Identified by changes in temperature, precipitation, winds, and other indicators, climate change is often referred to as a long-term shift in weather conditions (Government of Canada, 2015). According to the Government of Canada (2015), climate change can involve both changes in average conditions, as well as, changes in variability such as extreme events. While existing literature focuses on the economic consequences of climate change, additional attention is required on the social impacts of this environmental issue. Under such conditions, climate change has gender-specific implications. Pertaining to women’s roles in society, production, and domestic life, this post seeks to provide the effects of climate change on women regarding their vulnerability and adaptive capacity. Relevant examples from scholarly literatures will be provided to illustrate these arguments.
In the interest of climate change, it is important to recognize the five physical and natural elements that constitute the Earth’s climate system. These physical and natural elements include the Sun, the Atmosphere, the Oceans, water, and land. According to Environment and Climate Change Canada (2013), the Sun is often referred to as the main driver of the climate system. As it emits solar radiation to heat the Earth, the Sun influences the development of weather by setting in motion circulation systems of the Atmosphere and the ocean (Environment and Climate Change Canada, 2013). While the Earth’s climate system is often regarded as a heat engine driven by the energy of the Sun, the Sun is the most imperative element concerning dialogues of climate change. In connection with the Sun, the Atmosphere and the Oceans are also significant elements to the Earth’s climate system. Consisting of distinct layers and acting as Earth’s insulating blanket, the Atmosphere help keep the Earth warm and screens out ultraviolet rays produced by the Sun. On the basis thereof, while the Atmosphere keep the Earth warm, the Oceans help distribute the heat around the globe by moving warm tropical water towards the poles and returning cooler water back towards the equator (Environment and Climate Change Canada, 2013). Covering approximately 70 percent of the Earth’s surfaces, the Oceans moderate the climate of coastal areas by slowly warming up and cooling down.
Furthermore, water, in all of its form, play a significant and complex role in the climate processes (Environment and Climate Change Canada, 2013). Through evaporation, water helps cool the surface, as well as, reflect incoming energy from the Sun back to space. Similar to the Atmosphere, water helps to keep the Earth warm through clouds and water vapour. Additionally, the average amount of precipitation an area receives, according to Environment and Climate Change Canada (2013) is an important element of its climate. In the latter end, land masses and their landscapes including forests, deserts, glaciers, and mountains, can influence both global and regional climate. While land heats and cools more quickly than water, it affects the flow of air currents and the formation of weather systems (Environment and Climate Change Canada, 2013). Pertaining to the different types of land surface, each land type affects the amount of the sun’s energy that is reflected or absorbed by the Earth. By its very nature, brighter areas such as snow and ice-covered land are extremely reflective while darker areas such as forests absorb more solar energy. Likewise, vegetation and soils also play an important role relative to the hydrological cycle and the fluctuation of greenhouse gases emitted in and out of the Atmosphere.
In connection to climate change, the Earth has seen drastic changes to its climate system. Consequently, there are two prominent factors that cause climate change which include natural causes and human activity. Due to the rapid growth of human population, human activity has been regarded as the main cause of climate change. With the development of large urban areas and converting wilderness into agricultural land, the change in the nature of land masses negatively affects its interaction with the other elements of the climate system (Environment and Climate Change, 2013). Thus, plants, animals, biodiversity, forests, water, fish, wildlife, wetlands, parks, and protected areas, are negatively affected by the drastic changes of the climate. Additionally, human activity has also changed the composition of the Atmosphere. Due to the combustion of biomass for heating and cooking, and fossil fuels for oil, natural gas, and coal, these combustions result in the release of carbon dioxide and other elements into the Atmosphere. While these combustions are central to many global economic activities, the release of these elements has increased the insulating properties of the Atmosphere; producing adverse and harmful effects to the Earth’s climate and significantly raising the Earth’s temperature (Environment and Climate Change Canada, 2013).
In line with the adversity of climate change, many developing countries are vulnerable to climate effects due to poverty, conflicts, lack of gender and social equality, environment degradation, and lack of food (Jonsson, 2011). Thus, according to the Indian’s Government National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC), women, particularly in rural areas of developing countries, are largely vulnerable subjects. Often regarded as global warming, the unprecedented rise in temperatures resulting from greenhouse gas emissions and other human-related activities, have lead rural women to endure majority of the burden that further disadvantage their position. Considering their geographic locations and gendered socioeconomic roles, rural women are least equipped to deal with the impacts of climate change and fare considerably worse than men on all socioeconomic indicators including income, health, and employment (Boetto and McKinnon, 2013: 236).
