Women Must Be Partners and Drivers of Climate Change Decision-Making

12/9/2014
The Aspen Journal of Ideas

As leaders from around the world gather in Lima, Peru this week to discuss global cooperation in addressing climate change, a woman in Guatemala will struggle to feed her family from a farm plot that produces less each season.

A mother in Ethiopia will make the difficult decision to take her daughter out of school so the girl can help gather water, which requires more and more time with each passing year.

A pregnant woman in Bangladesh will worry about what will happen to her and her children if the floods come when it is her time to deliver.

These women, and millions of women around the world, are on the front lines of climate change. The impacts of shifting temperatures, erratic rainfall, and extreme weather events touch their lives in direct and profound ways. For many, these impacts are felt so strongly because of gender roles — women are responsible for gathering water, food and fuel for the household. And for too many, a lack of access to information and decision-making exacerbates their vulnerability in the face of climate change.

This week, our leaders will meet in Lima to lay the critical foundations for a new global agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. They seek to resolve important questions about collective action to reduce the pollution that causes climate change, to build resilience in communities to the climate change impacts we can’t avoid, and to provide the finance needed for climate-smart development around the world. It is critical that in all of these efforts, our leaders recognize the importance of ensuring that climate change solutions are gender-responsive.

What does it mean for climate change solutions to be gender-responsive? It means, for example, that strategies for renewable energy take into consideration how women access and use fuel and electricity in their homes. It means that vulnerability assessments and emergency response plans account for how women’s capabilities and skills differ from those of men. And critically, it means women are included at decision-making tables internationally, nationally, and locally when strategies and action plans are developed.

Too many women — more than 222 million around the world — lack the information and services that would enable them to determine the number, timing, and spacing of their children

Beyond direct assessments of women’s unique vulnerabilities and capabilities, we must also examine and support pathways to greater empowerment for women. When women are empowered, their families, communities, and nations benefit. Responding to climate change offers opportunities to enhance these pathways to empowerment. 

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