Social Inclusion & Human Rights

At Risk and Taking Charge: Women and Climate Change

Climate change happens not in a vacuum but in a complex network of causes and effects. This, in part, is what makes it such a difficult—and urgent—problem to tackle. The intersection between women and climate change is one receiving particular attention.

“We know women and girls are particularly at risk when it comes to climate change,” Catherine McKenna, Canada’s minister of environment and climate change said at a recent climate change and women’s rights summit. “And yet women are also at the forefront of bold climate leadership around the world. Together, women are turning ideas into solutions.”

How Climate Change Impacts Women

Research bears out the first part of McKenna’s claim. Women across the world are especially vulnerable to climate change, at least in part because women are more likely to live in poverty and have less education than men, making it harder for them to take advantage of opportunities to avoid climate disasters or recover after one hits.

In New Orleans, for example, 83% of single mothers could not return home after Hurricane Katrina for two years, and two-thirds of the people who lost jobs after the storm were women. The BBC reports that, worldwide, women make up 80% of people displaced by climate change.

There are also other indirect issues that affect women and girls in the aftermath of a climate event. Women, for example, face heightened health risks when water and sanitation systems stop working, according to the United Nations, and rising temperatures and pollution may contribute to increased complications for pregnant women and their children.

How Women Are Taking On Climate Change Themselves

McKenna is also right that women are leading the charge when it comes to fighting climate change. They’re doing this at a grassroots level, with women spearheading projects such as planting trees in Guatemala and bringing low-carbon technology like solar lamps and water filters to women in rural communities in Indonesia. The ability to drive change at the community and family level is vital to any movement that requires widespread buy-in.

Women are leading the charge when it comes to fighting climate change.

Women are also bringing about higher-level change: Christiana Figueres, Costa Rican diplomat and former executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, has been called the driving force behind the 2015 Paris Agreement. While the agreement focused on climate change globally, it included language specifically aimed at empowering women.

Investors increasingly see the need to address issues surrounding women and climate change, and they’re finding ways to support innovative solutions. For example, women farmers have become a focus for several funds and organizations—and are starting to benefit from education in climate-smart farming technologies and funding to strengthen local food systems.

How Gender Parity Can Address Climate Change

Beyond promoting climate-focused solutions specifically, investing in programs that increase gender parity could have an indirect positive effect on climate change.

In the 2017 book Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, researchers and policymakers lay out more than 100 initiatives that could measurably move the needle on climate change, including regenerative agriculture, forest protection, and mass transit. Among the solutions: making more resources available to female farmers, increasing access to birth control and family planning, and educating girls.

“[S]uppression and marginalization along gender lines actually hurt everyone, while equity is good for all,” the book’s authors write. “These solutions show that enhancing the rights and well-being of women and girls could improve the future of life on this planet.”

On September 26, Glenmede and BRAVA Investments brought together impact investing thought leaders to explore how investing in women can affect climate change. Watch a recording of the event.

Featured image attribution: Neil Palmer (CIAT)

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