USAID: Women are Disproportionately Affected by Climate Change
MR. CAPEHART: Let’s start big picture. How and in what ways are women disproportionately affected by climate change?
ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, first, let me thank those of you who are putting on this event.
And just say this is my 10th UNGA – no, my 11th UNGA and this is the first time I’ve been in an event like this, which is just taking head on a major source of many problems and a major necessity in terms of solutions.
So I’d say first, women are, as all marginalized persons, all vulnerable populations tend to be, disproportionately affected by climate change. We see it in minority communities in this country over and over again. We see it all around the world playing out.
If you look at actual casualty rates or death rates in natural emergencies, you see women and children bearing the brunt. And you might think, oh, well, that’s a biological difference and maybe they can’t outrun the tidal waves or whatever.
But it’s much about gender norms and be it, feeling like you need permission in order to know whether you can leave and be trapped in homes. It’s in general, just actually being responsible for so much in terms of the family’s welfare. And not being in a position, again, to put one’s own welfare very prominently.
You see it day to day, the vulnerabilities, as water dries up, and I’ve just been to so many places – I’m sure many of you have as well – where it is just so stark even from year to year, how different the landscapes are from the ones just ten years ago. But one thing hasn’t changed that much, which is the norm that it is women who go collect the water in rural communities, so as the water dries up near the community, women have to walk further and further.
And that’s of course been a terrible means by which, or route by which, women have been continually subjected to gender-based violence en route. So the further you go, the less protection you have, the more that those other norms that don’t on their face seem to have that much to do with climate change per se – a norm that indicates it’s okay to assault or attack a woman – that norm then intersects and thus means a disparate impact again on women in that sector as well.
MR. CAPEHART: So where in the world are these issues most acute?
ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Well, it’s hard to choose. I’ll give you just a little bit of a brief tour of my recent horizon, or whatever the backward version of a horizon is.
Over the last year, I traveled to Pakistan when a third of the country was underwater because of a combination of unprecedented rains and melting glaciers – colliding at once – and inadequate preparation and infrastructure. And again, it’s women often, the last to stay to protect property, to protect livestock as men go in search of help. I mean, everybody’s affected in terrible ways.
Traveling from there, then, to northern Kenya and to Somalia to see five straight failed rainy seasons. So the complete opposite of what I had seen in Pakistan, which is just parched land. Millions of livestock died of the drought in the Horn of Africa. You might think, well, the main effect will be on the pastoralists, which are, of course, the people who raise the livestock.
And sure, you actually saw a big spike in suicides of these men, because they, for millennia, had been raising animals and suddenly their entire herds of goats or camels were wiped out just like that.
But when it comes to managing the effects on families and the severe acute malnutrition that young people were left with, particularly kids under five, it was women who had to both deal with despondent husbands, deal with the question of what becomes of sons who had imagined that lifestyle continuing and now are suddenly thinking, “How do I possibly give them an alternative life, an alternative vocation,” but then also being in a position to try to find food for the youngest.
So I mean, again, it hits in different places. I was just, the last one I offer you is, I was just in Fiji.
And of course, for all the Pacific Islands – it’s almost all of them – it’s an existential threat.
It’s about whole nationalities having to figure out in some number of years ahead where they move to, what they do, like, if they can live in the parts of the country, in particular islands, that are so low lying.
And just small examples with, where women are out there, growing industry.
In this instance, I met with a woman with a group of women who were growing sea grapes – which, by the way, are delicious.
I had never had sea grapes before. And they were so proud of their sea grapes. And, USAID is trying to support them, get a microloan so that they can build their business, grow their business.