Our changing climate can have significant impacts on biodiversity around the world and, in turn, loss of biodiversity through activities such as deforestation can affect the climate. However, is there a role for gender?
A growing body of work shows that the interdependent problems of climate change and biodiversity loss will have a disproportionate effect on women. It also shows that women can - and already do - play a critical role in safeguarding biodiversity and the climate.
The effects of climate change on women farmers
One element has come into sharp focus. The increasingly damaging effects of extreme weather events has been felt particularly in developing economies. Here, women make up a large portion of the agricultural workforce. Because of unpredictable weather patterns, water supplies and their effects on the flora and fauna that farming depends on, women face considerable uncertainty.
Their heavy involvement in agriculture and inequalities such as being locked out of traditional financial systems renders women more vulnerable to natural disasters, climate change and biodiversity loss. Poor women are 14 times more likely to die during a natural disaster and account for around 80% of climate refugees. One analysis suggests women are more likely to be affected by the effects of climate change on health.
Women have less access to resources that would boost their capacity to adapt to climate change, according to the UN. These include services to help cushion the financial impact of disasters and environmental threats. If women had the same access as men, the FAO estimates that farm yields would increase by 20-30%.
The Covid-19 pandemic has acted to amplify these effects. Women have overwhelmingly been the first to assume duties of care for children, the elderly or other dependents – forcing them out of the paid workforce.
An estimate from the World Economic Forum suggests that, due to Covid-19, progress towards global gender equality has been set back by 36 years. Without action, this same backsliding effect is likely to be even greater in the context of a destabilising climate.
Taking action together
Understanding these issues is important as we pursue climate action, biodiversity conservation and equality.
Women play a critical role in responses to environmental issues, such as in ecosystem service-based climate strategies that have social, cultural and economic benefits. There is evidence that women are more knowledgeable when it comes to local species, and that empowering women results in more effective and efficient biodiversity conservation efforts.
In Kenya, for example, the Mtangawanda Mangrove Restoration Women Group is helping monitor, preserve and restore depleted mangroves. Members are granted loans for small businesses and are trained to look after and nurture the mangroves. These are important for biodiversity enhancement, climate resilience and carbon sequestration.
The programme helps address one of the major inequalities for women in the global south: access to financial services. The International Finance Corporation has estimated that a USD 300 billion gap in financing exists globally for women-owned small businesses. Closing this gap could have an enormous positive effect for women, but also for our climate and biodiversity.
On a broader level, the post-2020 global biodiversity framework is due to be discussed at the upcoming biodiversity COP in China. It is to include gender-differentiated considerations in safeguarding biodiversity.
A global solution to harness the power of women
Elsewhere, studies have shown that having women leaders and greater gender diversity in companies can result in more effective climate governance.
We believe effective action to safeguard biodiversity and on climate mitigation needs to consider gender – in terms of gender-specific impacts, and improving gender equality when it comes to planning, funding, capacity building, technology development and decision-making. Anything else would ignore the experience and expertise of half of the global population.
In the public and private sectors, from financial institutions to farms, there is more we can do to harness the power of women to build a more equal and sustainable world.
This is an abridged version of IT’S IMPORTANT WE RECOGNISE THE LINKS BETWEEN CLIMATE CHANGE, BIODIVERSITY LOSS AND GENDER published on women’s-forum.com on 24 September 2021.
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