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International Women’s Day and National Women’s Month

March 7, 2012

As we observe the International Women’s Day on March 8, I rise to highlight the theme of this year’s celebration: Empower Rural Women, End Hunger and Poverty.
It is reported that in developing countries, 43% of agricultural workers are women, and if they are given access to productive resources, this will result to a 20 to 30% increase in their farm yield; a national agricultural output that is 2.5 to 4% higher; and, a 17% decline in the number of people who experience hunger worldwide. 1
Unfortunately, it is the rural women who bear the brunt of climate change’s savagery.
They are the main, and the more prodigious, producers of staple crops. Any extreme weather event that affects agricultural production – whether it is a drought or rampaging floods – gravely affects the women tillers of the land.
A 2008 case study by the Women’s Environment and Development Organization revealed that “women farmers in Amulong, Cagayan, often have to take out loans at exorbitant interest rates from village moneylenders before every planting season to purchase fertilizers and other farming inputs. However, intense rains and sudden floods, followed by an unexpected drought and an unusually high incidence of insect infestations, caused their maize harvests to fail three seasons in a row, which meant they have not been able to pay their debts”. They ended up being sued by the creditors, resulting in some women going to jail.
According to a report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature, women and children are 14 times more at risk than men of dying due to disasters. Women made up 90% of the 140,000 people who died in a 1991 hurricane in Bangladesh. African-American women made up the majority of those killed and injured by Hurricane Katrina, and in the 2006 tsunami that killed scores in Indonesia and Sri Lanka, male survivors outnumbered the female survivors, in a 3 to 1 or 4 to 1 ratio2.
Women also have distinct nutritional needs that make coping with disasters tougher and harsher.
This concern was evident in the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan affected by tropical storm Sendong.
As community health centers were destroyed, women giving birth had to travel to city hospitals. Meanwhile, about 8,500 pregnant women and 4,200 lactating women were affected and required utmost attention particularly with regard to nutritional needs3.
All these realities should lead to a single resolve: the efforts to combat the impacts of climate change should be sensitive and responsive to women’s needs.
This means that policies should come to terms with the fact that women disproportionately shoulder the brunt of shocks and trends of climate in the face of continued poverty.
TheClimate Change Act fully recognizes this as it mandates the identification of the differential impacts of climate change on men, women and children. This legislation recognizes the vulnerability of women as it calls for the integration of a gender-sensitive and pro-poor perspective in all climate change plans and programs.
Women need solid grounding on disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. Education and information are vital part of the effort to make women truly active in this work.
Women have been silently and effectively at the frontlines of confronting climate change.
In 2008, women farmers who are members of Amihan, an organization of Filipino peasant women, in Montalban, Rizal, started “to cultivate a variety of rice that does not require massive doses of chemical fertilizers and pesticides”, in response to the soaring prices of agricultural inputs. Women also planted “fruit trees and vegetables on the borders separating the rice paddies as a form of inter-cropping”. This alternative practice of farming also adapts to the prolonged wet seasons.
As early as 1998, the management of a 19-hectare fish sanctuary in Mahaba Island, Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur was initiated and led by women and was eventually supported by men. Two families each night guarded the fish sanctuary, which assures them of continued availability of fish stock.
This group of women fisherfolk, the Ladies in Unity with Men Onward to Development, also reforested a total of 136 hectares of mangrove areas to protect their settlements from storm surges and secure an additional source of food for their families.
Mr. President,
Women are powerful agents of change in the overall climate change adaptation efforts. We know this and we have a track record to prove this.
We must therefore invest in rural women, provide them equal access to resources, craft programs that are responsive to their needs and make them part in decision-making as they are significant contributors to sustainable development, and their role in countryside development is a critical aspect in building community resilience to disasters.
Thank you, Mr. President.
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[1]Rural Women and the Millennium Development Goals (www.un.org/womenwatch)
[2]Gender Equality and Adaptation. International Union for Conservation of Nature and Women’s Environment and Development Organization (www.gdnonline.org)
[3]UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ Situation Report No. 5 on Tropical Storm Washi (Sendong)