By Rebecca Harrington, National Field Coordinator
Yesterday, at the National Press Club, UNFPA launched its annual state of world population report entitled “Facing a changing world: women, population, and climate”. The report launch featured an engaging panel that included Rep. Carolyn Maloney, former Sen. Tim Wirth, the current President of the UN Foundation, and representatives from UNFPA, Worldwatch Institute, and PAI.
The meeting room was packed with those in the family planning and environmental communities eager to hear about the often-neglected relationships between population, climate change, and women. The release of the report is timely, as it precedes this year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference, taking place next month in Copenhagen.
Ironically, while women are least responsible for causing changes in climate, as they are likely to be more “sustainable consumers”, they are affected most by such climate change, according to the panelists. For example, drought uniquely affects women, who are generally responsible for the acquisition of water. As water becomes scarcer, women are forced to travel longer distances to get water. When this occurs, girls are likely to drop out of school to help their mothers with water collection.
Notably, and perhaps less obviously, women are also more likely to suffer more in the aftermath of natural disasters. The exceptional impact of natural disasters on women is eloquently discussed in the profile of Mandisa, a young community organizer who worked in New Orleans both prior to and following Hurricane Katrina.
The thoughtful audience members asked interesting questions about youth engagement in food production, the likelihood of these issues being discussed in Copenhagen, and the effect of emerging renewable energy technology on women in developing countries.
Despite these seemingly transparent connections, it is unlikely that the subject of gender will feature prominently in Copenhagen, according to the panelists. Encouragingly, there will be a side event at the Conference where IPPF, its Danish affiliate, Worldwatch, and PAI will discuss the importance of the empowerment of women in mitigating climate change.