earth day

Springing Up: Women and Girls Are Both Victims and Vanquishers of Climate Change

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Earth DayEarth Day matters to every individual – every man, woman, child, antelope, tiger and earthworm. As an interconnected web with intricate correlations and dependencies, we all rely on a happy climate that doesn’t sway too far from the one that we evolved into. The difference of a couple of degrees can be catastrophic in ways that no one fully understands, because of the beautiful and ornate complexities of the planet that is our lush and abundant home.

Earth Day is particularly important to girls and women. In human societies around the globe, women and girls are uniquely affected by climate change and its effects. Climate change deepens instead of bridges inequities, and as the gender that is firmly embedded below the other in societal structures, the marginalized woman will see deepening hardship. Scratch that. She already is seeing deepening hardship.

From food shortages to water scarcity to precarious health to increased susceptibility in the wake of natural disasters, women and girls are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Research has shown that women farmers account for 45 to 80 per cent of all food production in developing countries, and when climate change hits, traditional foods that women cultivate become unpredictable and scarce. Food prices rise and poor people – of which women are disproportionately represented – see a decline in health. This is exacerbated by the exclusion of women from decision-making that is so essential: to their land, their livelihoods, their lives.

Women and girls are also largely responsible for menial and essential tasks that keep communities and countries running, but are unaccounted for in personal and societal economics. Fetching water, collecting firewood, caring for children. As instability and insecurity tremble, these fundamental tasks will begin to take more time, leaving less room for women’s and girls’ education, employment, leisure, creativity and innovation.

This is not a rosy picture. Yet women and girls, like Mother Nature herself, are resilient. Not only are they uniquely affected by climate change, but they are also instigators of solutions. Creative, smart solutions that are springing up globally. Custom made for the problems that face communities.

In the face of globalization and environmental degradation fuelled by behemoth corporate greed, bigger is not always better. As Naomi Klein argues so ferociously and articulately in This Changes Everything, localized solutions are creating real impact in the fight for the environment. Women are often at the forefront of these effective local movements. Indigenous people and communities offer a wealth of knowledge and understanding that needs to inform humanity’s relationship to ecosystems and biodiversity.

Women and girls are also uniquely poised to make an environmental impact through reproductive health. Boys and men also need to play an equal and active role, and to be respected as conscientious, capable, compassionate humans. Sexual and reproductive health and rights are not only important for health and equity, but they also play a critical role in the thoughtful stewardship of our earth. As overpopulation and excessive consumption meet in a destructive marriage, creating access to reproductive health information, supplies and services is essential. Smart and effective – and a basic human right.

This extends to menstrual health management, an area where women and girls are making a positive difference. Globally, reusable menstrual cups and pads are increasingly recognized as environmentally-friendly options. At a fraction of the cost and with none of the toxins and mysterious ingredients found in of disposable menstrual supplies, reusable supplies make sense in diverse contexts. From a health, economic, cultural and environmental perspective, women and girls are making the switch to reusable menstrual health management.

Women and girls stand to lose the most in the face of climate change. They are also harbingers of hope that are modelling conscientious solutions around the world. Women and girls are springing up everywhere as creative, smart stewards of Mother Nature.


IMG_9612By Irene Whittaker-Cumming, Executive Director of Mother Nature Partnership

Irene is an advocate for women’s health. A published writer and photographer, she seeks out the beautiful and the just, and incorporates both into her work. She is award-winning for her work as the founder and Executive Director of Mother Nature Partnership, an organization that seeks to empower girls and women to live their lives to the fullest. She is a communications consultant in international women’s and children’s health. She is the recipient of a Nelson Mandela Graça Machel Innovation Award and a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and has been shortlisted for a CBC Literary Award.