Women and climate change

Down to Earth No.79, November 2008

The third global congress of Women in Politics and Governance took place in Manila in the Philippines from 19 - 22nd October 2008. Its theme was 'Gender in Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction'. DTE was able to take part, thanks to a grant from CAFOD. This article summarises the key issues.

Climate change is part of a chain reaction of damage to natural resources and the environment. The frequency of natural disasters increased between 1975 and 2006,1 and 80% of events such as floods, droughts and storms are believed to be directly related to climate change.2

The impacts of climate change differ depending on the country or district, and on people's social class, occupation, gender, age and income. The highest number of natural disasters in the 1975 - 2006 period occurred in Asia.3 Of those most at risk, 3.4 billion people are poor or vulnerable, including children, indigenous people, farmers and fisherfolk.4

Women are four times more likely to die than men in any disaster - whether climate-related or not. An analysis of disasters in 141 countries carried out by the London School of Economics (LSE) showed there is a close link with women's economic and social rights. Where women's rights are not protected, there are higher death rates among women. Conversely, in egalitarian societies, the numbers of male and female victims in disasters are the same.5

It follows from this study that adaptations to climate change are needed. The starting point for these adaptations should be to consider how to reduce the risk of disaster. It is essential to take account of the role of women and other vulnerable groups in taking preventative measures to minimise disaster risk.

So far, climate change negotiations at local, national and international levels have not provided significant opportunities for women. As a result, considerations of gender equality have not been part of international agreements.

It follows that decision-makers should view climate change as a negative impact of development which transcends all sectors (social, economic, cultural and political) from community to global levels. So adaptation and disaster risk reduction measures should be considered in terms of the interests of various groups which are highly vulnerable to climate change.

Hundreds of delegates from South-east Asia, East Asia, West Asia, Europe, the Pacific and Africa made a joint declaration for global action on 'Gender in Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction'.6 This includes demands for:

  • Equal opportunity for men and women in policy-making related to climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction;
  • All parties engaged in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to adhere to human rights standards and frameworks, such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), Agenda 21, the Beijing Platform for Action, Security Council Resolutions 1325 and 1820, ECOSOC 2005/31, the Millennium Development Goals, the Hyogo Framework for Action and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

1 www.capwip.org/Feng%20Min-Kan-CAPWIP%2020%20Oct%20%20(FMK)1.pdf
2 www.capwip.org/keynotebriceno.pdf
3 Feng Min Kan presentation. Manila, October 2008
4 www.capwip.org/Feng%20Min-Kan-CAPWIP%2020%20Oct%20%20(FMK)1.pdf
5 www.capwip.org/Phillipinas%20presentacion%20-%20Lorena%20Aguilar.pdf
6 www.capwip.org/finaloct228pmManila%20Declaration.pdf