Here’s a Way to Fight Climate Change: Empower Women
“Gender and climate are inextricably linked,” said environmentalist and author Katharine Wilkinson on stage recently at TEDWomen, a gathering of women thought leaders and activists in Palm Desert, California.
Women, she says, are disproportionately affected by climate change. When communities are decimated by floods or droughts, tsunamis or fire, the most vulnerable among them suffer the most. Because women across the world have fewer rights, less money, and fewer freedoms, in those moments of extreme loss, women are often hit the hardest. “There’s greater risk of displacement, higher odds of being injured or killed during a natural disaster. Prolonged drought can precipitate early marriage, as families contend with scarcity. Floods can force last-resort prostitution as women struggle to make ends meet. These dynamics are most acute under conditions of poverty,” she says.
With several new reports painting an increasingly bleak picture of the state of the world’s climate, Wilkinson is delivering her message at a time when leaders on the global stage are looking for solutions. As thousands of people gather this week at a major climate summit known as COP24, Wilkinson is making a plea to open people’s eyes to one fact: women’s rights are Earth’s rights. “In my experience, to have eyes wide open is to hold a broken heart every day,” she says.
But she has hope. Though women feel the effects of climate the most, they also represent an opportunity. “To address climate change, we must make gender equity a reality. And in the face of a seemingly impossible challenge, women and girls are a fierce source of possibility,” Wilkinson says. She and her team at the nonprofit Project Drawdown (https://www.drawdown.org) have been studying the real-world steps people can take to fix climate change, resulting in a best-selling 2017 book, Drawdown, highlighting the top 100 solutions to reversing warming.
Her argument is that if women are empowered in three distinct ways, the downstream effects on the environment will make a huge difference in the fight for climate change. She argues that if women were treated more equally professionally, they’d have fewer kids and the land they farm would be more efficient, all of which would help save the planet.