A stunning statistic I stumbled upon during my studies on environmental justice and climate change impacts on humanity precipitated this piece. It reveals that women are 14 more times likely to die than men during a disaster. This is an alarming demography, if you consider that 68 per cent of all disasters are related to climate change. This supports the contention that climate change affects women in particular, when broken down into demographic factors.
Women comprise the majority of agricultural workers all over the world, and even more so in Nigeria where agriculture is mainstream, making them more vulnerable to diseases that result from extreme weather conditions, and in particular, those exacerbated by heat waves, extreme rainfall, and rising humidity. Accordingly, women are more exposed than men to mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue, and chikungunya, which they come into contact with through the duties of water collection and food harvesting. The physical pressure a female body undergoes during pregnancy and childbirth is also vital to consider in this context: children are more likely to be at risk of low birth weight, pre-term deliveries and stillbirth during heat waves because the core body temperature of pregnant women is ordinarily higher than normal and they cannot thermo-regulate like every other person.
This is compounded by the fact that women make up the majority of the world’s- and Nigeria’s -poor and are more dependent than men on natural resources for their livelihood, yet policies for land ownership and the social structure that determines access for women are poised against them. Moreover, studies show that women are often excluded from government-run climate change adaptation training for farmers and fishers, despite women constituting 45-80 per cent of this group. Thus, women, especially in rural areas, and the livelihood they eke out for themselves are threatened by climate change, because they lack the knowledge for adaptation and mitigation. Climate-related disasters are also responsible for high mortality and vulnerability levels of women. 83 per cent of single mothers were unable to return home after Hurricane Katrina for a full two years after the storm. In the 2004 Asian tsunami, women in many villages in Aceh, Indonesia, and in parts of India accounted for over 70 per cent of the dead. An estimated 87 percent of unmarried women and 100 per cent of married women lost their main source of income when Cyclone Nargis hit the Ayeyarwaddy Delta in Myanmar in 2008. Even in post-disaster refugee and Internally-Displaced Person (IDP) camps, women and girls are exposed to higher risks than men – especially during conflict – over scarce resources, and are also susceptible to greater likelihood of sexual abuse and domestic violence.
This is the female face of climate change, and it is not looking good, to say the least. On the bright side – our society neglects, sadly – women are effective actors in both mitigation and adaptation. They often have a strong body of knowledge and expertise that can be used to create and implement workable strategies suitable for their communities. This has been displayed in countries like Brazil, Mali, Bangladesh, and India, where women are constantly developing solutions to climate change disasters. It is axiomatic to recall that women leaders initiated the Paris Agreement adopted at the 21st Conference of Parties on Climate Change (COP 21). Christiana Figueres, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC Executive Secretary, during COP21, spent decades working towards an ambitious and equitable final text. New Executive Secretary, Patricia Espinosa, pushed it further at the Conference in Marrakesh. Ambassador Laurence Tubiana, French ambassador for international climate negotiations at COP 21, and Minister Hakima El Haite, Delegate Minister in Charge of Environment for Morocco also encouraged climate action from state and non-state actors, with a specific mandate to amplify the voices of women in the UNFCCC process. A study of 130 countries revealed that when women are in government positions, they are more likely to sign on to international treaties that are taking action against climate change.