This winter, we experienced snow and double-digit temperatures within the space of a week. Aside from the novelty of such a sudden change during lockdown, it’s a worrying sign of the climate crisis we are now facing.
This we know, but what is said less often is that climate change is a feminist issue – but it is and on International Women’s Day I want you to know why.
Firstly, women and girls are much more likely to be killed or injured in the face of a climate-related disaster.
Few are taught survival skills like how to swim or climb trees. Moreover, due to traditional caring roles, women and girls may prioritise the needs and safety of others, putting them at greater risk.
In some circumstances, deeply ingrained social norms even dictate that they have to wait for permission from men to leave their houses.
When crops fail due to drought, or flooding decimates farmland, we know that people’s livelihoods can be badly affected and in some cases there’s not enough food to go round. What rarely gets reported, however, is the way that women and girls yet again bear the impact.
For example, in Kampot, Cambodia, severe storms have made it unsafe for communities to go fishing – a chief source of food and income. To make up the shortfall in family finances, many girls are having to drop out of school and work in local factories.
She Is The Answer – what your donation could buy
£3.60 could plant 20 trees to reforest land, enriching soil and preventing dangerous flooding.
£7 a month over a year could provide a solar-powered water pump, giving a family water for farming.
£10 a month over a year could provide seeds, tools and training to grow drought-resistant crops.
£11 could help protect one person in a village by paying towards the cost of building a flood defence system.
£15 could pay the travel costs of a Woman Champion, enabling her to represent her community in local government meetings on climate change.
£23 could plant 100 mangrove trees in a coastal area, protecting communities from future floods and soil erosion as well as supporting fishing livelihoods.
£30 is the cost of a solar-powered lamp which can provide night-time illumination following storm related power cuts, giving light in emergencies.
£98 could cover the cost of enabling a Woman Champion to travel to the capital city to meet and influence policymakers on vital climate issues related to the needs of women and girls.
£100 could cover the cost of an Alternative Livelihoods training programme, allowing one person to receive training in the ‘green skills’ needed to earn a living through sustainable farming, fishing and chicken rearing practices.
Women displaced by climate change may also be forced to live in flimsy, makeshift camps, where they are increasingly vulnerable. In other cases, they may be forced to walk long distances in search of fresh water, which may expose them to violent attacks. The combination of economic hardship and acute stress caused by disasters is also linked to increases in domestic violence.
The impact of climate change may also leave women and girls exposed to different forms of gender-based violence, including child marriage. When floods hit Bangladesh in 2017, for instance,14-year-old Sarmin suddenly had to face the prospect of getting married.
Her parents were struggling after they lost everything and they felt that marriage into another family would keep Sarmin well-fed and safe. ‘Because of poverty, parents marry off their daughters like me at a very early age,’ she told ActionAid. ‘Since I got married, I cannot go to school.’
All this paints a bleak picture. But, while women and girls are disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis, their knowledge, skills and leadership can also be a powerful defence against it.
I want to highlight what happens when the voices of women and girls are brought into the climate conversation, when their leadership is harnessed, and when they are given the space and opportunity to act.
Through the support of ActionAid, the organisation I work for, a network of ‘Women Champions’ is supporting communities in Cambodia. These women are advocating for women’s rights, spreading knowledge of sustainable farming practices and educating the next generation in new livelihoods that are less likely to be impacted by climate change.
They are best placed to reach and represent women and girls in their community. Ultimately it is only when gender justice is achieved, and when structural change occur, that climate justice will follow.
Research from all around the world shows that gender equality is linked to better environmental outcomes too. More generally, a one unit increase in a country’s score on the women’s political empowerment index has been associated with nearly a 12% decrease in the country’s carbon emissions over the long term.
Traditional patriarchal structures will do little to save us in our fight against climate change. We have to champion women leaders and make sure no one is left behind.
Women and girls are critical agents of change. It’s time we listened to them.
MORE : ActionAid’s She Is The Answer campaign helps women and girls on the climate crisis frontline
MORE : Women are bearing the brunt of the climate crisis, but I’m helping them fight back
MORE : Living with the legacy of a climate emergency: the women and girls determined to build a brighter future
ActionAid: She Is The Answer
ActionAid is an international charity that works with women and girls living in poverty. Their dedicated local staff are changing the world with women and girls. They are ending violence and fighting poverty so that all women, everywhere, can create the future they want.
Metro.co.uk have teamed upwith ActionAid to highlight their UK Aid Match campaign She Is The Answer, which is running from 5 March until 4 June. For every donation made by the British public, the UK Government will double it.
To find out more about how you can support this campaign and women’s leadership click here.