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Gender-smart responses help women duck worst climate impacts

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Fri, 30 Nov 2012 10:45 GMT
Author: Jon Christianson
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By Jon Christianson 

LONDON (AlertNet) — Ducks swim; chickens do not. In frequently flooded areas of Bangladesh, recognizing this has helped over a thousand women prosper and better adapt in the face of climate change.

Chameli Begum of Katihara, Bangladesh, is one of these women. As climate shifts create more frequent and powerful floods in her country, households like Begum’s have found it hard to adapt, not least because culture-based gender inequalities limit women’s social and physical mobility.

But aid organization CARE International has stepped in to provide Begum and other Bangladeshi women with an effective resource to adapt: ducks.

“When the floods came, the chickens were killed,” said Angie Dazé, a former senior advisor at CARE. “But the ducks will survive the flood.”

Research shows women are more severely affected by climate change impacts for a wide range of reasons. Many tend to remain with elderly relatives and children during disasters, rather than flee to safety. Cultural norms may make it difficult for them to leave home, and some lack vital survival skills, from an education to the ability to swim to the right to own land.

But innovative climate adaptation that addresses their particular needs can make a big difference, experts say.

Since CARE provided Begum with the necessary duck rearing resources, which included training, partnerships, and 100 ducks, she has earned enough money to purchase thousands of duck eggs each year, incubators able to hold 9.000 eggs, dairy cows, an acre of land, and more.

Before rearing ducks, she could not afford to send her children to school. Now her youngest son is enrolled in school. She purchased a taxi-like vehicle for another son, which he now uses for a transport business. Her daughter, after getting married, started a duck rearing business of her own.

Dazé, project officer for one CARE duck rearing program, said the message of the program was not just about birds but about effectively meeting adaptation needs, especially for women.

‘IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT DUCKS’

“It’s not just about ducks, it’s about dealing with various issues around the household and around the community,” particularly in regard to gender inequality, said Dazé.

During Gender Day Tuesday at the United Nations climate negotiations in Doha, Gotelind Alber, a co-founder of GenderCC, an organization that works on issues around gender and climate change, pointed to problems women face in the climate change arena.

On one level, women are disproportionately affected by climate change and climate change disasters, she said. “In times of disaster, we know just from statistics that there are more fatalities among women than among men,” said Alber.

Women in developing countries, in general, have lower incomes and less education than their male counterparts. They often have less power with family finances, in community politics, and over their own mobility, according to information released by CARE International.

There is also inequality in leadership and policy discussions regarding climate change, said Alber, who pointed to the Doha climate talks as an example.

“We keep on counting the women and men in delegations here. The number of women in delegations has slightly increased but not so much that there’s gender balance,” she said. “If you look at heads of delegations and decision makers, it’s still mainly men.”

At the panel she moderated on Gender Day, she noted that only about 25 percent of the audience was male.

Alber said that there is no quick way to “fix” these gender inequalities, but there are ways to improve, including persuading men of the importance of having women in positions of power.

“Someone needs to let (women) in and allow them to have this decision-making power,” said Alber. “Which means somebody else must give up some of their power. It requires that men look at their own role in societies from a critical perspective.”

LOCAL ACTION, POLITICAL ACTION

In order to ease the disproportionate effect climate change has on women, progress must be made on both the local and governmental front, experts say. Initiatives like CARE’s Bangladeshi duck rearing project and Solar Sister, an African organisation that empowers local women to sell solar lamps, make a huge difference, Alber said.

“These are exactly the kind of initiatives that should be supported by climate finance on a larger scale,” said Alber.

To ensure money is available, policymakers need to recognise women’s different vulnerabilities and potential for action in the face of climate change.

“We need more awareness and more rules that make it clear that climate policy must be gender responsive,” Alber said.

Some leaders actively deny that gender issues have any important role in addressing climate change. They include Marina Yannakoudakis, a British member of the European parliament.

“Global warming is not some male plot to do women down,” Yannakoudakis told the Daily Mail, a UK newspaper, last April. “The climate is the same for males and females so far as I know. When it rains we all get wet.”

That’s not quite right, Alber noted.

“If I stand in the rain and have no umbrella, I’d get more wet than someone with an umbrella,” she said. “In this world, there are some people who have an umbrella and there are a lot of people that don’t have one.”

Jon Christianson is an AlertNet Climate intern.

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