While DC and the world continue to fiddle with how to address climate change, and deniers continue with their campaign of disinformation and lies, women's daily lives are today changed, and sometimes destroyed. A report by the UN Development Programme (UNDP Report) last year found that "poor women’s limited access to resources, restricted rights, limited mobility and muted voice in shaping decisions make them highly vulnerable to climate change." Climate change impacts have a "devastatingly lopsided impact on women compared to men, from higher death rates during natural disasters to heavier household and care burdens." Droughts, floods, desertification and erosion impose more burdens on women who are largely responsible in many communities for securing water, food and energy for cooking and heating.
In some countries, climate change drought has caused a food crisis resulting in forced marriages of young girls for food and money:
In neighbouring Uganda, the food crises associated with climate change have been linked to higher rates of early marriage for girls, as they are exchanged for dowry or bride price.
These "famine marriages" - as they are called - not only lead to girls dropping out of school, but also make them vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections and related reproductive complications.
Higher Death Rates
"Studies show that women, boys and girls are 14 times more likely than men to die during a disaster." In 1991, 90% of the 140,000 people killed by the Bangladesh cyclone were women. The 2004 Asian Tsunami estimated that 70-80% of the people killed were women. In the 2003 heat wave in Europe, more women died than men. During hurricane Katrina, "most of the victims trapped in New Orleans were African-American women with their children, the poorest demographic group in that part of the country."
One study found that whether or not women had equal rights was linked to the gender differences reflected in the death rates from natural disasters:
June Zeitlin, a former executive director of WEDO, has cited a study by the London School of Economics analysing disasters in 141 countries that provides decisive evidence that gender differences in deaths from natural disasters are directly linked to women's economic and social rights.
That is, gender inequalities are magnified in disaster situations. So when women lack basic rights, more women than men will die from natural disasters.
The study also found the opposite to be true: in societies where women and men enjoy equal rights, natural disasters kill the same number of women and men.
One reason is that social prejudice leaves women more vulnerable to natural disasters:
In Sri Lanka, it was easier for men to survive during the tsunami because mainly boys are taught how to swim and to climb trees. This social prejudice means that girls and women in Sri Lanka have very few possibilities of surviving such disasters in the future.
In Bangladesh, dress codes and rules prevent women from responding quickly during a disaster:
In rural Bangladesh, Aguilar added, women’s dress codes can restrict their ability to move quickly during a natural disaster, and some women cannot leave their households without the consent of a male relative.
On the flip side, gender roles can increase the risk for men to die in disasters:
Many men are exposed to risky situations and even die because they believe that, by being the "stronger sex," society expects them to take heroic rescue action and they need not take precautions. For example, there were more immediate deaths among men when hurricane Mitch struck Central America not only because men were engaged in open-air activities, but also because they took fewer precautions when facing risks.
Exacerbating Gender Inequalities
In countries where women and girls are allocated the role of obtaining water and collecting firewood, daily life chores have become harder due to deforestation and contamination or drought. Decreased rain has decreased natural resources and then women and girls must spend more time to find the water and firewood.
We're so accustomed to simply turning on the faucet, but other women can spend hours, if not most of their day, traveling back and forth to provide their family with basic water needs:
Women in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, spend 40 billion hours per year collecting water – equivalent to a year's worth of labor by the entire workforce in France.
...It is generally women who must collect firewood and other biomass products, and they spend from two to nine hours per day doing so. Close to 80% of rural women in Asia, 60% in Africa and 40% in Latin America are affected by a shortage of firewood. Worldwide, pollution in homes caused by the smoke from burning firewood kills about two million women and children a year.
In Sri Lanka, water shortages force mothers to spend more time traveling a further distance to find water for their families. One woman uses a bicycle to travel two kilometers six times a day to get water, "carrying it gingerly back in an earthen pot each time." Other women do not have the luxury of a bicycle must walk while men who make the water trips use trucks or motorcycles.
The result is that the increased time devoted to daily chores or responsibilities means that there is less time for economic activities or school. In Tuvalu, the increased time to secure water and firewood has already decreased the number of girls enrolled in schools and lowered literacy levels.
The women's health is also impacted:
In Nepal, women suffer from bladder problems associated with carrying large amounts of firewood after they become pregnant... . Miscarriage in Uttarachal, India, is 30% higher than the national average and is associated with the very heavy weights women in that rural zone have to carry to collect water and firewood.
As climate change increases waterborne diseases associated with flooding, then the women need to take more time to be the caretaker when sickness strikes members of their family.
Climate change deniers need to change places and then tell us that climate change is not happening now.
EcoJustice series discuss environmental justice, or the disproportionate impacts on human health and environmental effects on minority communities. All people have a human right to clean, healthy and sustainable communities.
Almost 4 decades ago, the EPA was created partially in response to the public health problems caused in our country by environmental conditions, which included unhealthy air, polluted rivers, unsafe drinking water and waste disposal. Oftentimes, the answer has been to locate factories and other pollution-emitting facilities in poor, culturally diverse, or minority communities.
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