Our Perspectives

Climate change and inequalities: How will this impact women?


Waorani woman cultivating Women are key drivers of sustainable development. (Photo: UNDP)

Of all the impacts of climate change, from rising sea levels to landslides and flooding, one does not get the attention it deserves: exacerbation of inequalities, particularly for women. In poor countries, women’s lives are often directly dependent on the natural environment. Women bear the main responsibility for supplying water and firewood for cooking and heating, as well as growing food. Drought, uncertain rainfall and deforestation make these tasks more time-consuming and arduous, threaten women’s livelihoods and deprive them of time to learn skills, earn money and participate in community life.

But the same societal roles that make women more vulnerable to environmental challenges also make them key actors for driving sustainable development. Their knowledge and experience can make natural resource management and climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies at all levels more successful.

Just look to Ecuadorian Amazon, where the Waorani women association (Asociación de Mujeres Waorani de la Amazonia Ecuatoriana) is promoting organic cocoa cultivation as a wildlife protection measure and a pathway to local sustainable development. With our support, the association is managing its land collectively and working toward zero deforestation, the protection of vulnerable wildlife species and the production of certified organic chocolate. In the process, women are building their community’s resilience by investing revenues from the cocoa business into local education, health and infrastructure projects and successfully steering the local economy away from clear-cutting and unregulated bushmeat markets.

Indigenous women are also driving sustainable development in Mexico. There, we support Koolel-Kab/Muuchkambal, an organic farming and agroforestry initiative founded by Mayan women that works on forest conservation, the promotion of indigenous land rights and community-level disaster risk reduction strategies. The association established a 5,000-hectare community forest and advocates for public policies that stop deforestation and offer alternatives to input-intensive commercial agriculture.  It has also shared an organic beekeeping model across more than 20 communities, providing an economic alternative to illegal logging.

Empowered women are an effective responses to climate change. The success of climate change actions depend on elevating women’s voices, making sure their experiences and views are heard at decision-making tables and supporting them to become leaders in climate adaptation. By ensuring that gender concerns and women’s empowerment issues are systematically taken into account within environment and climate change responses, world leaders can reduce, rather than exacerbate, both new and existing inequalities and make sustainable development possible.

Women's empowerment Climate change Gender equality Environment Latin America & the Caribbean Sustainable development

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