Chairs for Women at the Climate Talks: Eighty-Five per Cent of People Who Die from Climate-Induced Disasters Are Women. Seventy-Five per Cent of Environmental Refugees Are Women. Seventy per Cent of the World's Poor Considered the Most Vulnerable to the Ravages of Climate Change, Are Women

By Yashwant, Shailendra | Women in Action, August 2009 | Go to article overview

Chairs for Women at the Climate Talks: Eighty-Five per Cent of People Who Die from Climate-Induced Disasters Are Women. Seventy-Five per Cent of Environmental Refugees Are Women. Seventy per Cent of the World's Poor Considered the Most Vulnerable to the Ravages of Climate Change, Are Women


Yashwant, Shailendra, Women in Action


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While all evidence points to the fact that women's lives are more at risk because of climate change, the role of women has largely been neutered in the predominantly scientific and economic language of the current debates at the United Nations (UN).

Despite the presence of hordes of women at the corridors of the UN, one rarely hears of official interventions that demand inclusion of women in the decision-making processes even in the discussions on adaptation and mitigation. Instead, people are caught up in the intricacies and technicalities of text and punctuation marks, a clear sign of the increasingly recalcitrant positions of developed countries on emission targets and historical responsibilities.

The upcoming Copenhagen Summit in December 2009 will provide yet another space in influencing global policy and campaigning for gender equality on environmental protection. This is the most critical period in the history of humankind as important decisions will be made about our relationship with the environment in the near future. If the world leaders once more fail to include women and their voices in the debates and discourses, then humanity is losing vital inputs that may prove the key to adapting to climate change.

In September 2009, Liberian President who is also Africa's first female Head of State Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was joined by Finnish President Tarja Halonen in calling for an increased presence of women in the climate change talks. They also asserted the need to create an enabling environment for the participation of women at all levels in decisions making. They added that climate change-related financing should be gender sensitive.

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That the call came from an African woman is of particular importance. The global South is expected to bear the brunt of increasing temperatures and sea levels and much of the community's struggles with the changes in the environment are marked on women's bodies. Yet the same bodies are key to the community's survival and endurance in the critical years ahead.

Long before climate change dominated the popular environmental discourse, indigenous women have been resisting, mitigating and even reversing the impacts of climate change. Their understanding of environmental stress transcends science and statistics. Moreover, it includes a deep appreciation of climate change's socio-economic impacts as women are often responsible for the provision of food, fuel, shelter, water and medicine for their families.

Throughout the world, hundreds of millions of indigenous women and men, who manage their forests and crops sustainably contribute to the sequestration of greenhouse gas (GHG) from the atmosphere. Traditionally, indigenous women have been the custodians of biodiversity for many of the world's ecosystems. They have been practitioners of medicine, botany, nutrition and keepers of agricultural technologies.

Indigenous women may easily have the smallest carbon footprint on earth, given their sustainable livelihood practices such as swidden farming, pastoralism, hunting and gathering. Their production of basic goods and services often use environmentally friendly and renewable resources. Indigenous peoples in India, Thailand, China and Burma continue to practice rotational agriculture, with very limited or no use of petroleum fertilisers. As a result, they produce minimal GHG. The conserved forests in their domain and sustainable use of agricultural lands provide the additional benefit of a healthy ecosystem that helps preserve biodiversity and provides a sink for GHG emissions.

It is important that their wisdom and knowledge on resource management and adaptation are taken into account. As the international community develops policies and mechanisms to respond to climate change, gender mainstreaming will be especially critical in at least three areas: disaster risk reduction (DRR) planning and implementation at local, national and regional levels; the creation of each country's Nation Adaptation Programmes of Actions (NAPAs); and in the numerous climate funds that are in the process of being established within the UN.

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Chairs for Women at the Climate Talks: Eighty-Five per Cent of People Who Die from Climate-Induced Disasters Are Women. Seventy-Five per Cent of Environmental Refugees Are Women. Seventy per Cent of the World's Poor Considered the Most Vulnerable to the Ravages of Climate Change, Are Women
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