Commentary  The intersection of gender and climate change

Environmental catastrophe will strike women hardest

ST. JOHN’S — Knowledge of climate change’s irrevocable damage is becoming more common and widely shared. In spite of this, many of us are stuck thinking of climate change as a purely environmental issue, distancing ourselves from the fact that we’re completely dependent on the environment.

Just like any other species, our survival is jeopardized by environmental degradation. It’s time to see climate change as what it essentially is to us – a human issue. A human rights issue.

As the damage to the planet and the depletion of its resources accelerate at a dangerous rate, the distinctly gendered repercussions of climate change are coming to the fore. Beyond the impact on all human beings, climate change is directly linked to women’s rights and gender justice. Because it exacerbates pre-existing inequalities, it is an urgent global issue that needs to be framed with attention to gender.

The Oxfam publication Climate Change and Gender Justice notes that “climate change is not happening in a vacuum…. It is one trend interacting with many others,” including economic liberalization, globalization, conflict, unpredictable government policies, and health risks. Climate change means great injustice for both women and men, but women will bear the burden disproportionately. It poses an increased threat to those suffering from poverty in developing nations – those who have contributed the least to greenhouse gas emissions. And 70 per cent of the 1.3-billion people living in extreme poverty around the world are female, according to Oxfam.

As a social development issue, climate change is pertinent to women’s equality. The minimal feminist and gender-focused study and input on issues and policies related to climate change to date has resulted in the omission of gender issues from the overarching discourse developed globally. For example, 1992’s United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change omits gender perspectives from its analysis. Our collective interaction with the environment affects every aspect of our existence as humans, so it’s crucial to explore how gender equality will be factored into the discussion as we move forward.

The current climate crisis reflects issues of women’s disadvantage, such as access to resources and domestic responsibilities, and underscores the need for the inclusion of gender-based viewpoints in environmental policy development.

We’re endangering our very survival by failing to curb limitless economic development and industrial expansion, insatiable use of resources, and the effects of global warming. This estrangement from nature that allows humans to feel impervious is especially true of those of us who are far removed, in terms of geography and wealth, from the immediate consequences of global warming.

As a privileged Canadian, I do not and will not experience the repercussions of climate change as intensely as a poor farmer in Asia whose crops are ruined by drought or flood, or a woman whose household workload increases due to prolonged searches for increasingly scarce water. All human beings will become threatened, but it is in poor nations that livelihood depends immediately upon farming, reliable rainfall, and nature’s resources. It is in poor nations that people are more vulnerable to the detrimental changes induced by global warming. Women, being the world’s primary farmers, according to the 2009 report by the United Nations Population Fund, are in turn particularly vulnerable. Climate change, poverty, and gender are interconnected. With climate change aggravating existing inequalities, like gender inequality, many social scientists, scholars, and women’s rights advocates have reached a consensus: climate change must be understood as a human rights and social development issue first and foremost. As the global community moves forward, issues of gender equality should be prioritized in the development of strategies and policies to adapt to climate change.

Zaren White writes for the Muse at Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. This article originally appeared in the Canadian University Press.