World's women bear brunt of climate change, says UN women chief

Female leaders seized the occasion of the UN Climate Summit as an opportunity to highlight the inextricable links between climate change and gender equality. 

Stuart Ramson/Invision for United Nations Foundation/AP
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, speaks at the fifth annual Social Good Summit: Connecting for Good, Connecting for All, a convening of world leaders, new media and technology experts, grassroots activists, and voices from around the world to challenge a growing worldwide community to explore how technology and new media can be leveraged to benefit people everywhere, to create a better world by the year 2030, on Sunday, in New York.

Women must take a greater leadership role in fighting climate change because its effects fall hardest on women, the head of UNWomen said this week.

"Women are on the frontlines, bearing the brunt of climate change," said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of the United Nations agency dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women.

She spoke on Monday at the start of a discussion focused on the needs of women in terms ofclimate policy. Her comments before an audience of women leaders and former heads of state from around the world came on the eve of the UN Climate Summit, which began Tuesday, and at the beginning of Climate Week NYC.

Climate change and gender equality are inextricably linked, Chile's President Michelle Bachelet said in her keynote remarks.

"This is a crucial debate because we know those who are in an unequal situation are most at risk," said Bachelet, who was the founding executive director of UN Women in 2010.

She noted that women and children are 14 times more vulnerable than men in climate change-related natural disasters, such as the floods and droughts.

Women also feel the negative effects of climate change on agriculture, a sector in which they represent 43 percent of the global workforce and 65 percent of those involved in raising livestock, Bachelet said.

To mitigate the effects of climate change on these women farmers and ranchers, programs are under way to train women in more efficient livestock management, organic farming that reduces the carbon footprint, and hydroponic farming that uses recycled water, she said.

When it comes to climate policy, Bachelet said, more women need seats at the table.

"Female leaders should be present in the corridors of political power," she said, adding that Chile recently mandated that 40 percent of all candidates for political office must be women.

In an effort to encourage women's leadership, she said Chile will host a conference early next year in conjunction with the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action, a landmark agreement by governments to commit to gender equality and women's empowerment.

The conference, which will include male and female leaders from around the world, will assess women's progress in the last 20 years and also address the United Nations' Post-2015 sustainable development goals which should include gender and climate change, Bachelet said.

Global social advocacy groups such as Oxfam International have been attempting to shed light on women's greater vulnerabilities for years. The Oxfam Canada website details several key areas where climate change distinctly affects women....

  • Women are more likely to die during natural disasters than men.
  • Climate change is deepening the food crisis for women and their families.
  • Climate change leads to increased illness and disease and women are the primary caregivers for the sick. 
  • Indigenous women bear a triple burden despite decades demanding international action on the environment.
  • Climate change makes women's long workday even longer. 
  • Global warming increases the likelihood of armed conflict, including violence against women.
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