A changing climate affects everyone, but it is the world’s poorest and those in vulnerable situations, especially women and girls, who bear the brunt of environmental, economic, and social shocks. But the same women and girls are also early adopters of new agricultural techniques, first responders when disaster strikes, and important decision-makers at home about energy and waste. Climate action cannot be successful or sustainable if it does not involve women.
The UN Secretary-General has singled out women’s leadership for their unique ability as “drivers of solutions” when they are empowered. UN analysis has shown that men and women have different coping mechanisms and vulnerabilities in the face of climate change. Not surprisingly, then, that gender dynamics factor in the consideration in designing and implementing strategies for adaptive approaches to climate change.
The UN focuses on women around the world as agents of change, teaching them how to integrate climate-smart solutions in the work they do. These community-driven approaches not only benefit the environment, but also empower women to help improve the quality of life for their families and communities, while advancing sustainable development.
In Côte d'Ivoire, for example, women make up 70 per cent of the agricultural sector, but own only 3 per cent of the land they cultivate. Using their traditional and labor-intensive methods, women struggled to make a profit producing shea butter, an industry for which the country is well known. When UN Women with local partners, established a program that helped women modernize the process, with an emphasis on reducing deforestation, they were able to scale up production to create a superior product that also allowed them to meet competitive standards in the market place and increase their profit margins.
In Mali, women were growing discouraged by increasing degradation of the land and natural resources, which threatened their livelihoods in agriculture. A UN programme introduced sustainable agriculture techniques, helping them to modernize their farming techniques and master environmentally friendly conservations practices. In a country where women make up half the population engaged in agriculture, these skills also go a long way to prevent women from becoming more vulnerable and susceptible to poverty.
How COVID-19 is changing climate activism for young women
UN Women asked young women and girls on the front lines of climate activism how all of us can be a part of the movement, from the safety of our own homes, and what we can we learn from how the pandemic is affecting our planet.
The spirit and vitality of women should never be underestimated as a catalyst for change. Thanks to a UN Women initiative in Liberia, illiterate, older women-- a particularly vulnerable group—have been promoting solar energy as an alternative source to the more dangerous and costly kerosene, and decreasing the dependency on fossil fuels. Trained as solar engineers, the women are helping their communities enjoy a better quality of life. People can move more freely with improved security at night, young children can study safely for longer hours in well-lit rooms and livelihoods are expanding with the creation of newly skilled workers.
In rural Cambodia, biogas help offset the effects of climate change. Having placed gender equality and human rights at the heart of climate action and disaster risk reduction, UN Women and UN Environment have helped these women become the first movers to adopt new technology and knowledge in communities where resistance to change is high. Now, there is a growing acceptance of new solutions and increasing awareness of their ability to lead change.