Sustainability July 6, 2018
Women And Girls Carry The Heaviest Burden Of Environmental Degradation.
Environmental degradation harms women more than men. Only with environmental justice can we achieve gender equality.
Detrimental short-term effects of environmental degradation, like landslides, floods, and hurricanes, affect us all. But, the long-term consequences harm women more than men. Studies have shown that in natural disaster emergencies, 70 to 80 percent of those needing assistance are women and children. According to the UN Women Watch, there’s multiple factors that make women more vulnerable to adverse effects of climate change.
Particularly in rural areas and developing countries, women depend on natural resources for their livelihoods. Those who need to secure water, food and fuel for cooking and heating face even tougher challenges.
In most developing countries, women and girls are responsible for collecting traditional fuels. Environmental degradation causes forest fires, droughts, floods and damage to biodiversity all of which reduce the fuel resources that are readily available. As a result, gatherers have to travel farther to find fuel which can take between two to 20 hours a day. Consequently, they have less time to invest in school or acquire other skills. Instead, perpetuating the cycle of disempowerment and increasing the gender inequality gap between women and men.
Environmental degradation causes floods and droughts that have a significant effect on freshwater sources. In developing countries, women and girls are the ones to fetch water for their families. Because of the limited access to fresh water, they don’t only have to travel far but often can only find contaminated water. According to a report by UN Women Watch, the resulting health problems include lesions, the hardening of the skin, dark spots on feet and hands, swollen limbs and the list goes on.
When health problems leave lasting traces on the affected girls and women, their situation worsens. In developing countries, society shuns, stigmatizes and excludes them based on their physical appearance which decreases their likelihood to get married. Unmarried women are often even more vulnerable to poverty and social exclusion.
Furthermore, environmental degradation means more heat waves, floods, storms, fires and droughts. Climate and weather increase the risk for infectious diseases such as cholera, malaria, and dengue fever which means increased morbidity and mortality, particularly among the poor. Victims are disproportionately women, who often don’t have access to health care.
Not only in developing countries, but also here in the United States, women feel the adverse effects of climate change more acutely than men. A study by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences on urban air pollution suggests that women have a higher risk of fatal coronary heart disease as a result of long-term exposure to airborne particles than their male counterparts.
A study by the Women’s Environmental Network has shown that 70 percent of the 1.3 million people in the world living in poverty are women. As a result, they have limited resources to cope with the consequences of environmental degradation. But, it also means that these women tend to contribute less to climate change. Studies suggest that because of their poverty, they tend to consume less. For example, they’re less likely to drive a car and instead take public transportation, they fly less and purchase fewer consumer goods. Consequently, they produce lower greenhouse gas emissions.
Women across the globe are more likely to carry the burden of climate change, which perpetuates gender inequality. Despite this, in both developed and developing nations, women are still under-represented in roles that contribute to the decision-making process of environmental protection and climate change strategies.
Environmental degradation is a feminist issue. Therefore, women must have a say in the development of environmental policies. Both gender justice and environmental justice demand gender-sensitive strategies that both protect the environment and stop perpetuating gender inequality.
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