Women at the Helm of Sustainable Solutions to Climate Threats

Women are central to the implementation of natural disaster management programmes and their participation should be supported at all levels

Event's flyer

The event focused on the need to raise awareness of the disproportionate consequences of climate change on women and girls, and the importance of working collectively with communities and local level organizations in natural disaster management programmes – image: event’s flyer

By María Victoria Espada – On the margins of the 66th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW66), Dianova International organized a side event on 21 March at the CSW66 NGO Virtual Forum (NGO CSW66). In line with the official CSW66 theme of gender equality and climate change, this Dianova event was an excellent opportunity for different guest panelists to discuss experiences of “Women at the helm of sustainable solutions to climate threats“.

“Recognizing women as leaders of a positive change for the planet” – Kehkashan Basu

The event was opened by Kehkashan Basu, an iconic global environmental and gender influencer and founder and president of the Green Hope Foundation. Kehkashan shared real-life examples of how climate change is affecting the livelihoods, education and health of women and girls around the world, and contributes to hinder their access to basic services, before pointing out the need to implement solutions with an ecofeminist approach that takes into account the connections between humans and nature based on a gender perspective. As she put it, “ecofeminism allows us to recognize the challenges the women face, but also to recognize them as leaders of a positive change to protect the planet rather than relegating them to victims”.

“The critical element for resilience is the participation of rural women and girls” – Nick Newland

For Nick Newland, advocacy director of Associated Country Women of the World (ACWW), women and girls living in rural, remote and marginalized areas are the ones who suffer the most from the adverse consequences of climate change. Yet these rural communities also play a critical role in the transition to net-zero emissions economies and in the pursuit of climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies.

Nick was adamant that “we have to listen to local communities, otherwise the whole thing is irrelevant. The critical element to resilience is the participation of rural women and girls, and recognition of their knowledge, understanding, and expertise”. It will also allow us to design policies that reflect the reality and variety of the various populations in order to address systemic problems that require systemic change.

Strengthening traditional indigenous practices and customs

In line with the above, Gabriel Tripura, executive director of Kothowain, a member organization of the Dianova network, presented a project implemented in a remote and mountainous area of Bangladesh. Led by and for indigenous women, the project aims to support natural disaster management and emergency preparedness by strengthening indigenous traditional practices and customs.

It also provides training to enable women to develop livelihoods adapted to climate change. Although women’s role in households and the community is widely recognized, “male domination and stronger power exercise hinder women’s free movement and participation”, as Gabriel pointed out, limiting the gains and benefits derived from the project.

“Women are vital voices and agents in climate change” – Taban Shoresh

In assessing climate change, Taban Shoresh, executive director of the Lotus Flower on behalf of Giving Women, noted that it is important to consider its multiplier effect, whereby social, political and economic stresses increase, especially in fragile and conflict environments. In addition, due to gender disparities in access to information, training, resources and decision-making, women are less likely to have access to support, which threatens their livelihoods, well-being and recovery, increasing the vicious cycle of vulnerabilities. However as Taban put it: “women are vital voices and agents for climate change”, this is why “we need a holistic approach and more women in leadership roles for changes to happen”.

Substance use as a coping mechanism for the vulnerable

Sometimes, in response to the devastation around them, people affected by natural disasters may turn to drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism, especially those already living in poverty or those with a history of substance or alcohol use.

While it seems obvious that stress increases substance use disorders, as Edward C. Carlson, executive director of Odyssey House Louisiana, USA, explained, there is also a lack of investment in the early stages of environmental crisis management due to the stigma that still surrounds addiction. For Edward, “if the foundation is not laid ahead of time, we cannot be prepared while in an active crisis”; and he recommended to “normalize behavioral healthcare and mental healthcare as priorities”.

Challenging stereotypes that fuel gender inequalities

Before the closing of the event, the panellists re-emphasized the need to raise awareness of the disproportionate consequences of climate change on women and girls, and the importance of working collectively with communities and local level organizations in natural disaster management programmes. They also called for more action, whether implemented individually or nationally by governments, to address the systemic problems and the stereotypes that fuel gender inequalities and hinder the opportunities and rights of women and girls. Dianova International would like to thank the panellists for their participation in this event and for their contributions to the debate on climate change and gender equality.