Climate change is one of the biggest threats that humanity is facing throughout the globe. If it is left unchecked, climate change would accelerate with a rapid pace impacting our economy, society and overall well being of humanity. Although the total humanity will suffer from climate change mostly women will bear the brunt of the detrimental impact.
Historically climate policies have not addressed the differing ways in which climate change affects men and women. Given the existing gender policies around the globe, climate change places a greater burden on women than men. The different religious, cultural and social expectations and responsibilities put extra weight on the shoulder of women.
For example, in many countries, women are the primary food producers and providers of water and cooking fuel for their families and to collect the water women have to walk a long distance and stand in the long queue.
Nonetheless, women are not mere victims of climate change rather they are vital agents of climate action. Women work at the front line of the climate change battle and are uniquely situated to be agents of change as they help find ways to mitigate the causes of global warming and to adapt to its impacts on the ground.
Women possess unique local knowledge, perspectives and skills that are essential to understand the relationship they have with their surroundings and how they interact with food systems, technologies and health care systems. This unique knowledge can be used by the policymakers and local institutions to improve the effectiveness of climate action.
Transformative and innovative approaches need to be identified and accelerated to unlock the potential of women and reverse current inequality trends. Additionally, the SDGs 5 and 13 address issues of gender equality and climate action respectively. The other 15 goals of the SDGs depend on the extent of how gender and climate issues interact with each other.
According to the 2018 UN Women's report, women face significant challenges when it comes to their empowerment. In terms of resource allocation, women face significant conflicts, exclusion and environmental degradation. Disasters resulting from climate change kill 14 times more women and girls than men and boys. Women also face a significant amount of gender gap in terms of receiving a quality education, nutrition, pay gap and land ownership.
According to the UN report, women only hold 25 percent of administrative and managerial positions in the business world, 32 percent of businesses have no women in senior management positions. Globally, women still hold only 22 percent of seats in single or lower houses of the national parliament and they earn 24 percent less than men.
Although there are examples of women everywhere leading the way to a sustainable future yet their global representation is nominal. A recent study done by Curtin University, Australia suggests that electing female politicians can help coming up with more gender-responsive policies. The research study has examined legislatures of 91 countries and compared the percentage of seats held by women to the rigour of each country's climate policies.
The study found that female representations in national parliaments lead countries to adopt policies that are gender-responsive and climate-friendly. The study concludes that "climate change campaigns may succeed more in places where there are more females in political power."
More studies found out that women perceive climate change as a more serious problem than men, thus they tend to emphasise behavioural changes and climate adaptive lifestyles whereas men only look at the technical side of climate change.
In developed societies, women are responsible for much lower emissions than men. In Sweden, for example, studies show average emissions for men are twice those of women. This is mostly the result of gendered patterns of car use. Women also bring more inclusiveness and empathy when it comes to problem solving and advocacy which enhances their potency as sustainability leaders.
Studies have shown tribal women in Rajasthan, India became green entrepreneurs using renewable energy; they are also mobilising funds to cater for better hygiene and sanitation in their community.
While we need more women at a high level of decision making roles on climate issues, greater connectivity is necessary between international, national, and local levels. But, at the same time, it is important to recognise that the mere presence of women does not guarantee that women's experiences and leadership will be integrated into climate change policies and protocols.
Rather inclusion of women in the government is vital and they should be associated with ministries related to finance, foreign affairs and security instead only with health, education and the environment ministries that are often seen as less powerful. The responsibility for addressing climate change also falls on states, civil society and the business community.
Stakeholders from all these sectoral silos should come forward and lead work across sectors to forge partnerships and foster collaboration through efforts that are sensitive to the needs and experiences of women, as well as their capabilities and potential.
Sayeda Zeenat Karim is a guest lecturer-cum-research associate at the Center for Sustainable Development, University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (ULAB)