In case you missed it, an important political conference was held in New York City to discuss one of the most urgent issues affecting literally every person on the planet – climate change. It almost seems ironic that it was taking place in NYC, the home of Donald Trump who, as a presidential candidate and now Commander in Chief, has no qualms denying the existence of climate change and appointing Scott Pruitt to head up the EPA, the very department he has been fought against in the past. Cool…
But with an overwhelming majority of the science community agreeing on the human effects on the climate, the clock is ticking whether some in power want to acknowledge it or not. Which is why the C40 Women4Climate summit was not just an important event, but a powerful reminder that there are world leaders willing to take action.
The C40 organization began 10 years ago as a way to bring together leaders of the world’s biggest cities to discuss how to address climate change. Their mission is to collaborate effectively, share knowledge and drive meaningful, measurable and sustainable action. With over 90 mayors from around the world collectively representing 650+ million citizens and 25% of global GDP, it’s clear this is a powerful gathering that can make a big impact.
This year the focus of the summit was different, as it was centered around women’s role in this issue, and how climate change specifically and disproportionately affects them. What also made the event noteworthy was the increase in female mayors present, from 4 women 2 years ago, to 15 this year.
They included event chair Anne Hidalgo, Mayor or Paris, Barcelona Mayor Manuela Carmena, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, Sydney Mayor Clover Moore, Cape Town Mayor Patricia De Lille, and Stockholm Mayor Karin Wanngard who rides an electric bike to work everyday to do her part personally for the climate.
“Politicians can make nice speeches, but when it comes to action, you need leadership,” she said.
With the growing realization that women, especially in rural and underdeveloped areas around the world are bearing the burden of climate change, the C40 leaders wanted to ensure that policies going forward address their needs specifically.
“I think as women in leadership today and as mayors around the world, we need to lead from the front to make sure the rights of women are protected and that women are considered in the decisions we make on a daily basis and that they are protected,” said Patricia De Lille to ATTN.com.
In a blog post on the C40 website, Anne Hidalgo outlined why women are affected by this issue more.
“The United Nations Population Fund concluded that women are more vulnerable than men to climate change, particularly if they live in low and middle-income countries. Women for example, are much more likely than men to die in climate-related natural disasters such as floods or heat waves,” she wrote.
It should also be noted that a vast majority of these women are women of color, indigenous women, and women living in poverty. Which is why their voices must be represented at global summits like C40 which are dedicated to effective climate policies.
“It has to be addressed all the time within the inequality framework. Unfortunately women are more affected by climate related natural disasters because they are poorer and they have a socially and economically more vulnerable situation on average in the world,” said Emmanuelle Pinault, the Head of City Diplomacy from C40.
She talked about the Hurricane Katrine disaster of 2005 as an example where the disproportionate effects on the lives of women were not as common knowledge in discussions around recovery.
“Women were uniquely affected by the storm; poor low-income women had a more difficult time evacuating, disproportionately became care givers for children and the elderly after the storm closed those services, and women lost jobs in the aftermath…women in New Orleans experienced a 7% job loss while men actually saw a 23% gain, primarily because of construction jobs,” wrote ATTN.com reporter Danielle DeCourcey.
While the mayors of these cities represent urban areas which are perfect for testing our new initiatives and getting faster results due to the sheer population size of their constituents, we also need to hear from the women affected in areas which may not be as densely populated as, say, Paris, or New York City.
In a powerful interview with Newsdeeply.com, feminist author Ama Josephine Budge explained how climate change is inherently an intersectional feminist issue which demands more women, especially women of color, have a seat at the decision-making tables across the world.
“Indigenous women [and] those in the global south, who are on the front lines of climate change right now, are being spoken for by people in positions of power. Climate change, almost more than any other area, is where indigenous people, particularly in South America and in the U.S. have been, phenomenally and enduringly, just fighting on every level – they’ve been marching, they’ve been lobbying, they’ve been writing. They’ve been doing everything for years and, of course, getting no coverage and getting no dissemination of their work,” she explained.
Citing the example of Mexican women leading the Zapatista movement in the early 1990’s, which fought the Mexican government against its land, housing, health and food policies, Ama said it is not enough to speak on behalf of the women who need to have their voices heard.
“Putting them at the forefront of that conversation is saying, ‘I’m going to give you the microphone rather than continue to talk about how you don’t have the microphone. I acknowledge your right to your body, your right to your speech, your right to your experience, and the fact that I don’t know that experience and I can’t speak for that experience.’ And that is what feminism is all about.”
A recent 3-part docu-series make by the Thompson Reuters Foundation and TakePart called ‘Hidden Connections’ also showed an under-reported side to the climate issue. The connection between rising water levels in Bangladesh, the effects on already-poor rural farming communities in Bangladesh, the exodus into major cities putting strain on resources, and how it perpetuates a cycle of child and forced marriage because young girls are considered a financial burden that families usually default to marrying off as soon as possible in order to alleviate their problems.
A 2010 U.N. Report found that “more than half of rural households and about a quarter of urban households in sub-Saharan Africa lack easy access to sources of drinking water, and most of the burden of water collection falls on women.”
The report also states how women are considered among the most vulnerable groups because they tend to be more dependent on the natural resources threatened by climate change and have fewer assets to cope with the change.
“Women are more likely to work in industries that will be affected by a changing climate, such as agriculture. That is why women need to help lead this fight, to ensure that the environment and the future generations are protected,” said Durban Mayor Zandile Gumede at the C40 Women4Climate summit.
This summit was held as a way to be an extension of the COP21 Paris Climate Agreement, which was signed by 195 representatives from around the world in December 2015, including former US President Barack Obama. (Fun fact: the COP21 was initiated by female leaders.)
Political conferences are great, but it must turn into action that we see in policies that affect our everyday lives, especially those of women who are directly impacted by the increase of carbon emissions. In the closing of her speech at Women4Climate, Anne Hidalgo reiterated why we cannot afford to wait any longer in taking steps to address our involvement in this problem.
“Women move mountains every day… in deference of a world made for men by men. I believe that women’s leadership will be critical to deliver the target of the Paris Agreement.”