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On the front line of climate change

By ZHAO ZHIQIAN | China Daily | Updated: 2020-12-07 08:03


Rural women's capacity to confront natural disasters needs strengthening as they are the most vulnerable to the impacts of global warming

Across the world, poor people are among those worst hit by climate change and climate-induced natural disasters, resource scarcity and poverty. This is because they are often exposed to a higher degree or rely more on weather patterns and natural resources for their livelihoods and food security.

The rural population, often dependent on land-intensive production, is therefore more sensitive to climate risks. Rural women are particularly vulnerable, as they often have less access to resources and also because they, more than men, depend on natural resources for their livelihoods. Disasters and migration also have specific health implications for women and girls, apart from posing as security threats by exposing them greatly to gender-based violence, says the United Nations in a recent report Gender, Climate and Security: Sustaining Inclusive Peace on the Frontlines of Climate Change.

In China, there is growing awareness about the vulnerability of women combating climate change, especially in rural areas. As many younger rural men are leaving for towns and cities, many parts of rural China are seeing a so-called feminization of agriculture with a remarkable increase of women's participation in agricultural production. In certain areas, women make up to 70 percent of the rural labor force and they must confront climate-induced natural disasters head-on.

However, despite increasing participation in agricultural production, rural women have less access to resources such as land and seeds, financial services and agricultural technologies because of social norms and unbalanced gender relations. Access to land or homestead ownership are an important source of income and security. The Third Survey on Chinese Women's Social Status, organized by the All-China Women's Federation and National Bureau of Statistics in 2010, shows that more rural women than men do not have their names on land or homestead contracts or lose the ownership when their marital status changes. Moreover, the survey shows that the average income of working rural women was only 56 percent that of working rural men. That means rural women have a weaker material basis to adapt to climate change.

In addition, bound by household work and family chores, women have less access to information such as early weather warnings and are less familiar with disaster prevention and mitigation facilities than men are.

Besides, the absence of rural women's voices in decision-making means that their needs are often ignored. For example, when a flood hit a remote village in Yunnan province, destroying a nearby bridge which most of the women in the village used to cross to fetch water, although local women agreed that the bridge needed to be fixed, the authorities, comprising mostly of men, did not make it a priority. The bridge went unattended, leaving women to spend more time collecting drinking water. It is often women who look after family members suffering from illnesses because of disasters or unhealthy environments, but their needs are usually neglected.

However, women could play a critical role in combating climate change. There is increasing awareness that women's unique knowledge and experience in food production, management of natural resources, community management and education of children is an untapped resource in the mitigation and adaptation of climate change. At the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the inclusion of women and promotion of gender equality were recognized as integral to global climate action.

In China, legislation and policies such as the Women's Rights and Interests Protection Act and the Notice on Earnestly Safeguarding the Rights and Interests of Rural Women's Land Contract safeguard gender equality in rural areas. This October, at a high-level meeting marking the 25th anniversary of the Beijing World Conference on Women at the UN headquarters, President Xi Jinping spoke of accelerating the realization of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.

A lot of efforts are needed for empowering rural women's capacity in terms of climate change, but we could begin with the following steps.

First, gender awareness should be raised across local governments and village committees on the specific impact of climate change and climate-induced disasters and scarcity on the lives of women and girls. A gender-sensitive database on climate change should be established with core indicators in areas such as the economy, education, employment status and marital status, as well as accounting for the share of household work.

Second, the voices of women should be heard at all decision-making levels to ensure they are at least consulted and their needs integrated into local decision-making. Authorities at all levels should be trained on how to mainstream gender into climate-related policy and projects. A certain number of women should even be employed in climate mitigation and adaptation projects.

Last, women's access to information and facilities for disaster reduction should be enhanced. Women should be provided better access to productive resources, financial services, agricultural technologies and opportunities in capacity building.

The author is a program officer of the Climate and Energy Program at Greenovation Hub. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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