Filipina beauty queen Miriam Quiambao speaks at a Bangkok, Thailand, rally for gender and climate justice. Photo by ~MVI~ via Flickr.
It's already well known that climate change is not an equal-opportunity threat, with its impacts on food production, severe storms, and drought, among others, hitting the world's poorest nations the hardest. And according to a new report, global warming isn't gender-blind either: Women are especially vulnerable to its effects, making up a shocking 80 percent of climate refugees.According to a briefing released this week by the U.K.-based Women's Environmental Network (WEN), more than 10,000 women die each year from weather-related disasters such as tropical storms and droughts, compared to about 4,500 men. Women also comprise 20 million of the 26 million people estimated to have been displaced by climate change. These discrepancies are especially strong in countries that lack gender equality, WEN writes:
For example, in the Bangladesh cyclone in 1991, almost five times more young women than men died. This was largely because women couldn't swim, had restricted mobility because of their clothing, and many women left their homes too late because they waited for a male relative to accompany them. Men were able to warn each other of the danger as they met in public spaces, but didn't always get the information back to their families.... A study of disasters in 141 countries found that, where women had equal rights, there was little or no difference in the number of women and men that died, but where women's rights were compromised, female mortality was higher.
Women Struggle More During Disasters, Daily Life
Around the world, the effects of climate change are being felt more strongly by women in daily life as well as during disasters, WEN writes in its report, "Gender and the Climate Change Agenda," which was launched March 2 with a press conference at the House of Commons: "In many developing countries, increased water scarcity linked to climate change is increasing the distance women must travel to collect water and fuel, and means that children, usually girls, are increasingly being kept out of education to help with the often exhausting task."
Poor women around the world bear the brunt of climate change's effects. Photo by Tiago Rïbeiro via Flickr.
Women farmers, who generally operate on a very small scale and often don't have full authority over the land they tend, are also particularly hard-hit by the reduced harvests associated with global climate change. And women too bear the brunt of caring for family members stricken by respiratory ailments, tropical maladies, and other diseases exacerbated by global warming. Even in more equitable European countries, the higher percentage of women living below the poverty line -- 19 percent more women than men in the U.K., for example -- means they are more vulnerable to rising food prices, heat waves, and health threats.
Women Have Smaller Carbon Footprints Than Men
Ironically, WEN points out, since "more women than men live in poverty, women are considerably more likely to have a smaller than average carbon footprint." They are also more likely than their male counterparts to be involved in community-based projects to tackle climate change and more likely to consider the environmental impact of purchasing decisions, the organization says, noting that such leadership at the household level could translate into leadership at the national and international level as well:
Of the sixteen countries ranked by the [United Nations Development Programme] as having high human development and that had reduced their overall carbon dioxide emissions between 1990 and 2004, thirteen had a higher proportion of female elected representatives than average.
In introducing its report, WEN lobbied for climate-mitigation and adaptation strategies that take into account the particular effects on women, as well as the addressing of he underlying gender inequality that makes women most vulnerable to climate change -- not just for their sake, but for everyone's.
Climate Change to 'Exacerbate Gender Inequality'
"If no action is taken, climate change will exacerbate gender inequality, making it far less likely that the Millennium Development Goals will be met. The core value missing from Copenhagen was the failure to prioritize the most poor and vulnerable, statistically mainly women," said WEN founder Bernadette Vallely. "By giving women a greater voice in climate-change decision-making, and taking strong action on gender equality, not only could disastrous climate change be avoided but progress made toward a more equitable society."
More about climate refugees:
Melting Ice Could Lead to Massive Waves of Climate Refugees
Mass Migrations From Climate Change Forecast by Report
Climate Forced Migration: Pathways Of Future Conflict
First Official Climate Change Refugees Evacuate Their Island Homes for Good
Climate Change to Cause 'Cultural Genocide' for Australia's Aborigines
Climate Refugees in Maldives Buy Land
World's First Climate Change Refugees to Be Rescued in 2009
U.S. Leads World in Climate Refugees