The climate emergency affects everyone, but not equally. In a global context of inequality in which vulnerable groups are disproportionately affected by the consequences of human actions on the planet, women are at the forefront of the crisis.
According to UN reports, regardless of the sector in question, it is up to women to bear most of the burden caused by climate change. This vulnerability is the result of a series of social, economic and cultural factors.
Approximately 70% of the 1.3 billion people living in poverty in the world are women. They are still the heads of households in 40% of the poorest households in urban areas. In rural areas, they predominate the world’s food production workforce (50 to 80%), but own less than 10% of the land.
This power imbalance undermines women’s access to the resources, technology and information needed to adapt to the climate crisis.
Although studies focused on the real consequences of climate change on women’s human rights are still in their infancy, the UN is increasingly concerned with the issue. In addition to the preamble of the Paris Agreement, which indicates that countries must take into account human rights in their climate policies, in 2018, the organization published Recommendation n.37, specifically focused on the reality of women in this context.
For them, the environmental crisis poses a threat to essential rights, such as life, health and decent housing.
Chernor Bah, founder of the Children’s Forum Network in Sierra Leone and co-founder of Purposeful, an African center for feminist activism, points to other more gender-specific concerns.
“In places most affected by ecological disasters, there is an increase in domestic violence, and women are among the main victims of conflicts resulting from climate change. They also make up the largest group of people displaced from their lands as a result of the environmental emergency,” says Chernor.
Furthermore, the global crisis affects their ability to access basic resources such as water and food.
“In places like Asia, Africa and rural areas of Latin America, water scarcity is a special risk factor for women”, says Lise Sedrez, professor of environmental history at UFRJ. In addition to being forced to spend more and more time in the arduous task of fetching water, in places that are increasingly far from their homes, women and girls are exposed to the danger of suffering sexual violence along the way.
In Brazil, water scarcity is also one of the main effects of climate change. But it affects women in different ways.
“Water availability is more related to the productive condition of families that live off subsistence agriculture”, says Alan Oliveira dos Santos who, for 13 years, worked at the Vicente Nica Alternative Agriculture Center, in Vale do Jequitinhonha.
For women from traditional communities, such as indigenous peoples and quilombolas, the situation becomes even more painful.
“The Gurutuba Quilombo, where I live, in the North of Minas Gerais, like so many other Quilombos, is matriarchal,” says Edna Correia de Oliveira, president of the Federation of Quilombola Communities in the State of Minas Gerais. “Here, women are the ones who take care of practically everything, mainly when it comes to agriculture. And with climate change, it becomes more and more difficult to maintain our traditional lifestyle.”
Quilombolas are among the groups most affected by climate change in Brazil. However, their demands are even more vilified than those of the indigenous communities, which today have a greater articulation at national and international level.
Which does not mean that the impact on indigenous women is less atrocious.
“It is important to say that our bodies, our voices, our territories are under strong pressure and threat,” says Célia Xakriabá, a teacher and indigenous activist. “The deforestation of our forests brings a series of incalculable damages to the environment and also to humankind. We, women, are directly affected. We are the extension of the earth: what harms her, harms us too,” says Célia.