Gender Equality and Climate Change, Two Urgent Challenges


By María Noel Vaeza

The world is going through a double emergency. On the one hand, we need urgent and compelling actions to address the climate crisis and the risk of disasters. On the other hand, it is imperative to overcome the lags we still have in gender equality. 

These are two tasks that must be addressed in a coordinated and joint manner. In other words, neither will be possible on its own. Without gender equality, we will not be able to face the climate crisis. And if we do not address the climate crisis, gender equality will not be possible.  

It is becoming increasingly clear that women are more vulnerable to the impact of climate change than men, as they make up the majority of the world's impoverished population and are more dependent on natural resources that are under threat from climate change. 

According to a UNDP report, six women died for every four men in climate catastrophes between 1999 and 2019. In the aftermath of the disaster, women are also the most at risk of not feeding themselves adequately.  

Women's economy also suffers because they lose their livelihoods or devote themselves to caring for the injured and sick. Women farmers produce more than 45% of the food in developing countries, so droughts, floods, and other phenomena affect them more than men.  

That is why, this March 8, International Women's Day, we want to shine a spotlight on the correlation between the consequences of climate change and gender gaps. It is no longer a matter of making the world a better place but a matter of the survival of the human species.  

Women and girls can be, and in many cases already are, those influential and powerful voices driving change to achieve mitigation and adaptation to the effects of climate change. Greta Thunberg's example awakened many consciences globally, but it is not the only one. 

In Latin America and the Caribbean, we have inspiring women such as Berta Cáceres, murdered for defending the environmental cause and ancestral territories, and her daughter Laura Zúñiga, who continued her mother's struggle.  

Equally inspiring is the work of Daniela R. Gutiérrez in planting trees in Cochabamba, Bolivia; Graciela Coy's struggle to reduce poverty among Mayan women; and Mercedes Pombo's efforts in defense of the environment and human rights in Argentina, to mention just a few.  

We must continue to support, defend and, above all, make it possible for more and more girls and women in Latin America and the world to become involved and committed to effective actions in favor of the environment.  

It is a task that requires laws, norms, and profound social changes so that women and girls can also participate equally and safely in decision-making spaces concerning climate emergencies and disaster risk.  

Disasters, on the other hand, which I believe is wrong to call "natural." The major catastrophes resulting from climatic phenomena are of human origin: due to environmental depredation, lack of planning, or corruption. Nature is not to blame. 

As the world begins to glimpse a horizon of hope to start to control the COVID-19 pandemic, it is time to address the tasks that the health emergency forced us to postpone mainly because of many of the injustices, imbalances, and inequalities deepened during the pandemic. A situation that, in the words of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, has set us back ten years in rights already won. 

So the current situation is as follows: on the one hand, we are years behind in gender equality and women's human rights; on the other, we are confident that weather phenomena will become more intense and more frequent due to climate change. 

But we also have the hope represented by millions of women and girls willing to commit, work, and lead the work necessary to save Mother Earth and move towards equality.  

It is time to act with determination, with creativity, with courage. This March 8, International Women's Day, let us make gender equality a reality today for a sustainable tomorrow.