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Women and Climate Change
Family nutrition is directly affected by a woman’s ability to farm. Women farmers grow more than half of all the food in developing countries, and up to 80 percent in parts of Africa, generally in the form of small-scale crops for household consumption.
Climate change has already begun to affect agricultural production and, consequently, women’s livelihoods and their ability to support the nutritional needs of their families. Extension efforts need to reach women, who often do not have access to information that would help them make better decisions about how to adapt to climate change.
Women are also the primary collectors of wood for fuel and water for household use. As climate change exacerbates desertification, these resources will become increasingly scarce, and make these tasks more difficult and time-consuming. This may directly affect girls’ ability to attend school, as household chores consume more of their time.
Women are also highly vulnerable to climate change-related natural disasters, and, as recent research has shown, face a significant risk of disaster-related fatalities. Following the 2004 tsunami in Asia, Oxfam International reported that three-quarters of the fatalities in eight Indonesian villages were women and girls. In the second most affected district in India, Cuddalore, the proportion of female fatalities was nearly 90 percent.
Furthermore, many of the daily challenges facing women farmers in the developing world, such as the difficulty of accessing credit, tools, training, and technical advice, only increase their vulnerability to climate change.
A recent study by the International Food Policy and Research Institute (IFPRI) showed that it is the more prosperous African farmers, those with access to credit, agricultural extension services, reliable information, and secure title to property, who were more likely to use adaptation techniques. Adaptation policies and strategies should take these factors into account and address the many obstacles women and subsistence farmers already encounter.
Involve Women in Decision-Making
The reality is that women will likely be disproportionately affected by climate change yet remain under-represented in the decision-making bodies that are working to develop a sustainable path forward. It is critical that women be included in the development of climate change policies at the local, regional, and global levels. Women’s expertise and knowledge should be used in developing climate change mitigation, disaster reduction, and adaptation strategies.
Climate change will affect women and men differently, and these differences will have a direct effect on the lives of families and communities. The links between climate change, agriculture, and gender will continue to evolve and it’s important that gender be integrated into climate change research. Planning and strategy development must put gender at the forefront to avoid losing valuable time.