Solutions to climate change are usually discussed in terms of what's best for business or politics. But what about what's best for those who have the most to lose as climate change worsens: namely, women, especially those living in the poorest regions of the world?
A new report by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Women's Environment and Development Organization (WEDO) says that "women are disproportionately vulnerable to environmental changes." The statistics speak for themselves:
* Women and children are 14 times more likely to die than men during natural disasters (like heat waves, droughts, and hurricanes — all of which are direct consequences of climate change).
* Hurricane Katrina, which struck New Orleans in 2005, predominantly affected African-American women, who were already the region's poorest, most disadvantaged community.
* An estimated 87% of unmarried women and almost 100% of married women lost their livelihoods when a cyclone hit the Ayeyerwaddy Delta in Myanmar in 2008.
But notable "natural" disasters like these aren't the only ways climate change takes its toll on women's livesl.
* Lifestyle: In areas of spreading drought, women must spend more time looking for firewood and trying to coax reluctant crops out of the ground – reducing the amount of time they can spend getting an education or taking care of their kids, and perhaps leading them to turn to early and undesirable marriages as a survival strategy.
* Health: Pregnant and lactating women are more vulnerable to diseases like malaria and dengue fever, both of which are extending their reach into new regions of the world as temperatures rise.
* Children: Kids are spending more time in medical clinics and hospitals as they suffer more cases of climate change-related asthma and poison ivy.
* Economics: Women find it harder to make ends meet as food prices rise to compensate for agricultural shortages due to drought or natural disaster. In developing countries, women may be forced to migrate if their lands become uninhabitable. Yet moving off their land to relocation camps or crowded urban areas makes many women homeless and unable to support themselves and their children.
* Security: While men are more likely to be killed or injured in fighting, women suffer greatly from other consequences of climate change-related conflict, including rape, beating, anxiety and depression.
UNFPA's companion report, State of World Population 2009, warns, "Unless climate policies take people into account, they will fail to mitigate climate change or to shield vulnerable populations from the potentially disastrous impacts." The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency concurs. The agency issued a report the same day the Copenhagen climate talks began, saying a "thorough examination of the scientific evidence" led it to conclude that "greenhouse gases threaten the health and welfare of the American people," and, presumably, people of other nations as well.
Clearly, women must play a key role in identifying strategies that will help them adapt to the changing climate while very much focusing on solutions to bring climate change under control. Historically, women have not had a 'seat at the table' when such discussions have transpired. Hopefully, that changes this year. Not only is the president of the Copenhagen climate talks a woman – but the U.S. Delegation is populated with high ranking women from the Obama Administration, including Sec. of State Hillary Clinton, Energy "Czar" Carol Browner, and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. I hope they will act together to keep women's interests front and center; by doing so, they'll keep all people front and center, as well.
Meanwhile, don't wait for the climate talks to conclude to take action on your own.
* At home, do what you can to save energy and reduce greenhouse gases. Here's how.
* Get more inspiration from the blogs posted about climate change for this month's Green Moms Carnival (coming December 9).
* And if you need any more arguments as to why you should care about climate change, here are ten.