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Women Leading Solutions on the Frontlines of Climate Change

Policy Analyst

Climate change impacts women disproportionately to men, and these impacts are amplified in vulnerable populations where communities have fewer resources to recover from and adapt to climate disasters. In the aftermath of the Bangladesh cyclone in 1991, for example, five times as many women died compared to men. In the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami 70% of the fatalities were women.[1]Gender inequalities extend to areas that are affected by other climate change impacts like deforestation, desertification, and higher temperatures. Women in these areas play major roles in producing crops, processing and preparing food, and collecting fuel and water – all avenues of work that are affected by climate change.[2]

In light of these inequalities, the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) put on a star studded event consisting of three panels of women speakers featuring the former president of Ireland, Mary Robinson, the current president of the Marshall Islands, Hilda Heine, and a host of civil society and business leaders from all over the world. The session also featured indigenous women leaders from Ecuador, the Congo, and Morocco, as well as a strong spoken word piece by Marshallese poet, Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner.

One of the major themes of the session revolved around the fact that even though women in vulnerable communities bear the brunt of the effects of climate change, they are woefully underrepresented at the decision making level. Women account for only 20 – 25 per cent of the workforce in the renewable energy sector, and only 12 per cent of international environmental sector ministers were women.[3]

Another highlight of the session was Diana Lopez of the Southwest Texas Workers’ Union and her discussion on how these inequalities were affecting people back home in Texas. Ms. Lopez described how even within impacted communities there are those along the Gulf Coast that have the means and resources to move from or to adapt to climate disasters, and there are those that do not. Ms. Lopez asserted that it’s the women who have “a deeper relationship to the earth,” and that, “Mother Earth is the source of money and the source of income, and women are often portrayed in that sense as well.”

I was able to ask Ms. Lopez a few questions about her experience at COP 22 so be sure to check out the interview here.

The entire event was a necessary reminder for those of us who are listening, and a wake up call for those of us who have not been aware of the unique and critical position women hold in international climate discussions.

For more information about WECAN visit their website here.