COVID-19 has revealed a scary truth: we were never prepared for a global crisis. We are seeing gender injustices being perpetuated from one crisis to the next. Seventy percent of healthcare workers globally are women, and almost three quarters of healthcare workers that have been infected by the COVID-19 virus are women. This pandemic is exacerbating segregation and inequality; putting more women at risk everyday. Women have been on the frontlines, disproportionately facing the climate crisis long before the COVID-19 crisis hit. An IPCC study found that women are more likely to feel harsher impacts of climate change. But what does it mean to be on the frontlines of climate change? For women, a lot.
Eighty percent of those on the frontlines of climate change are women, all stemming from a history of inequality. Women represent the majority of the world’s economically poor, due to a variety of factors. More women continue to enter the workforce, but are also paid on average 25 percent less than men for the same job. Women also continue to have unequal access to education. In developing countries and communities, women often instead are responsible for the domestic work for their families. A lot of their time is spent doing agricultural work, and harvesting food and water. Girls are sometimes forced to rely on threatened resources, like contaminated drinking water, for their survival. These statistics are most transparent in areas that are constantly being subjected to sea level rise, extreme weather events, and lack of vital resources. Many of these communities continuously face the impacts of climate change like flooding or droughts. Following these natural disasters security nets are compromised, leading to more women at risk to face assault or violence.
Proper access to birth control is a major element in the injustice equation. Effective contraception can give women more power over their own lives. These systems are complex and can’t be connected with straight lines, but the dots all connect. Women remain vulnerable into the 21st century and climate change is only making that worse.
Women from all economic and social standings need to be included in the conversation. When government officials work on climate change policy and resilience plans, women must be in the room, including women from nations in the global south. A recent study surveying 130 countries has determined that countries with higher female government representation are more prone to implement international environmental treaties. Research has shown that globally, women are more likely to be considered about the climate crisis, but because only 22 current world leaders are women, there is a lack of representation in climate decisions. Although women in power positions are on the rise, recent studies show that only seven percent of world leaders and 24 percent of lawmakers are female, allowing for male leaders in power to continue to call the shots.
Kenyan environmentalist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Mathai is a powerful example of what female leadership in the climate movement can accomplish. The founder of a reforestation project called the Green Belt Movement, she used her values and beliefs to empower others and set the stage for environmental and social progress in Kenya. “Today we are faced with a challenge that calls for a shift in our thinking, so that humanity stops threatening its life-support system,” Mathai said in her Nobel Lecture. “We are called to assist the Earth to heal her wounds.”
Swedish activist Greata Thunberg is another example. In under two years she has united millions of activists, and amplified a worldwide need for change. These global emergencies must be addressed equally in order to ensure our future resilience. We must stop treating these events and injustices as anomalies and start addressing them as one interconnected ongoing problem. Global crises like the coronavirus pandemic or climate change can only be prevented if we stop ignoring women on the frontlines.Share This