According to one international environmental group, women will be particularly affected by the predicted increase in climate change-related disasters. Lorena Aguilar, the senior gender advisor with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, tells host Bruce Gellerman that floods, droughts and hurricanes will hit women and the poor hardest.
GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Bruce Gellerman.
Climate change is going to affect everyone, but not everyone is going to be affected equally. Women and the poor will suffer most as the intensity of hurricanes, floods, and droughts increases. That’s according to Lorena Aguilar. She’s the Senior Gender Advisor with the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The IUCN is the world’s oldest and largest global environmental network and Ms. Aguilar joins me from her office in San Jose, Costa Rica.
Welcome to living on earth.
AGUILAR: Thank you very much for inviting me.
GELLERMAN: You’ve written extensively about how climate change is far more than an environmental issue. You say it’s a gender issue. How so?
AGUILAR: Well climate change is not only about the change in environment that all of us are suffering. It’s also about the impacts and the way that people are feeling these impacts. The study conducted by London School of Economics, they make an analysis of 141 disasters worldwide. And they were able to prove that in those countries in which gender gaps were bigger or wider, women tend to die more than men. In some countries from every five people that die, four are women and one is man. And this is only related to the condition of being a woman. And when you just analyze the reason why they died, it’s so ridiculous because some of them would have been prevented in simpler ways, like letting them have access to the information on what to do.
GELLERMAN: Well give me some examples. How is disruption of the climate a gender issue?
AGUILAR: For example, I give you the example of Mitch, Hurricane Mitch in Honduras. Women in the coast usually are not sent to school, so when they heard in the radio that winds of 260 kilometers were going to arrive to their coast, they didn’t have any idea what it meant. 260 kilometers – was that too much? Was that too little? We have other countries in Asia, for example, in which women are not allowed to leave their houses without a male relative. And they rather drown in their houses than leave them. So there are many, many other elements. Women are not supposed to learn how to swim, they should not be outdoors, they should remain with their clothes on. So many, many elements that when disaster strikes associated with climate change they’re severely being affected.
GELLERMAN: Here in the United States we had Hurricane Katrina.
GELLERMAN: Did gender play a role in the response or the effect of that hurricane here in the United States, a rich country?
AGUILAR: It did, especially in poor, Afro-American women the effect was a lot, lot harder and bigger than in other communities. They didn’t have access to mobility to get away from the areas, they didn’t know what to do, they hadn’t participated in a lot of these processes, and also to recuperate for single mothers, for example, after Katrina has been extremely more difficult than other people in that area.
GELLERMAN: So in essence what you’re seeing is that climate change magnifies the inequalities that exist now.
AGUILAR: Yes, and at the same time, the inequalities magnify the effects of climate change. So it’s a two-way road in this respect.
GELLERMAN: I know back in what, 2007 at the UN Bali conference on climate change, they set up the Global Gender and Climate Alliance. So what’s that going to do, if anything?
AGUILAR: Well, we tried various twenty-five organizations within the UN system and the international organizations and NGOs to come together to have one voice, one position, to really move forward some of the important issues in relation to climate change and gender.
GELLERMAN: So gender considerations have to be part and parcel of any international climate change agreement.
AGUILAR: Yes, business as usual is not the way to move forward. Nobody can be left out of this big movement that we have to carry out.
GELLERMAN: Well who decided what’s to change?
AGUILAR: Well sometimes the same women and the same men in some of these countries are asking for it. And they are tremendous agents of power. I mean, those that are suffering have the right to say how they want the change. And they’re calling for it, saying that it is not possible that you do not hear us. We are fifty percent of the population. And we have the right to be heard.
GELLERMAN: What about traditional societies, I mean, you’re proposing something fairly radical then.
AGUILAR: Well, when we’re talking about adapting to climate change, we’re introducing all these new things: new ways of planting, new ways of using the forest. All of these might go against some of the traditional ways. But we have to change, and so we’re not very much concerned when we talk about change at the technical level. Why should we be concerned when we talk about change in the way women and men have related to each other and in relation to the environment?
GELLERMAN: So, the whole notion is that climate change can really be a powerful force for social and development change.
AGUILAR: Definitely. I mean, it can be, as we are seeing, a backlash. It is stopping a lot of development. But well taken, it can also be as, you will say, a can opener to improve some of these disparities that we have had for centuries now.
GELLERMAN: Lorena Aguilar is the senior gender advisor with the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Her most recent article “Women and Climate Change” appears in the World Watch Institute’s new book “State of the World 2009”. Ms. Aguilar, thank you very much.
AGUILAR: Thank you.
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