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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

women at greater risk than men in a changing environment

Women are the most likely to suffer from climate change, but they are also the most capable of creating change and adaption within their communities
Women, particularly those living in mountain regions in developing countries including Bhutan face higher risk to their livelihoods and health from climate change, according to a report from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).
The report, ‘Women at the frontline of climate change’ released about two months ago says that women in communities vulnerable to climate change are often more likely than men to lose their lives during natural disasters, due to poor access to coping strategies such as basic lifesaving skills or cultural factors that restrict the mobility of women.
The UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner, during the launch of the report said women often play a stronger role than men in the management of ecosystem services and food security. Hence, sustainable adaptation must focus on gender and the role of women if it is to become successful.
“Women’s voices, responsibilities and knowledge on the environment and the challenges they face will need to be made a central part of Government’s adaptive responses to a rapidly changing climate,” said Achim Steiner.
Further, the Bhutan National Human Development 2011 also highlights that women in general will experience a higher level of adverse impact of climate change due to their social, economic and cultural circumstances.
It says poor access to resources, limited mobility, education, restricted rights and low level of participation in the decision making process are some factors that could contribute especially to their vulnerability to the negative impacts of climate change.
The report also highlights that gender roles create opportunities for climate adaptation.
It says women are considered to possess valuable knowledge and have comprehension about managing water and forest resources, soil conservation, social networking, and nurturing children.
“Considering the special vulnerabilities and opportunities, it is crucial that adaptation plans and programs consider the different roles, needs, adaptive capacity, knowledge and perspective of men and women,” states the report.
Studies have shown that women often have critical knowledge and experience in adapting to climate change and managing natural resources.
The report recommends that national plans and programs should mainstream gender issues, strengthen information, advocacy, and awareness on gender equality, promote participation in politics and the decision making process, and enhance employment opportunities.
Bhutan’s draft revised National Adaptation Program of Action includes the need to recognize gender balance, especially in the implementation of developmental activities and in the participation of both men and women.
The UN report also has several recommendations including greater investments in green, labor saving technologies such as irrigation systems or water harvesting, which can improve the quality of life and increase the productivity of female farm workers.
“Due to the key roles women play in agriculture, forest economies, biodiversity and other sectors particularly in developing countries, designing adaptation programs with a strong focus on gender equity is vital for successful climate change mitigation,” states the UN report.
Meanwhile, Bhutan will be hosting an international conference called ‘Bhutan+10 : Gender and Sustainable Mountain Development in a Changing World,’ in October this year.
The conference will bring together mountain women and men, researchers, policy makers, and development practitioners from the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region and look at various issues including gender and climate change adaptation issues.
In parts of Asia and Africa, where the majority of the agricultural workforce are female, the impacts of such disasters have a major impact on women’s income, food security and health. Women are responsible for about 6% of household food production in Asia and 75% in Africa.
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