BANGKOK (AlertNet) – Women’s roles and needs have been neglected in climate discussions, despite women being particularly vulnerable to the impacts of natural disasters and extreme weather events, activists said on the sidelines of the first U.N. climate negotiations of the year
“In climate change-induced disasters it is primarily the poor who have suffered the most, the majority of whom are women,” Anne Maina from the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA) told journalists in Bangkok, where the weeklong United Nations-led climate talks are being held.
“If you compare women to men, women have limited access to resources, they have limited access to credit lines, they don’t hold titles to the land, they do not have collateral,” Maina said.
Such imbalances in social relations - which also include women being subordinated, excluded from decision-making and having their movement limited - makes them more vulnerable in times of disasters, activists said.
Experts say there is a strong correlation between women’s empowerment in their everyday lives and their survival rate in disasters. Studies show women are up to 14 times more likely than men to die from natural disasters.
According to the New York-based Women’s Environment and Development Organisation (WEDO), 70 to 80 percent of those who died in the 2004 Asian tsunami were women.
Other climate impacts also affect women more acutely, activists said.
IMPACTS ON WOMEN
Women and the children they care for are particularly susceptible to insect- and water-borne diseases such as malaria and diarrhoea that are expected to increase with rising temperatures associated with climate change.
Women are also the main producers of food in some parts of the world, providing 70 percent of agricultural labour in sub-Saharan Africa. Erratic rainfall, worsening droughts and increasing temperatures will make producing sufficient food more complicated in many regions, experts say.
Even the simple act of collecting water and fuel, which falls on women in rural Africa and Asia, is expected to become more difficult in many places. As resources become scarcer, women often must spend more time finding them and travel further from home, raising safety concerns, leaving them less energy for other tasks and often leading to girls being pulled out of school to assist their mothers.
Women’s role and needs so far have not been sufficiently taken into account in discussions on how to tackle climate change, Maina said. She said she feared the current trajectory of the talks could lead to worsening vulnerability for women.
The Cancun Agreement, which revived progress toward a binding global deal to tackle climate change when it was reached in December, falls far short of achieving the emissions reductions scientists say are needed to prevent the worst impacts of climate change and will not provide sufficient funds to support poorer countries in coping with the impacts, activists said.
Meena Raman, a spokeswoman for Friends of the Earth International, called the agreement unacceptable.
BINDING DEAL NEEDED
“A top-down approach (to cutting emissions), with binding targets, like that envisioned in the Kyoto process, must be agreed this year” at the year’s main climate negotiating session in South Africa, she said.
Pledges of emissions reductions without binding commitments, particularly by richer countries, “make further climate impacts inevitable and shift the burden of cutting emissions to poor women across Asia, Africa and Latin America,” she charged.
There are some signs of progress, however, at this week’s talks, part of ongoing international negotiations aimed at agreeing a new binding global treaty to curb and address the impacts of climate change.
Finland’s special representative on climate change and gender, Aira Kalela, said her country is supporting the Global Gender and Climate Alliance, aimed at increasing women’s participation in activities to address climate change. The alliance was launched four years ago at U.N. negotiations in Bali, Indonesia.
The alliance has helped bring about 70 female delegates from developing countries, mostly in Africa and Asia, to take part in the Bangkok negotiations. It also has helped countries including Nepal and Bangladesh integrate women’s concerns into national plans to respond to climate change.