reverse the logic, the very systems of oppression making girls, women, and Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color most vulnerable to climate change are also imperilling our entire planet’s health.

That girls and women have the unique potential to save the world is why we’ve chosen Global Fund for Women’s Climate Justice Initiative as our inaugural partner to receive funds from our climate justice and climate change focused giving fund, To The Planet Fund. It is also the reason we asked Jennifer Li to write this editorial. 

YTTP is a feminist brand. We believe in acting to dismantle systems of gender-based oppression. We believe it’s worth saying one more time: to save Mother Earth, we must invest in our mothers, daughters, and sisters—because there’s power in saying it and exploring its truth.  — Alexandra Cloyes, Director of Giving

By Jennifer Li, she/her

Believe it or not, gender equality and climate change are two sides of the same coin, and they engage with each other in unequal gender representation within policy making.

“Environmental injustices, including the proliferation of climate change, have a disparate impact on marginalized and low income communities globally,” says Sangeeta Chowdhry, a senior program director of Global Fund For Women. “As two thirds  of the world’s poor, women’s lives are disproportionately impacted by environmental destruction and climate change.”

Yet despite being so heavily affected by the climate crisis, women have very limited influence on decision-making within public policy, labor markets, and broader development practices. This lack of inclusion of women on these major issues ultimately perpetuates gender inequity as policies are passed that do not address the gendered impacts of environmental injustice.

When looking at how climate change affects women, one of the most major issues is food safety. Climate change has a dangerous effect on four major categories of food safety: availability (how much food is available); accessibility (how easy or difficult is it to procure food for basic survival); utilization (the possibility of the food being properly prepared and consumed); and system stability (how stable is the system to keep procuring adequate food over time). Availability and accessibility can be harmed by distance and ecosystem destruction. Utilization can be affected negatively by lack of water and lack of sanitation. Stability can be worsened with political changes or sudden changes in temperature in a region.

 

How does this affect women? 

People living in rural areas in developing countries are especially vulnerable when they are highly dependent on local natural resources for their livelihood. And more often than not, women are the ones tasked with the responsibility of securing water, food, and fuel for cooking and heating. As a result, women have less time and opportunities to make money, participate in politics, or educate themselves. There are girls who are even kept home from school to help gather fuel (which could take from two to 20 hours), perpetuating the cycle of disempowerment. Not only that, but when environmental degradation forces them to search even further away from home for resources, women and girls become more vulnerable to injuries from carrying heavy loads long distances, and face increased risk of sexual harassment and assault.

Natural disasters, too, are particularly dangerous to women. Because women are primarily tasked with tending to domestic responsibilities, women are four times more likely to die in the face of a natural disaster, as they are often not taught basic survival skills like swimming or climbing (like in Myanmar, Thailand, and Bangladesh). In these post-disaster situations, women and girls become highly vulnerable to human trafficking as they might be separated from their families: disasters like droughts, floods, and famines are correlated to a 20 to 30% increases in sex trafficking.

Women carry the local rural economy, especially in the developing world. Women farmers currently account for 45-80% of all food production in developing countries. They also have a uniquely in-depth knowledge and expertise of their local ecosystem because they rely on their environment so heavily to survive. But, women have a fraction of access to  land and capital. Inputs, like fertilizers, agricultural training, and information are not as readily available for women when compared to men. If these women had the same economic resources available to them, it’s estimated that their farms could produce 20-30% more, which would increase the total annual food production in their countries from 2.5% to 4%.

“Increasing access to agricultural resources, practices, and strategies enables women farmers to learn adaptive farming techniques and promote productive livelihoods and economic security,” says Chowdhry. “For example, inadequate rainfall patterns and water seasonality have led farmers to adopt cultivation methods which work in tune with the land, such as dry season cultivation, a method of farming that accounts for lack of adequate rainfall. This helps to build women farmers’ capacity to withstand the threat of droughts and embrace water conservation techniques. In addition, engaging in fertilization techniques such as installation of irrigation systems and soil fertility rehabilitation are conducive to revitalizing the productive environment and counteract encroaching climate issues of soil degradation and desertification.”

 

Solutions

Organizations like Global Fund for Women are working tirelessly to help uplift and bolster these women in their pursuit of equality in policy-making. Founded in 1987 by four women who were sick of a lack of interest in funding policy for women’s human rights, the Global Fund for Women funds grass-roots and women-led movements directly. 

“Women’s representation within influential spaces will be necessary to ensure the equal distribution of agricultural resources and to advance just policies that address the climate mitigation and adaptation mechanisms,” says Chowdhry. “In addition, the formation of women’s caucuses and advocacy groups implore governments and other influential stakeholders on climate change, agriculture, and gender equality as it pertains to the women and their communities most directly affected. These collectivist principles have strategically pushed for policies such as reverting from cash crops to traditional crops for subsistence, addressing food security, and harmonizing efforts for women farmers’ agency.”

Global Fund for Women’s grassroots partners have been helping women farmers successfully navigate decision-making spaces in order to ensure meaningful and relevant contribution and visibility in their local communities. This includes supporting women farmer’s collectives, farmer-to-farmer training, and farming groups that expand women’s networks. By cultivating resilience, women farmers are encouraged to pursue land rights attainment with their entrepreneurship training and land allotment negotiation. Global Fund for Women is also playing a leadership role in the United Nations 2021 Generation Equality Forum Action Coalition on Technology and Innovation. It’s meant to act as a global rallying point to catalyze new, better investments and commitments toward gender equality. Inclusive feminist technologies are increasingly critical tools toward these aims.

 

Where This Leaves Us

As climate change depletes natural resources, increased competition will exacerbate endemic gender inequalities and will wreak further havoc on resources that local women, specifically rural and indigenous women, build their lives upon. And if the current trends hold, the areas of the world where agriculture is the main source of livelihoods for women will also have the greatest percentages of agricultural yield loss. This will result in compromised incomes and food security for a significant portion of the global population. Empowering women farmers is not just in their best interests, but in the interests of everyone around the world.

Written by Jennifer Li for Youth To The People