Women hardest hit by climate change


Climate change

Woman and child in poverty

Credit: iStockphoto

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Women are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change, bearing the disproportionate burden of a warming planet, according to a report released by the United Nations Population Fund.

"Poor women in poor countries are among the hardest hit by climate change, even though they contributed the least to it," said Executive Director of the Population Fund (UNFPA), Thoraya Ahmed Obaid.

The new report on the state of the world's population has also pointed out that while women are the most likely to be affected by problems associated with rising seas, droughts, melting glaciers and extreme weather, they have been largely overlooked in the debates surrounding how to address these problems - an issue that needs to be rectified, Obaid said.

The reason women are seen as bearing the biggest burden of these problems, the report has indicated, is because they make up the majority of the 1.5 billion people living on $1 a day or less, and it is the poor who are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

The poor are more likely to depend on agriculture for a living, for example, and therefore risk going hungry or losing their livelihoods when droughts strike, rains become unpredictable and hurricanes move with unprecedented force. The poor also tend to live in marginal areas, vulnerable to floods, rising seas and storms.

Research cited in the report has also shown that women are more likely than men to die in natural disasters - including those related to extreme weather - with this gap most pronounced where incomes are low and status differences between men and women are high.

As the most affected, it is important for the needs, rights and potential of women to be taken into account by policies, programs and treaties organised in the global fight against climate change, the UNFA report has argued.

More than this, the report shows investments that empower women and girls - particularly education and health - bolster economic development and reduce poverty and have a beneficial impact on climate change.

Girls with more education, for example, tend to have smaller and healthier families as adults. Women with access to reproductive health services, including family planning, have lower fertility rates that contribute to slower growth in greenhouse-gas emissions in the long run.

"With the possibility of a climate catastrophe on the horizon, we cannot afford to relegate the world's 3.4 billion women and girls to the role of victim," Obaid said. "Wouldn't it make more sense to have 3.4 billion agents for change?"