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Women &vironment

December 7, 2009

Mention climate change, and terms such as global warming, rising sea levels, carbon emissions, and even smoking, will be rapidly thrown out by the ordinary (wo)man. Then mention women, and be met by awkward silence. Some brave soul will splutter, ‘Mother Earth?’, to be greeted with wayward glances, followed by nervous laughter.

Climate change and women are seemingly two spheres apart, but the truth hits home closer than we really think it does.

1/ Women make up a huge and growing proportion of the agricultural work force.
Half of the world’s food is produced by women. In this sense, climate change means less predictable crop yields (if any at all). This affects food provision for the household, as well as the overall household income.

2/ Women comprise the invisible workforce.
Sociologist Marilyn Waring, cites the unpaid work women do in the household as being unrecognised, with no monetary amount tagged to it, despite the economic benefits it provides. This is perpetrated by climate change, where women now have to spend more time on household chores. For instance, women in Gujarat now spend several hours daily collecting firewood, in contrast to only once every four days in the past.

3/ Women are more severely impacted during disasters.
Biological attributes aside, women bear the brunt of weather-related disasters brought about by climate change. For example, post-tsunami in Aceh, humanitarian aid groups provided aid to families through the legally-recognised heads (males), effectively cutting off widowers from aid. There is also the vulnerability of crops to natural disasters, such as floods and earthquakes.

4/Women are forced to take up unsuitable jobs.
When climate change destroys agriculture activity and livelihoods, alternative sources of income must be sought. This leads to the rural-urban shift, where many women subsequently fall prey to sex-trafficking and prostitution, and due to their lack of skills, take up menial work. This also results in less than minimum wage, with increased competition for jobs.

5/ Women have less of a voice in decision making processes.
The informal roles women play in households tend to relegate them to the sidelines, when they are fact one of the main stakeholders in the climate change discourse. This leads to their underrepresentation in decisions made on adaptation and mitigation. Furthermore, because of the informal roles taken on, representatives speaking on behalf of these women are also unable to fully articulate and comprehend the consequences of climate change on their lives.

The additional stresses brought about by the effects of climate change on women, creates a vicious cycle. Women are forced to spend more time and energy on sustaining their households, and in turn have their daughters drop out of school to assist. The circle of poverty, inequality, and vulnerability then continues, with women ensnared in it.

Live from COP15,
ECO Singapore

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