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Climate Change: What’s Gender Got to Do with It?

As you are reading this on your phone, tablet, or computer, bear in mind that your device is wasting a significant amount of energy, energy that will later be recharged to your device, and in most cases, this required energy doesn’t come from natural resources, i.e. it leaves behind a footprint – carbon emission at the least. As many of us have recently been taken ablaze by the media on how electrical vehicles, hoverboards, bikes, and scooters are evermore of a growing trend and “sustainable” means of transport. Little effort is paid to do check whether the electricity these devices run on are powered by energy that comes from fossil fuels or if it’s generated using natural resources.

Recently – as so almost every year this past decade that I can recall – fires have engulfed major forests and other crucial natural resources needed for our survival as a species. When Notre Dame burned millionaires, celebrities, and every person ever to have visited and taken a selfie with the historical building tweeted, shared, and gave voice to the tragedies that unfollowed in the heart of Paris. Less than a year later, an even older, even more crucial monument burned and left an ember finish to our posting schedule – the Amazon. Voices from all over the world called for action and voiced their concerns over what is becoming of our planet as climate change is making its way over every significant and interwoven piece of natural resource that allows us to breath each day.

The G7 summit just days ago in Biarritz trended over the unprofessionalism and message left by US president Donald Trump. The message and narrative promoted as scandalous on social media of how a world leader skipped such an event and gathering, with a statement from Macron that “staff were present,” is not only inexcusable but brings to light to those who know from which angle to observe, what gender has to do with climate change.

The issue of political participation of women in decision making processes is fairly covered in the developed world, and countries in recent years have been put to shame for their lack of gender equality in government positions. This isn’t quite the case in other parts of the world. According to the International Institute for Sustainable Development (hereafter referred to as the IISD) states that in many African countries, women don’t hold these positions in government and are not as included in the change as they are in (let’s say) EU countries. Associate Angie Dazé at the IISD states that: “If women are not involved in decision-making, how likely is it that their interests will be represented?” According to her, the effects of climate change go even lower to the household level were women are not given a voice or choice. This can stem to product use, according to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (hereafter referred to as UNFCCC): “women can (and do) play a critical role in response to climate change due to their local knowledge of and leadership in e.g. sustainable resource management and/or leading sustainable practices at the household and community level.”

Furthermore, UNDP Manager of the Global Program on Business for Gender Equality, Diana Gutiérrez, said in her article “The connection between gender equality and climate change” that women who work in agriculture in rural areas of the world will suffer most from the effect on climate change as crops will begin to become harder and harder to tend to, resulting in economic loss, and worsened living conditions for many families who rely on these jobs. In addition to this, sanitation, contraceptives, as well as menstrual hygiene products can be difficult to access in developing countries, in some places the practice, which is wide-spread in the world is the use of tampons and menstrual pads. The issue with such is one that their price isn’t cheap in all areas of the world, the other, which is the pressing issue at hand – the lack of sustainability in them. Tampons and pads are one use only, they are not recyclable, they require fields, workers, and factories for the cotton processing. A sustainable alternative, which is surprisingly not mainstream is the period cup – a reusable alternative in menstrual hygiene that is simple to produce and would be highly beneficial to persons in rural areas. Sadly, the positions of power and market value of menstrual products that are not reusable is the monopoly we still live under. In some countries, menstrual hygiene products are being offered for free, but sadly little mind is paid into how sustainable that offering should be. For example, Toronto and Boston recently settled on offering free menstrual hygiene products to students, but limiting to pads and tampons only.

In North Macedonia, the situation of women in positions of power remains low. According to a study done in 2011 by the National Institute for Statistics, 56,7% of university graduates were women, and students who went on to postgraduate and doctoral studies were led, yet again, by women. The reality though is quite opposite, 38,6% of women were recorded to have be unemployed in 2011. Teaching position being held by women go from 66,1% in primary education, to 58,6% in high school, and finally settling at 47,2% for higher education. The difference is astonishing if we look back at the fact that women are leaders when it comes to finishing higher education. It should be evident that women aside from being more educated to take on leadership position where sustainability issues are addressed, the reality if far opposite in my country. This of course doesn’t exclude women from political participation in completion, but the balance between male and females in positions of power, such being party leaders, ministers, MPs, etc. is variably different and unequal.

The fact of the matter is that due to traditional gender norms and ideals that are upheld in North Macedonia and various other countries in the world plagued by natural disasters – as a side effect from climate change – men are far less interested in sustainability as mentioned prior in the case of sustainable household management, agriculture, as well as education on the topic. This is notable concluded and based on the current position our world is in.

Following the Amazon fires – which gathered media attention – many different disasters plagued the world that didn’t receive as much attention or international aid due their “smallness” per se. Fires ranged in North Macedonia this summer and burned through much forest, fires also ranged in Siberia and got some media attention. What should be noted though is the domino effect of each disaster – be it flood, fire, earthquake, tsunami. There are many things happening in the world that on a small scale we consider minor environmental catastrophes, but on a greater scale they all add up and allow for worse scenarios to unfold. If we do not take the leadership and inclusiveness to add all voices to this fight – no matter how small a voice – then it is these small losses of natural resources that will add to the upcoming all-to-late of a fight to win.

Let us also take a moment to give voice to the females that inspire us and lead the way for a sustainable future. My shoutout goes to Greta Thunberg, the revolutionary 16-year-old from Sweden who crossed the Atlantic on an emission-free yacht to speak at the U.N. Climate Action Summit. Greta has been loud on the issues of climate change and is the role model we all deserve to show to the leaders of tomorrow.

written by Stefan Petrovski, WAVE Youth Ambassador from North Macedonia

Sources:

IISD, Why Gender Matters in Climate Change Adaptation (https://www.iisd.org/blog/gender-climate-change);

UNFCCC, Introduction to Gender and Climate Change (https://unfccc.int/gender);

UNFCCC, Gender Equality Crucial to Tackling Climate Change – UN (https://unfccc.int/news/gender-equality-crucial-to-tackling-climate-change-un);

Medium, UNDP – The connection between gender equality and climate change (https://medium.com/@UNDP/the-connection-between-gender-equality-and-climate-change-653aefc9500e);

European Institute for Gender Equality, Review of the Implementation in the EU of area K of the Beijing Platform for Action: Women and the Environment Gender Equality and Climate Change (https://eige.europa.eu/sites/default/files/documents/Gender-Equality-and-Climate-Change-Report.pdf);

CBC, Toronto public schools to offer free tampons and pads to students (https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/toronto-schools-free-menstrual-products-tampons-pads-1.5265461);

CNN Health, Boston schools will offer free menstrual supplies for students starting this fall (https://edition.cnn.com/2019/06/17/health/bps-free-menstrual-products-trnd/index.html);

CNN, Trump skips G7 climate summit with aides claiming scheduling conflict (https://edition.cnn.com/2019/08/26/politics/donald-trump-g7-climate-summit/index.html);

National Institute for Statistics of the Republic of North Macedonia, Happy 8th of March (http://www.stat.gov.mk/Mart8.aspx);

The New York Times, Greta Thunberg, Climate Activist, Arrives in N.Y. With a Message for Trump (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/28/nyregion/greta-thunberg-new-york.html).