Awareness of the impact of disasters and climate change on women

March 8, 2021


March 8 - International Women's Day.


According to the United Nations, 80% of people globally displaced by climate change are women, of which 43% of agricultural workers are women and 13% are landowners1.  Women who are affected by climate change deal with its effects and impact on daily basis.

But how does climate change affect women?

Female small-scale farmers in Suriname mostly grow edible crops to provide food for their families, while men are more likely to focus on commercial crops. One of the aspects of climate change that puts pressure on women is the increasing number of bad harvests caused my extreme weather events. As a result, there is not enough food for the whole family. In the case of food shortages, it appears that the health of women and girls deteriorates faster than that of men.2

Globally, women have less access to social assistance, information, and land rights. As a result of the latter, they can invest less in things like irrigation and diversifying the number of crops that would make their land more resilient to climate change. Besides the agricultural work, these women also have all kinds of other tasks on their plate, such as domestic work and unpaid care for children and elderly people.

When involved in commercial farming, women also deal with, among other things, challenges in irrigation. Climate change has a big impact on weather patterns which makes it difficult for farmers to determine when to cultivate certain crops.  Their cultivations are threatened, and they are then forced to adjust their crop cycle. Just like the small-scale farmers, Women in medium to large scale farming also have all kinds of other tasks besides agricultural work, such as taking care of their family and support their children in education. By constantly adapting their crop cycle, they will have to be creative and innovative to meet all requirements, thus having fewer opportunities for growth and development.

These aspects indicate that the difference in opportunities, health and development between men and women is growing as climate change persists. Through the project “Reducing Farmer Vulnerability to Climate Change Impacts through the Promotion of Climate Smart Agriculture Technologies in Suriname from 2017 to 2019, supported during the first cycle of the Global Climate Change Suriname Adaptation Project (2016- 2019).

The Inter-American Institute of Cooperation on Agricultural (IICA) provided technical assistance to the farmers by setting up demonstration units in the Weg Naar Zee area. During this project, the farmers learned and practiced climate smart agriculture technologies to cope with extreme weather events and deterioration of the soil due to saltwater intrusion. Special attention was given to the inclusion of female farmers to participate in the training opportunities both in Suriname and abroad.3

[3]Mrs. D Frazer – Commercial farmer at Weg naar Zee

How do women suffer from natural disasters or calamities?

“We know that natural disasters or calamities can be more powerful and cause more damage because of climate change. It is nationally and internationally indicated that women are a vulnerable group in disasters or calamities”, states Mr. Humphrey Blinker, Coordinator for the Disaster and Crisis Management Programme of the Suriname Red Cross. He talks about the circumstances in which women suffer from natural disasters or calamities.


Why are women the vulnerable group?

Often, women are not involved in the preparation of disaster plans from the beginning, based on traditions and norms that men are responsible for the protection of their family and of the wider community.  Some of these norms are still in effect in traditional communities in the world, including in Suriname. In addition, the meetings and gatherings are mostly catered to and attended by men. The men have all the information on what steps to take when a disaster strikes, but the women are often not notified on how to act before, during and after a disaster.

If we take an example of the life of a fisherman, where a disaster strikes the community during the time when the men go out to sea for weeks to fish. The consequences of the disaster would be bigger due to wrong actions that are committed during the disaster because the women are not informed on what actions to take.  They have not been involved in the preparation of the disaster from the beginning, because they are perceived only in their role as caregivers in the community”, said Mr. Blinker..

In most traditional homes the roles are strongly defined, the woman takes care of the children and the household and the men ensure that there is money, do the hard work and bring the family to safety.

Nowadays, both nationally and internationally, gender equity policies are being integrated in disaster risk reduction as seen in the preparation before a disaster as well as during and after.   It is required that both men and women must be informed and involved in the disaster planning”, emphasizes Mr. Blinker.

In the hinterland of Suriname, where most of the traditional indigenous and tribal communities can be found, we see a positive development in the participation of women in leadership roles on various aspects. This includes the decision making and active participation in activities before, during and after a disaster. One such example is the composition of the various community disaster team trained and set up by the Suriname Red Cross which have at least 50% female members4.

Various involved organizations are working hard, to inform and involve the women in the preparation of disaster plans.

We can list more examples and situations, that show us that women are a more vulnerable group, during and after a natural disaster and that they are disproportionately affected by the negative impacts of climate change.

Therefore, on this day, let us also reflect on, and increase the awareness of, how disasters and climate change affect women.  Involve as many women as possible in capacity building activities and assist them in their development to improve the position of women.

Empower WOMEN to save lives!       Happy International Women's Day!

[4]Mr. Humphrey Blinker, Coordinator for the Disaster and Crisis Management Programme of the Suriname Red Cross