(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.
Women are not only at the "frontlines" of climate change, but their work and relationship with the environment is so intimate that their experiences with it changing are often just as personal.
Let’s take the example of water, a natural resource especially sensitive to climate change and one that traditionally women are the managers of in their households. Women and girls in the developing world on average travel 10 to 15 kilometers, spending up to eight hours a day, gathering water for their families, according to UNIFEM.
Droughts caused by climate change are eliminating existing water supplies, making the distance to walk even longer. Because of the distances women and girls have to travel to fetch water for their families, millions of girls around the world are unable to go to school.
Imagine that. The average person may not make the connection between accessing water and girls’ education, yet it exists.
As the gendered impact of climate change becomes increasingly palpable my question is, where are the feminist voices? Why are more women’s rights advocates and activists not picking up and rallying around this issue vigorously?
Where is the Outrage?
As we approach the Copenhagen conference, you see articles on climate change in the news everyday. But where is the real action? More importantly, where is the outrage?
Recently, for instance, I read an article in the LA Times about how the newest kind of refugee is not from war, but from climate change. They are called "climate refugees" and the article stated that almost 10 million people around the world have been forced to leave their homes for "reasons ranging from rising (or falling) sea levels, lack of rain and desertification." The article, however, expressed no outrage at this issue as it’s not the journalist’s job; it’s a job for advocates.
Back home in Bangladesh, the list of innovative ideas to combat and, more importantly, adapt to climate change is endless. International aid organizations are working with local nongovernmental organizations to build "floating villages," clinics on boats and help women educate their communities about securing flood and cyclone shelters.
There has to be more. Women may be at the frontlines of climate change, but they are not just victims. Their personal and intimate experience of the harsh impacts of climate change means that they also have the real solutions to combat the problem.
If the voices from the women’s rights movement don’t pick up this issue–loudly, clearly and unanimously–climate change will not only drown out countries, but the agents of change, women, with it. And that is simply not an option.
It is the responsibility of the women’s movement, both in the United States and abroad, to make the issue of our altering environment our issue. Otherwise everybody loses.
Anushay Hossain is the editor and founder of Anushay’s Point (http://anushayspoint.wordpress.com/). She is a native of Bangladesh.
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