To combat climate change, increase women's participation

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Women are key for fighting climate change

How can you beat climate change with only half the world's population? Gender was among the main side-topics at the UN climate summit in Bonn. DW spoke to women who intend to be part of the solution to climate change.

"I'm the only woman here," noted Celestine Ketcha Courtes, mayor of a small town in Cameroon, looking to her left and right on the podium at a press conference of mayors on local climate action at the UN climate talks. Although she is laughing, she means business.

Nature and Environment | 22.11.2017

Although the United Nations climate change secretariat (UNFCCC) is led by a woman for the second time in a row — current Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa, who followed Christiana Figueres — women are still vastly absent from climate change decision-making. And largely ignored by climate policies.

Only one out of three delegates at the last two climate conferences were women, according to a recent paper from the UNFCCC.

To bolster the role of women in climate change action, delegates have adopted the first Gender Action Plan at the 23rd "conference of the parties," which took place from November 6 to 17 in Bonn.

Nature and Environment | 13.03.2017

Women activists and researchers hailed adoption of the plan.

COP23 UN Klimakonferenz in Bonn Eröffnung Patricia Espinosa

UNFCCC Chief Christina Espinosa says women must be at the forefront of climate change action

"The issue of gender equality, women's rights and empowerment has really seen an increasing recognition — and that's very positive," Verona Collantes, intergovernmental specialist at UN Women, told DW.

"Without gender justice, world leaders won't create successful climate policies because half of the population will be left behind," she said.

It's not the first time the international community has discussed how climate change and gender equality are connected — but it is the first time they have agreed upon a set of specific activities, indicated who the responsible actors are, and set a timeline for implementation, she explains.

In two years, delegates from the national governments will report back on the progress that has been made on gender justice.

Women more vulnerable

Climate change is affecting everyone living on this planet. But women in particular will feel its impact, experts say. That's because climate change exacerbates existing gender inequality.

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"Women are not starting from an even playing field — economically, socially and politically. They are more vulnerable because of these constructs," Gotelind Alber, co-founder of the nongovernmental organization GenderCC-Women for Climate Justice, told DW.

The majority of the world's poor are women, meaning they have fewer resources to adapt to changing environmental conditions.

Women are also more dependent on natural resources for their livelihood. In developing countries, women are responsible for 60 to 80 percent of all household food production, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization.

When drought or floods destroy the harvest, women and girls are often the first to reduce how much they eat — sacrificing their diet for the well-being of the rest of the family, Lim Hwei Mian, from the Asian-pacific resource and research centre for women (ARROW), said.

Pakistan Umwelt

Women are more affected by climate change due in part to their close relation to managing food resources in the household

Add to that how in rural areas in many developing countries, it's women's duty to collect water. According to data from the UN, the combined hours of all women in sub-Saharan Africa fetching water is 16 million hours. Men, in comparison, spend 6 million hours on water collection.

With droughts becoming more frequent, women and girls would need to walk longer distances to collect water. This means they will lose valuable time to go to school, and face an even-greater risk of sexual harrassment or even assault at dusk or dawn, Lim Hwei Mian explained.

Women and girls are also more vulnerable to storms, floods and cyclones. According to a UN Population Fund report, they are 14 times more likely to die than men during natural disasters.

"Girls are not taught to swim or to climb a tree — girls are not taught to be tough, so they are less prepared when natural disasters hit their communities," Mian told DW.

'Not just victims'

But many women counter that they are not victims — they are the solution. They can act as local agents of change, says Osprey Orielle Lake, executive director of Women's Earth and Climate Action Network.

"Although women are impacted first and worst by climate change, they say, 'we are not victims, we are the solution' — and they are absolutely right," Lake told DW.

Women have local knowledge of natural resources, and are often responsible for managing sustainable usage of those resources at home or in their community.

As a result, many women are already leading climate action on the ground, and in doing so are aiding the global fight against climate change.

COP23 Gleichstellung der Geschlechter

Tali Layango Arista (on the right) and her two colleagues are leading local climate protection projects at home in Peru

Take for example Tali Layango Arista, an indigenous woman from Peru. She is leading a reforestation project with her fellow female community members. 

"When we trade with wood within our communities, we reforest the cleared area afterwards," Arista told DW. Women are often "in direct contact with our forests and environment," she added.

Women are not only more likely to protect the environment on a local level, but also on a regional and national level. Studies have shown that when women are in leading political positions, climate laws are more easily passed.

Cameroonian mayor Courtes is one of many examples of women in leadership positions, and their positive impact on the environment.

In 2014, she received the United Nations Public Service Award for providing potable water to all inhabitants of her city. The project was made possible by involving female residents, who manage consumption of water and other resources.

"I'm calling on the support of women because they are at the center of managing everything that is about climate change," Courtes affirmed.

Nature and Environment

A sinking world

Samuel is only 10 years old, but when it comes to describing how climate change will impact our planet, he has a clear answer: water will rise so much that people living near the sea will be begging for help to survive. But why does it happen? "Because of the extreme pollution," he says.

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The last sunrise?

While Daniel (7) loves contemplating the sun, he wonders whether it will still be here in 50 years. He is hoping it only changes slightly, and that sunsets and sunrises will still be beautiful and colorful and will keep delighting adults and children. He's already urging his parents to recycle at home. After all, it's his future that's at stake.

Nature and Environment

Hold your breath

In a near future, flying cars will still be as polluting as cars nowadays, the sky will rarely look blue due to pollution, and humankind will completely forget the importance of nature - even the last of the trees will be removed. To top it off, droughts will be so bad in some places that ships will be stranded. And for that, Paloma (10) points out, we don't need to wait 50 years but only 15.

Nature and Environment

Escaping heat waves

Emma (7) has been traveling through southeast Asia in recent months and has loved the experience. But it was so hot! She learned from her mom that global temperatures are increasing every year. Therefore it's not surprising how she imagines the planet in the future: the sun will almost burn out and people will be forced to leave Earth – in rockets, of course.

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A new home: Mars

Life on another planet is exactly what Linus (12) imagines - more concretely, on Mars. In 50 years, the Earth will be immersed in such chaos that we will have to look for a better place. But even there, we will not have learned the lesson and we will leave another trail of consumption and destruction. Not much hope for our near future, right, Linus? "Well, we can still stop it!"

Nature and Environment

Technology has the power

In place of nature, technology will dominate our daily lives, Yann (12) believes. But for him, this is not discouraging, since we will have the most advanced technologies and lots of flying objects. This is how our planet will look in 50 years: a futuristic cityscape filled with revolutionary machines.

Nature and Environment

Huge carbon 'handprint'

Astrid (6) has a very abstract idea about Earth. It's a place where river flows, air flows and people are simultaneously affected by the same threat: a gigantic carbon "handprint." Astrid has heard about it at school: the bigger the "handprint," the worse the impact for us all.

Nature and Environment

Let’s try to survive

Our young artists don't always want to give a clear interpretation for their pieces. In this case, Miguel (10) provides us with two main options: The robot represents destructive climate change. Here, our destiny is quite clear. On the other hand, it may just mean that artificial intelligence will get out of control and become more powerful than humans. In any case, it's our time to act!

Nature and Environment

Tragedy on Earth

At 7, Judith gets quite serious when talking about the future, and is convinced we might all be dead by 2067 - pets included. In half a century, almost no one will have survived planetary destruction: and aliens will get the chance to take over. Just in case, Judith already prefers to save precious resources. No more new sheets of paper for drawing unless she's first used the other side.