Is Climate Change a Feminist Issue?

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Yes, according to a report released yesterday by the United Nations Population Fund. “Women—particularly those in poor countries—will be affected differently than men,” the report states. In developing countries, the report goes on to explain, erratic weather is increasing floods and droughts which “…increases the burden for women and girls, as they are the ones expected to ensure that there is enough food for the family.” Women produce 60 to 80 percent of food in most developing nations, a task made increasingly difficult by climate change.

Aside from food production and acquisition, women in poor countries in general have fewer material resources and income-earning opportunities, more child-rearing duties, and they are less likely to survive natural disasters like tsunamis and floods than men. But as women may disproportionately suffer the effects of climate change, they may also be part of the solution. The report’s authors suggest that wide access to contraception and reproductive health services for women in poor nations may do more to reduce climate change than any legislative action. (As we’ve reported before, children are CO2-heavy investments.) Additionally, women are “more likely than men to buy ‘green’ products” and are “less likely than men to trust governments and corporations to solve environmental problems.”

So why doesn’t gender enter into climate change discussions more often? Well, the report admits, probably partly because only seven of the world’s 150 elected national representatives are female, and female scientists make up only 15% at most of the authors of IPCC’s climate assessment reports. In the entire 2007 IPCC report, only half a page was devoted to gender issues. That may change in the future as organizations like Oxfam bring attention to the issue, and as governmental bodies establish panels to research the effects of climate change on women specifically. Last year, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) established a gender coordinator to help ensure gender issues are considered by UNFCCC programs, and this year the International Union for Conservation of Nature has said that it hopes to bring gender issues to Copenhagen. Here’s hoping for real accomplishments at Copenhagen, before it’s too late for everyone, male and female.

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