Climate Change and Women and Girls: A Partnership of Promise
The Sustainable Development Goals list Climate Change and Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment as standalone goals, but a closer look at the targets reflect the interlinkages between the two. For instance, focusing on women is identified as a strategy to promote mechanisms for raising capacity for effective climate change-related planning and management in least developed countries (Goal 13 targets). The synergies between the two hold much potential for progress on both fronts.
Disasters affect vulnerable populations, and women and girls especially are impacted adversely. Following the cyclone and flood of 1991 in Bangladesh the death rate was almost five times as high for women as for men. In a range of major disasters, including the Asian Tsunami; Hurricane Mitch, Hurricane Katrina, and other storms in the Americas; European heat waves; more women than men have died. To mitigate this, many interventions are being implemented around the world which impart disaster preparedness skills to women and girls. Teaching women to swim and training them on hazard management techniques and communication methods (as in many remote areas, it is difficult to reach women in households without the message being spread by men or for women to leave the house without a male accompanying them) are examples of how women and girls can be better equipped in the face of disaster.
Interventions aimed at tackling climate change can be designed to benefit women and girls too. Cook stoves are a great example of how research on reducing emissions can prove beneficial to the health of women and girls. Women are engaged in using cook stoves for a significant portion of their time. Cook stoves use fuel (using either firewood or charcoal/kerosene) which not only causes air pollution, but is also a fire hazard and a threat to the health of the user. Fuel efficient cook stoves improve the lives of women and girls in a variety of ways. First, they increase free time through the reduced need for firewood collection. Using less wood for fuel also means forests are preserved. In addition, the stoves produce less indoor smoke, improving air quality and lessening the associated respiratory problems. Finally, the stoves help households save money through lower fuel use. For example, a project that distributed 12,500 fuel efficient wood burning stoves in the Guinea Savannah Zone of Nigeria found that household saved roughly a quarter of their annual income and local employment opportunities were created for women who were trained in the assembly maintenance and distribution of the cook stoves.
Women and girls, however, need not always be victims of or be reactive to consequences of climate change. They can lead the way in promoting sustainable interventions that can combat environmental degradation proactively too. A women’s cooperative organization, The Regroupement des Femmes de Popenguine, for example, has shown the way forward. This group has reforested and regenerated mangroves along the Atlantic coast which has led to increased coastal resilience. The women have also implemented agricultural techniques that help fight soil erosion, increase water supplies and enable plant regeneration and better crop yields, thereby fighting deforestation and destruction of a diverse habitat.
Women and children make up the majority of the world’s rural poor living in developing countries. Reducing women’s vulnerability, in tandem with men’s susceptibilities, promoting gender sensitive emergency responses, and enlisting women as key environmental actors in natural disaster management decision-making processes, alongside men, thereby tapping on women’s skills, resourcefulness and leadership in mitigation and adaptation efforts can be the key to progress.
Sruthi Chandrasekaran is a Global Health Corps Fellow serving as the Advocacy and Programs Coordinator at Marie Stopes International (MSI-US) in Washington, DC. She is currently the Principal Investigator on a project that examines the impact of US Government policy on MSI’s country programs and also act as the lead on an innovative partnership that uses randomized controlled trials to evaluate the impact of behavioral interventions to improve take-up of family planning services. Prior to joining MSI, she was a Senior Research Associate with the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) based in Delhi, where she managed a randomized controlled trial in four Indian states that studied methods for improving health outcomes for tuberculosis patients as well as the performance of community health workers. She holds a Master of Arts in Economics from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras and a Master of Science in Comparative Social Policy from the University of Oxford, where she was a Felix Scholar. Sruthi is passionate about using research to inform policy decisions in the sexual and reproductive health sector in developing countries.