Climate Change Farming Food Indigenous Peoples Sustainability Women

When We Fight Climate Change, We Fight Gender-Based Violence

From the Food Tank Newsletter

By Dani Nierenberg

None of us are immune from the effects of the climate crisis—but we’re not all equally at risk. At the Bonn Climate Change Conference this week, where I remotely moderated a panel on fiscal incentives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the UN released a report on how climate change has varying effects on people of different genders.Over the past decade, many male farmers have moved to urban areas in search of higher wages, leaving women not only to tend the land but also care for children, elders, and the home. In many parts of the world, women make up at least 43 percent of the agricultural labor force but often don’t have the same rights, the same cultural leverage to negotiate prices, or the same access to education as men. Women are left with the poorest soil—yet are expected to farm kitchen garden crops to feed the family while men might grow commodities. As nutritional gatekeepers, women are also often expected to prepare meals, often over a hot cookstoves, threatening their health. Girl children are affected, too, as they’re often forced to drop out of school early to help with increasingly difficult tasks such as fetching water and walking to find fuel or firewood.And here’s one more thing you might not realize, and I did not fully grasp it either: Climate-induced disasters lead to increased gender-based violence. Early in the Covid-19 pandemic, as people were out of work and sequestered at home, gender-based violence spiked—and a similar pattern is emerging regarding climate disasters. Amid heightened frustrations and longer travel for necessities, women and girls are increasingly vulnerable. The climate crisis is also linked to child marriages; if families can marry off their girl children earlier, that’s one fewer mouth to feed. People are being put in a position where they need to do anything to simply survive. These are stark realities that are hard for some of us to wrap our heads around.But there’s a hopeful aspect, too; one I’ve probably shared countless times in countless talks because I genuinely know it to be true. Women are stewards of the land; women are changemakers. When there are policies in place to address misogyny, fight sexism, and boost education not only for women and girls but for men and boys, too, things can change. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization has predicted that if women farmers had the same access to resources as men do, they could lift at least 100 million people out of hunger.We often think of women who live on farms as “farmers’ wives,” but in reality, women who live on farms are farmers. One farmer, Denise O’Brien, lives in Iowa and is highlighted in Raj Patel’s film “The Ants and the Grasshopper.” She’s done tremendous work to uplift women through the Women, Food and Agriculture Network. Leah Penniman at Soul Fire Farm, Karen Washington at Rise & Root Farm, Maureen Muketha in Kenya—all these women are changing the face of agriculture and advancing rights and empowerment for people of all genders.Next time you hear of a heat wave, or flooding, or a strong hurricane, or a monsoon that’s more devastating than usual, let it be a reminder. A reminder of ways that the climate crisis is having the most disproportionate effect on the poorest and most vulnerable and marginalized people in our societies—and a reminder of the potential for true gender equity to reduce violence and help nourish the world.

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