WORLD: Women and climate change: the challenges women face to be considered as key actors
By Priti Darooka
The Land Portal (04.12.2019) – https://bit.ly/2Rz5bcL – I want to thank IWRAW Asia Pacific for organising a two day strategic dialogue on Women Human Rights and Climate Justice. Some of the points shared here are points discussed at this dialogue in Bangkok in November 2019.
I also want to thank contributions by Feminist Land Platform members, especially Farida Akhter of Bangladesh.
The Feminist Land Platform echoes and endorses the relevant issues raised by the author Priti Darooka, who is a founder member of the Platform. The paper was presented during the International Land Coalition Africa meeting in Abidjan, on the 23rd November 2019.
Climate change impacts women differently
Climate change impacts everyone. However, the impact of climate change is experienced differently based on one’s socio-economic position. It is important to realize that women and men are impacted differently, not only as users of energy, water etc. but also as workers and contributors.
Women are the food producers of the world. (According to FAO women produce more than 50% of global food). Natural calamities such as droughts, floods, hurricane, cyclones, earthquake, landslides etc. due to climate change particularly impact women producers, indigenous women, rural women, women from marginalised groups, whose lives and livelihoods rely on natural resources such as land, water and forest. Millions of women who are in agriculture, the informal economy or are self-employed are exposed to toxic chemicals, extractives, and development projects adopted by countries. They are in the bottom most tier of the supply chain, taking up hazardous occupations with precarious working conditions. Therefore, climate crisis impacts women most critically.
From vulnerable group to active actors
In climate debates, women are profiled as victims or vulnerable groups—severely impacted. However, these platforms generally don’t recognise women as active climate actors with knowledge and agency. Women’s unequal participation in decision-making processes, including land and natural resource management, and in paid labour market continues to prevent them from being part of climate related planning, policy making and implementation. The question to raise is whether the role of women or the concerns and priorities of women in their multiple realities are taken into account in the climate solutions, in just transition to green economy or green Jobs. Women are often affected by the change and have a more active role to play.
The capitalist and neoliberal model takes nature for granted. It unfortunately believes that nature is a bottomless pit and will continue to sustain this excessive consumption with exploitative patterns of production forever. The same model also renders women’s work invisible, especially the unpaid care work and unpaid work in subsistence forms of livelihood. In market economy if you consume what you produce you have not produced at all. Production only has value if it is for the market. Most of women’s work, especially in global South is for self-consumption. Hence, most of women’s work is of less or no value. The current economic policies is built on women’s labour but considers women’s labour as the same bottomless pit that will absorb all adversities and continue to provide care and subsistence limitlessly, and always.
Claiming for Climate Justice
The irony of current climate debates is that we want to change nothing, but we want climate change or climate justice. We are not willing to change our consumption patterns or lifestyle. Transition from fossil fuel to renewables for example is not going to resolve the climate crisis. There also needs to be changes in consumption and lifestyles.
The solutions to address climate crisis are sort through science and technology – renewables or reduction in carbon emission through climate change adaptations. The solutions are not human centric but science centric. Women due to their gendered role and cultural norms do have indigenous knowledge in sustainable resource management. The knowledge held by women at community level is scientific but is not valued. For example, in several agricultural communities, seeds are maintained by women and proper gene pool is ensured. This is an in-depth scientific knowledge that is passed from one generation to another – mother to daughters and within the community of women. And if women’s leadership is engaged to address climate crisis there would surely be sustainable, inclusive and ‘scientific’ solutions.
Climate change effects are aggravated through loss of biodiversity that affects poor women and their food from the common resources and common land.
It is also ironic that the top 10 richest countries of the world are the top countries in global philanthropy. Developed countries hold technical solution and continue to pressure less developing countries to have climate adaptation solutions. Through philanthropic grants these rich countries also provide west based consultants to provide technical support to governments and institutions in the South. This whole process also renders local knowledge, especially held by women on the ground regarding traditional resilience practices absolutely irrelevant and useless.
These same rich countries, however, have their multinationals and brands exploit labour, and environment in these developing countries.
By leaving women out from the solutions, most climate change solutions directly or indirectly further contribute towards gender inequalities. For example, with all the noise around shift towards renewables, governments have not provided women with clean, green energy for cooking. Women still in most parts of the world, especially in the global South, continue to burn biomass for cooking.
Climate change debates and solutions therefore need to recognise women’s role as workers and producers and as guardians of environment and nature and ensure they are at the centre of all discussions and solutions as key stakeholders.