Climate Change, Sustainable Development, and Gender Inequality
Written for the Individual Research Output Assignment in the subject INT3065: Sustainable Development in a Globalising World, 24th of May 2010 by Erica Chan.
Word Count: 1,712.
Introduction Over the course of its history, the issue of sustainable development has been viewed through multiple lenses. One of the most incisive has been that of gender inequality. It is now long established that understanding and addressing the cultural, social, and economic status of women in a country is profoundly intertwined with the success of sustainable development initiatives there. (Pearson, 2000, p. 383) This is because the effects of gender inequality often place women in the unique position of being both the main provider and support for their families and especially vulnerable to disasters like famine (Pearson, 2000, p. 393). This same position means that women are both more vulnerable to the catastrophes of Climate Change, as well as potentially powerful actors in the fight against it. Thus, to continue a plan of sustainable development in a world affected by Climate Change, it is vital to explore the effects of Climate Change and gender inequality on women, the initiatives currently attempting to address these problems, and the possibilities of other options.
Last Edit: May 24, 2010 2:47:43 GMT -5 by Erica Chan
The intersection of Climate Change, Sustainable Development, and Gender Inequality The current state of gender inequality in the world renders women incredibly vulnerable to external influences and changes, as can be seen in the online video below.
So far, the evidence and future projections of the effects of increased temperatures caused by Climate Change show a grim future. Firstly, these temperature increases are expected to aggravate the dryness of already arid and semi-arid lands (Morgan, 2005, p. 242).
Figure 1, (Denton, 1997)
Figure 1 above shows the general spread of aridity in the world across all countries. These are areas that, by their very nature, are vulnerable to further degradation and desertification, as can be seen in Figure 2 below.
Figure 2, (Ritter, 2009)
Climate Change will damage these sensitive areas; bringing more drought. less crops, and less land fertility for future generations (Morgan, 2005, p. 242). Thus, it is clear that the more people depend directly on the land for their livelihoods, without resources like social programs and agricultural technology, the more negatively affected they will be by Climate Change (Barnett and Adger, 2007, p. 641). As mentioned in the video above, women are especially vulnerable given they are estimated to account for approximately 70% of all people in poverty, as well as the fact that they make up 70% of the world’s landless, poorest farmers (Agostino, 2010, p. 1).
Similarly, as the people primarily in control of household matters like collecting and managing water and firewood, women will likely have to spend even longer hours fetching firewood, water, farming and grinding crops due to the increase of the frequency of droughts and floods that will accompany Climate Change, and yet receive less benefit from them (Agostino, 2010, p. 2; UN Women Watch, 2009, p. 7).
Increased temperatures will also, amongst other things, increase the rate at which many tropical diseases such as malaria spread. (Reiter, 2001, p. 142). This is because even a small increase in temperature worldwide will rapidly expand land area favourable to water-borne diseases, as well as the breeding of mosquitoes and the spread of vector-borne diseases.
From this, the effect on women is twofold; not only will a higher number of women be afflicted by both debilitating and deadly diseases, women as the primary caregivers of the family will also be forced to care for ill family members (UN Women Watch, 2009, p. 4). As women in many regions of developing countries have less access to medical and health services, such a burden will be taxing at its least and deadly at its worst (Agostino, 2010, p. 2).
Furthermore, despite the enduring myth of men being the sole breadwinner for their families, women in developing countries are often the ones actually responsible for family matters. Indeed, the number of families where women are the sole breadwinners are increasing (Synder & Tadesse, 1995, p. 184). An increased burden on these women will therefore hamper their ability to provide for their family and work for the economic betterment of their country.
Case Study: Nigeria
The effects and risks of Climate Change can already be seen in the present situation of Nigeria, situated in West Africa and the most populous African nation (Robson, 2000, p.123). Agriculture is responsible for a sizable portion of Nigeria’s GDP, and is also one of the nation’s largest sectors of production and sources of employment (Obidegwu, 1996, p. 149). However, studies have shown that Nigeria’s rainfall has decreased and grown less predictable since the 1960s, creating distinct problems and risks for farmers (Robson, 2000, p. 130).
Nigeria is also a dry country that already lacks substantial rainfall (Lawal, 2006, p. 259). Furthermore, future forecasts show trends pointing towards the further rise of aridity levels in substantial part of West Africa between 1990 to 2050 (Van der Born, Leemas and Schaeffer, 2004, p. 46). Given that Nigerian women already have less to no access to resources such as land, farming technologies and agricultural innovations like improved seedlings and fertilisers, as can be seen on OnlineNigeria 2010, the very real risk of drought carried by Climate Change will be devastating to both the female subsistence farmers in the region and all women charged with the task of collecting water for their households.
In terms of disease, part of Nigeria’s economy also involves artisanal or small-scale mining, with over 57 types of solid minerals existing in the country (Lawal, 2006, p. 257). As mines are often surrounded by pools of water, the communities that build up around them to eke out a living are already highly susceptible to health issues such as diarrhoea, malaria, and cholera (Lawal, 2006, p. 259). Further temperature increases in these areas would be potentially catastrophic to the health of these communities.
With these issues, basic survival and subsistence for the very poor becomes a challenge, let alone attempting to live and develop sustainably. However, the very number of women in poverty also makes them important actors in contributing to the problems and solutions of sustainable development and Climate Change. For example, one of the primary responsibilities of Nigerian women is collecting firewood, a practice that is leading to the severe degradation of Nigeria’s forests (Achudume, 2009, p.460). Furthermore, the deforestation is decreasing the groundwater levels and increasing the risk of drought and all of its assorted evils (Achudume, 2009, p. 460). Thus, considerations of women and their unequal status must be an integral part of forming sustainable development plans for these countries as well as mitigating the effects of Climate Change.
