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Women’s vested interest in fighting climate change

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With Jenna Cocullo:

Climate change presents unique obstacles to women that men do not have to face. It is the women who are dealing with the consequences of global warming every day. Electing more women into parliament has proven to yield more diverse and creative solutions to tackling the environmental issues that face us to date.

In many developing countries, it is the women that are responsible for caring for the sick, tending the farms, and gathering natural resources such as wood and water. Social and economic barriers prevent them from coping with the effects of climate change. Their expertise and knowledge makes them the most effective actors of change however, their ability to express their opinions and contribute to meaningful change is limited because of unequal access into the political sphere.

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Even in a developed country like Canada women feel the worst effects of climate change. In Canada women also live on a lower income than men and are primarily responsible for the care of children and the elderly in the family. These are the two age groups most likely to experience negative health consequences after a climate related disaster.

For the Indigenous women in the north of Canada, collecting and eating traditional wild foods and being able to go out onto their land are cornerstones of their physical and social health.

However, as the climate changes it becomes riskier to go out onto the land due to fatal snow avalanches and fragile ice. Women have crossed patches of ice to fish for food, only to find that two days later the ice melted and they were unable to get home, some have died before they could be rescued.

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Women living in southern Africa are the most vulnerable group out of the entire global population. Women are the primary caregivers in the family. While their husbands leave to go into the city or abroad for work they are left behind to tend to the fields. In recent years crops are not yielding the same quantity they used to and the quality of what they are getting is also declining. This affects their ability to sell food and, in some areas, where crops have completely dried up women have no source of income at all.

Women have to travel longer distances to the wells which increases their risks to rape. When I was in Malawi in a village just outside Zomba, one local woman was telling me how she now need fertilizers to yield quality crops when several decades ago, she could rely on the natural resources by themselves. Now she must fight off men at the market to get the government subsidized fertilizer. Unfortunately, the men get to the product first at the night market, buy it all up, and during the day they charge the women double the price.

Several women in this same village reported that the government distributes Farm Input Subsidy Program coupons for the village headman to give out to the poorest families, so they could access subsidized farm inputs including fertilizer. Nevertheless, most of the women never see this aid. They reported that the headman distributed it to his friends and the women he had sexual affiliations with.

It is cases like these that prove that women are in unique positions to understand what methods will be most effective in tackling the worst disaster that humanity is yet to face. Had more women had a seat at the national table when these solutions were presented they could have stopped such an inefficient use of government money by sharing their knowledge.

Climate change is more than an environmental concern; it is a socio-economic concern. It affects many different areas including food security, water resources, human health, biodiversity, migration and settlements. It is the world’s poorest that feel the effects in these areas and it is mainly women who are the world’s poorest.

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