In October we celebrated International Day of Rural Women – a day that pays tribute to the invaluable role that women play in their homes, local communities, income generation, and overall family wellbeing. Yet, around the world, rural women and girls suffer disproportionately when it comes to poverty and hunger. Often, they struggle to gain access to land, credit, agricultural inputs and markets. Structural barriers and discriminatory social norms continue to constrain women’s decision-making power, and prevent them from having the same political and social participation as their male counterparts. With tightening farm profit margins, the out-migration of men to towns and cities is a common trend, and as such the workload for women – both in the field and the household – increases, and so do the challenges of poverty, hunger and exclusion.
“Saving our planet, lifting people out of poverty, advancing economic growth… these are one and the same fight. We must connect the dots between climate change, water scarcity, energy shortages, global health, food security and women’s empowerment. Solutions to one problem must be solutions for all.” Ban Ki-moon, Former Secretary-General of the United Nations
The theme of the International Day of Rural Women this year is “challenges and opportunities in climate-resilient agriculture for gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls.”
Climate change is one of the principal threats to quality – and equality – of life on our planet. Beyond environmental problems, climate change threatens food security, water availability, health, housing and self-determination. In essence, it confronts our basic liberties and pursuit of happiness.
But the burden of climate change impacts is not distributed equally. Pests and disease, floods, bushfires and altered rainfall patterns amplify existing gender inequalities in rural areas.
Men and women are affected differently by climate change due to different social and cultural roles. In many rural communities, women form the majority of self-employed, small-scale farmers.
Given existing gender inequalities and development gaps, climate change ultimately places a greater burden on women. Climate change also increases vulnerability through emigration of men, increasing the workload on women; cropping and livestock changes that affect gender division of labour; greater difficulty in accessing water and fuel resources; and conflict over natural resources.
For communities most at risk, climate change is disrupting lives, work, food security and the places they call home.
“If we took away the barriers to women’s leadership, we would solve the climate change problem a lot faster”- Mary Robinson, Former President of Ireland
But women are also powerful change agents. They are key actors in the health and wellbeing of their family, in building community resilience and responding to climate-related disasters. By improving their skills, knowledge and support structures for rural women, we can strive for gender equality and climate resilience.
The United Nations strives to foster women’s empowerment through climate-resilient agriculture approaches such as:
● engendering climate-resilient agricultural policies;
● increasing women’s land tenure security;
● facilitating women farmers’ access to finance to invest in climate-resilient and time-saving assets;
● enhancing women farmers’ access to climate-resilient information; and
● expanding opportunities for female farmers to participate in and move up the climate-resilient agricultural value chain.
UN Women is supporting several initiatives that promote the leadership of rural women in shaping laws, policies, and strategies on all issues that affect their lives. Their flagship program initiatives combine the topics of gender equality and climate action by bringing women’s leadership to the forefront of climate solutions. These programs include women’s empowerment through climate-smart agriculture, women’s entrepreneurship in renewable energy, and addressing the gender inequality of risk in a changing climate.
Systematically addressing gender gaps in rural settings whilst enacting climate change solutions is an effective mechanism to build the climate resilience of households, communities and nations. There is rising awareness of the roles women play as change agents, and the tremendous value of gender equality and women’s empowerment for producing social, economic, and climate resilience benefits.
“Women and nature are associated not in passivity but in creativity and in the maintenance of life” – Vandana Shiva, Indian Scholar and environmental activist