By Christine Campeau, Climate and Food Security Analyst
Women are hit harder by climate change than men. Religious and social restraints are two factors that mean they have a limited capacity to adapt.
Due to lack of education and child rearing obligations, 70-80% of female workers in Asia are dependent on the land for their livelihoods.
Ms. Maria Michael, Caritas Pakistan is a 21 year-old farmer who is well aware of discrimination. In rural communities where illiteracy is high, cultural beliefs still dominate as the rule of law. Since women’s social status is directly linked to their right to own and control land, customary practices have been a focus of debate.
However, land ownership is not a complaint for Ms.Michael. No one from her family, not even a man, is able to gain ownership of the 12 acres plot of government-owned land that her family has been farming for over a century near Sargodha, Pakistan. However, she is well aware of the additional burden that women in her community face in their daily lives. They walk miles to the fields to farm, they work the crops all day, then they walk long distances back to begin their second shift as primary care giver.
In an effort to empower women, Ms. Maria Michael mobilizes women in her area to participate in sustainable agriculture activities. She hosts workshops to educate women on effective organic farming. When the Livelihoods program team based in the Sargodha district organized a cattle festival, Ms. Michael went door to door to encourage women farmers to participate, bringing together over 30 women to benefit from the training. From her time as an active member of Farmer Field School in Rice crops, she has a good knowledge of organic pest control methods.
Mrs Michael uses these skills to guide her family on the best ways to deal with the pests problem in their fields and how to compost to get the greatest yield from their crops. Within the household, Ms. Michael teaches women how to build their own smokeless stoves to reduce the inhalation of smoke. Needless to say, this bright, young women was definitely the best placed to share with the participants of the Southeast Asian Farmers’ (SAFaR) Conference 2010 the increased vulnerability that women face.
Across Asia, a lot of women work as farmers. Since climate change will cause poorer harvests for the most important crops, women in these countries are highly vulnerable. Firstly, climate change will greatly decrease the availability and predictability of women’s food supply. Secondly, womens’ income largely depends on what they grow, and therefore a meager harvest means less income from themselves and their families.
Climate change also often impacts the areas that are the basis of livelihoods for which women are responsible. For example, women usually fetch water, fodder, firewood and sometimes food in poor households. They therefore have to work harder to find these things when they become scarce.. As primary caregivers, women may see their responsibilities increase as family members suffer more illness due to the fact that climate change will exacerbate their exposure to vector borne diseases.
Climate change may also lead to increasing frequency and intensity of floods and deteriorating water quality. Climate change will impact the availability of water so women will need to travel greater distances to collect water. This will also increase risks to their personal safety and reduce the time spent on leisure activities and in school.
Women living in informal settlements are particularly vulnerable to frequent extreme events of flooding.
To date there has been little women-focused work that specifically looks at climate change mitigation. Therefore, there is a need for analysis of to the impact of floods, droughts, diseases, and other environmental changes and disasters on women, and how they can be protected.
While it may still take a long time for us to fully understand the problems and potential for the role of women in climate change, Ms. Maria Michael will continue to work to minimize inequality and marginalization and to empower the women in her community.