Last Edit: May 24, 2010 2:41:33 GMT -5 by Erica Chan
Aid, Sustainable Development, and Alternatives The present system of aid to developing countries for the purposes of economic development and humanitarian issues has several problems.
As outlined by Dambisa Moyo, author of the book Dead Aid in the above 2009 Skynews interview, current aid from NGOs and even foreign governments ultimately produce only short-term benefits, while simultaneously engendering problems such as aid dependency, government corruption, and the stifling of the export economy.
The initiatives that are arguably more effective are those that aim to empower the local people to live better, and more sustainable livelihoods that are also less vulnerable to the vagaries of Climate Change. For instance, farmers have been educated in Western Africa about soil conservation measures and mulching to naturally improve their soil fertility, while adaptive strategies have been formulated to help farmers cope with rainfall variability (Ruben, Kuyvenhoven, Sissoko and Kruseman, 2004, pp. 366-368).
Nevertheless, even these initiatives are hampered by complications. Much of this information has either not reached poor, rural women or is unavailable to them, and research has also shown that, despite local authorities carrying out vital projects to women such as portable water, 70% of rural Nigerian women are not informed about these projects due to the lack of knowledge and communication (Achudume, 2009, p. 464). The lack of female education also hampers initiatives to introduce alternative and sustainable technologies such as solar power as a replacement for the environmentally-damaging use of firewood. (Achudume, 2009, p. 461, 467).
It would thus be extremely beneficial to sustainable development to further increase women’s access to resources like education, technology, credit and management advice, especially if initiatives were extended to cover women who are already managing businesses (Snyder & Tadesse, 1995, p. 185; Obidegwu, 1996, p. 143). Access to such resources would also allow women to better protect themselves and their families against the risk of Climate Change-induced drought, as well as to mitigate their own carbon emissions.
The presence of independent NGOs, local groups and initiatives, many of them powered by women, are also forging their own paths, as can be seen in the The Global Call to Action Against Poverty alliance 2009 video below.
Women are increasingly attempting to seize economic empowerment for themselves and going into businesses of their own. (Snyder & Tadesse, 1995, p. 185). Furthermore, the number of women’s marketing, mutual aid, environmental and credit groups that reach out even to rural areas are increasing as women group together to address their problems. (Snyder & Tadesse, 1995, pp. 185-186). These local groups directly empower women and take into account their actual needs while also pooling together their resources and knowledge.
However, even greater leaps in education, available resources and knowledge, and thus advancements in ways to achieve sustainable development, would be made if coalitions were formed between these groups. (Snyder & Tadesse, 1995, p. 187). Furthermore, the gender-centered approach of investigating, acknowledging, and addressing women’s needs would be even more effective if it transcended the local level and became part of national government policy (UN Women Watch, 2009, p. 6).
Conclusion Throughout its history, the progress of sustainable development has been beset by several difficulties. Although only issues of disease, drought, and deforestation have been examined here, the reality is that the ripples of Climate Change will be far wider reaching. Given that Climate Change, poverty, and gender inequality have been dubbed as great moral and social challenges of our time, it is clearly vital that in an age where the threats of all three are present, each must be taken into account for an effective, sustainable, and fair plan for our future.
Last Edit: May 24, 2010 2:46:53 GMT -5 by Erica Chan
Lawal, M A 2006, ‘Addressing the environmental challenges of artisanal and small-scale mining in Nigeria’ in Hilson, G M (ed.), Small-Scale Mining, Rural Subsistence, and Poverty in West Africa, Intermediate Technology Publications Ltd, Warwickshire, pp. 255-270.
Morgan, JA 2005, ‘Rising atmospheric CO2 and global climate change: management implications for grazinglands, in Reynolds, S G & Frame, J (eds.), Grasslands: Developments Opportunities Perspectives, Science Publishers Inc., Plymouth, pp. 235-260.
Obidegwu, C F 1996, ‘Nigeria: Priorities and Prospects for the 1990s’, in Yansané, A Y (ed.) Prospects for Recovery and Sustainable Development in Africa, Greenwood Press, London, pp. 126-161.
Pearson, R 2000, ‘Rethinking Gender Matters in Development’ in Allen, T & Thomas, A (eds.) Poverty and Development into the 21st Century, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 383-302
Reiter, P 2001, ‘Climate Change and Mosquito-Borne Diseases, Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 109, pp. 141-161.
Robson, E 2000, ‘Exploring dimensions of sustainability in Nigeria: A question of scale’, in Redclift, M (ed) Sustainability: Life chances and livelihoods, Routledge, London, pp. 123-143.
Ruben, R, Kuyvenhoven, A, Sissoko, K & Kruseman, G 2004, ‘Climate Variability, Risk Coping and Agrarian Policies in Sub-Saharan Africa’, in Dietz, A J, Ruben, R, & Verhagen A (eds.), The Impact of Climate Change on Drylands, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, pp. 365-384
UN Women Watch 2009, Fact Sheet: Women, Gender Equality and Climate Change, UN Women Watch.
Van der Born, G, Leemas, R & Schaeffer, M 2004, ‘Climate Change Scenarios for Dryland West Africa, 1990-2005’, in Dietz, A J, Ruben, R, & Verhagen A (eds.), The Impact of Climate Change on Drylands, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, pp. 43-48.
World Economic Forum 2005, Women’s Empowerment: Measuring the Gender Gap, research report prepared by Lopez-Claros, A & Zahidi, S, World Economic Forum, Geneva.
Last Edit: May 24, 2010 2:48:42 GMT -5 by Erica Chan