BLOG: International Women’s Day and Climate Change

International Women’s Day and Climate Change

March 8 is International Women’s Day. With the election of Donald Trump and all the unraveling of climate action in the USA, as a mother of three girls, protecting my daughters and all women from the ravages of climate chIMG_2007ange is what I am thinking about.

Ten years ago, I know where I was when I heard the conclusions of the fourth Report by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on February 16, 2007. I was in my living room. It was lunch time. I was seven months pregnant and forty years old. The news came on CBC Radio. This is what I heard, “If humanity continues to stay on the same path of greenhouse gas production, the planet is going to be a very difficult place to live on forty years from now.”

I was so frightened that my knees shook and became so wobbly that I could not stand up. What would life be like for my unborn daughter when she was forty years old? Time stood still.

Extremely fearful thoughts of mass migrations of humans brought on by shortages of water and food as a result of climate change. I saw all the women’s rights gained in my lifetime dissolve. In that moment I made a commitment to my unborn daughter I was not going to let her world fall apart.

My fearful thoughts are supported by facts. Women currently are and will continue to be disproportionately impacted by climate change. Climate change disproportionally affects women due to a lack of power and increased social exclusion in some parts of the world. Note men and boys also have unique vulnerabilities to climate change. This can be addressed through a process of gender mainstreaming, that is, ensuring that gendered concerns are addressed and that the policy or practice does not further existing gender inequalities.

Climate change is and will lead to more competition over resources which in turn leads to conflict and violence. The Syrian Civil War is a harbinger of things to come.  Conflict amplifies existing gender inequalities.  Under such conditions, women will suffer the consequences of conflict such as rape, violence, anxiety, and depression.

As well, water stress and food shortages brought on by climate change will lead to an increase in women’s labour in many contexts as they have the primary responsibility of collecting water and working in agriculture in many parts of the world. Related increases in food prices make food more inaccessible to poor people, in particular to women and girls whose health has been found to decline more than male health in times of food shortages. Furthermore, women are often excluded from decision-making on access to and the use of land and resources critical to their livelihoods.

Lastly, gender differences in death rates attributable to natural disasters have been linked directly to women’s economic and social rights. Women are more vulnerable to death in extreme weather events. For example, social prejudices in parts of the world keep women and girls from learning to swim, and as a result, they are more vulnerable to flooding disasters.

Most women can’t just move. They are less mobile due to their roles as primary caregivers making it difficult for them to move as an adaptive response to a rapidly changing climate or conflict.

Sadly, women are only 12% of those that lead the global climate policy negotiations and the planet is on course for a dangerous 3-4 C increase in global temperatures.

Thankfully on March 2, the Honourable Catherine McKenna (Canada’s Environment and Climate Change Minister) declared that Canada will be sticking to its commitments under the Paris climate change deal on a phone call with Scott Pruit, the USA’s Chief of the Environment and Protection Agency (EPA).

On International Women’s Day, Canada, let’s also be grateful that a recent poll found that two-thirds of Canadians approve of Canada’s climate actions.

We have made progress. More is yet to come.





Cathy Orlando has put her words to work for the climate by getting letters and opinion pieces published in newspapers in every province in Canada. When she’s not safeguarding the climate alongside the best volunteers on the planet, you can probably find her stargazing, dancing, reading books not about climate change, hanging out with her husband Sanjiv, and mothering her three cherished daughters.