Resulting from climate change, one of the most concerning issues is the unequal distribution of power relations between men and women. In many rural communities of developing countries, traditions of intergenerational property inheritance and wealth to male children, remain. As a consequence, the fatal exposure of women to death and loss has increased and socially constructed in the predominant patriarchal society (Gupta, 2015: 412). According to Himangana Gupta (2015), women are excluded or to an extent, disproportionately included in natural resource dependant activities such as agriculture (Gupta, 2015: 409). Consequently, while women on small farms produce 40 to 90 percent of their domestically consumed food, they lack access to assets, arable land, and the rights to own the land that they till. As an illustration, women farmers in Uttar Pradesh, India, own only six percent of the land where less than one percent have participated in government training programme, four percent have access to institutional credit, and eight percent have control over agricultural income (Gupta, 2015: 411). Globally, women account for two percent as land owners, thus, the insecurity of access and the rights over resources situates many rural women in a state of vulnerability.
In the context of climate change adaptation and women’s adaptive capacity, women in developing countries are often underrepresented and excluded from environment decision-making processes. With limited capacity to develop and adopt strategies, women’s participation in decision-making is often difficult at the community level where national and international levels is a distant dream for many (Gupta, 2015: 409). Although women play multiple roles at home and in their local communities, much of the dominant discourse on climate change presents women as victims rather than agents who are capable of contributing to solutions (Figueiredo and Perkins, 2013: 188). As a result of climate variability and significant structural changes to agriculture, the increase of social and economic hardships facing rural communities have expanded the responsibilities for women.
According to Heather Boetto and Jennifer McKinnon (2013), the expectation for women’s involvement in voluntary works has significantly increased (Boetto and McKinnon, 2013: 236). In this regard, while women are the ones directly involved in mitigation and adaptation activities, their participation is needed to bridge the gap of declining access to needed services, reduce the impact of higher levels of poverty, and attend to the increased level of health needs within their family and community. In addition to increasing farm labour roles while maintaining existing responsibilities of financial management, educational support for their children, and domestic related task (Boetto and McKinnon, 2013: 236), women farmers are increasingly pursuing off-farm work to generate more income. Furthermore, there is a growing consensus that women are needed to contribute to the climate change debate (Boetto and McKinnon, 2013). Thus, not only are women’s knowledge and practices necessary and relevant, they are also essential for sustainable development and effective environmental management.
While climate change is regarded as a large complex issue, there are methods and techniques to tackle the issue on the local, national, and global scale. Thus, to improve the situation for humans in general and women in particular, it is vital to emphasize team work in an effort to tackle climate change issues including global warming and climate-related injustices. First and foremost, in the matter of tackling the issue on the local level, one can be more efficient with the energy they consume and use less energy to reduce the increase of temperatures and the rise of sea levels. In my humble opinion, living a greener life such as reducing, reusing, and recycling is one of the methods that can be used to advance the climate change agenda. As such, walking, biking, and public transportations are alternatives to reduce one’s carbon footprint. Furthermore, substantial education on climate change should be implemented in the elementary and secondary school curriculum, as well as, provide volunteer opportunities and workshop for students.
On the national level, it is imperative that government officials and diplomatic authorities include civil society in the rigorous debate of climate change. With the notion of team work, gender-inclusive conferences; forums; and panels are one of the most powerful methods to assemble both the government and civil society to collaborate and work on solutions together. In regard to improving the situation for women in particular, I believe that more women need to be involved and included in the climate change debate. While women often serve as the primary caretakers of their household, their knowledge and practices can contribute to the development of practical and sustainable solutions to tackle the issue of climate change. From my perspective, it is indeed, without a doubt, that education is the essential tool for women and girls to combat climate change. By educating them in STEM-related agriculture technology, this will not only benefit and empower marginalized women, but the entire nation. While tackling climate change on a global scale is essential to end the cycle of poverty, providing rural women with equal access to opportunities and resources can empower them to grow into strong leaders in their community and fight against global warming and climate-related injustices. With more women involved in the decision-making process, more sustainable solutions will begin to develop to help tackle the issue of climate change.
To conclude, the impact of climate change is expected to have detrimental effects on people all over the world (Boetto and McKinnon, 2013: 245). In regard to the correlation of the environment and political sphere, I do not believe that all environmental issues are political issues but rather an issue that should resonate with every individual living on this planet. Climate change is a problem not only limited to politicians and diplomats but every human being who call planet Earth home. While there are policies and conferences created to combat this multifaceted issue, it is the responsibility of every individual to alleviate the burden of climate change impact on disadvantaged groups including women (Boetto and McKinnon, 2013: 245). Regardless of the position one attains, working together and including women are the first steps to create sustainable solutions for a better future.
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Boetto, H., & Mckinnon, J. (2013). Rural Women and Climate Change: A Gender-inclusivePerspective. Australian Social Work,66(2), 234-247. doi:10.1080/0312407x.2013.780630
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