Feminist Voices Missing in Climate Change Debate

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Climate change is already having a disproportionate impact on women, as witnessed in her homeland Bangladesh, says Anushay Hossain. But where are women's voices and outrage in response to this growing concern?

Editor's Note: The following is a commentary. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the views of Women's eNews.

Anushay Hossain(WOMENSENEWS)--I grew up knowing my country, Bangladesh, was drowning.

My childhood memories are filled with flashing images of annual monsoon rains making rivers out of our roads, lakes out of our rice paddy fields, washing away farmers' harvests and pushing the rural population into our already overpopulated capital city. Of course the yearly floods alternated with even greater natural disasters: cyclones, tornadoes, you name it. The rumor on the playground back then was that in 20 years Bangladesh would be completely underwater.

Today that's no longer a rumor. Bangladesh makes up not even 10 percent of the land mass of South Asia, but over 90 percent of the region's water passes through it, according to a recent article in England's The Guardian. Experts state that Bangladesh's shifting and intensifying weather patterns are making a bad situation worse.

The scenario in Bangladesh reveals that climate change is real and is already impacting populations and ecosystems around the world. But the case of Bangladesh shows us something more: It's the world's poor who will feel the impact of this change the hardest. And women make up approximately 65 percent of the world's poorest populations, according to the International Labor Organization.

Climate change is already having a disproportionate impact on women, concluded a report released yesterday by The United Nations Population Fund. "The State of World Population 2009," which focuses on women, population and climate change, also says that women have been largely overlooked in the debate on how to address climate change-related problems, and that success in combating this concern is more likely if policies, programs and treaties consider women's rights and needs.

This report is more evidence that though the gender angle of climate change will not be part of the agenda at upcoming U.N. Climate Change Conference, which takes place in Copenhagen from Dec. 7-18, it should be. Negotiations leading up to the conference, at which it is hoped an international agreement will be adopted for curbing greenhouse gas emissions, have already hit a wall as developing and developed nations disagree on how to fight climate change.

Primary Caretakers and Managers

Experts believe that climate change disproportionately impacts women in part because traditional domestic responsibilities usually fall on women and girls. Women are the primary caretakers of families and main managers of everything from food production to water management in their households. They are the ones who cook, clean and farm for their families, in addition to providing health care and hygiene, according to the United Nations Population Fund.

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