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Women Weathering Climate Change: Governance and Accountability Everybody’s Concern

March 8, 2012

Women Weathering Climate Change: Governance and Accountability Everybody’s Concern
NAPOLCOM’s Celebration of International Women’s Day
08 March 2012

As we celebrate International Women’s Day today, allow me to thank the National Police Commission Gender and Development Technical Working Group (NAPOLCOM GAD-TWG) for highlighting in this event the role of women in climate change adaptation and mitigation because the reality is that, women bear the brunt of the impacts of disasters and extreme weather events.

According to a report from the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the Women’s Environment and Development Organization, 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 ratio. 1

Women have distinct nutritional needs that make coping with disasters tougher and harsher, and in times of disaster and economic stress, they are the primary caregivers, they carry out much of the household workload after a disaster.2

These special concerns were evident when tropical storm Sendong hit the country and caused devastation in the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan in Mindanao.

As community health centers were destroyed, women giving birth had to be traveled 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 needs.3

Furthermore, women and girls are more exposed to domestic violence, sexual abuse and trafficking after disasters as the normal flow of activities in the communities are disrupted and they temporarily reside in evacuation centers where there is less protection and privacy.4.

It is important to note, however, that while women are more vulnerable to climate change, they are also key players in reducing the risks from extreme weather events.

The fact that women are deeply engaged in post-disaster activities, make them crucial contributors in crafting adaptation and risk reduction strategies and in planning for livelihood policies that are sustainable and disaster-resilient.5

All these realities should lead to a single resolve: the efforts to combat climate change and mitigate the risks and challenges it poses to communities should be gender sensitive and gender responsive.
This means: policies should come to terms with the fact that women disproportionately shoulder the brunt of shocks and trends of climate and environment change in the face of continued poverty.

The Philippine Climate Change Act, which I principally authored and sponsored, fully recognizes this as it calls for the integration of a gender-sensitive, pro-children and pro-poor perspective in all climate change and renewable energy efforts, plans and programs.

This is a significant step to address women’s needs amid climate change impacts.

Women can lead and persevere in the efforts to curb climate change and help push congresses, parliaments and all policy-making bodies to formulate gender-responsive legislation and programs related to climate change and disaster risk reduction.

Women are powerful agents of change in the overall climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts. We know this and we have a track record to prove this. In fact, women have been silently and effectively at the frontlines of confronting climate change.

In the Philippines, women make up a sizeable portion of workers, supporters and volunteers of Luntiang Pilipinas, a tree-growing foundation which I founded. It is now one of the most active organizations in the country’s tree reforestation work.

However, to maximize women involvement in this effort, we should lift the social, cultural and institutional barriers that constrain women from effectively adapting to climate change effects in order to seek welfare and well-being for themselves and their families. Women need solid grounding on issues such as climate and environmental protection. Education and information are vital part of the effort to make women truly active in the climate change agenda.

Women empowerment has become more crucial because of climate change, but we already have the legal capacity to make the necessary actions. Republic Act 9710, or the Magna Carta of Women, which I co-authored, enumerates the rights of women that must be guaranteed by the State. These rights include, among many others:

– The protection from all forms of violence and in times of disaster and other crisis situations
– The assurance of participation and representation of women in decision- and policy-making processes both in the public and private sector
– Equal access and non-discrimination in education, scholarships, training and in employment in whatever field
– Provision of comprehensive health services and health information and education
This law gives equal opportunity to women and addresses their needs and concerns to allow them to develop their full potential. And as we strive to empower women, we likewise encourage them to engage with government and community efforts to realize mitigation, adaptation and disaster risk programs that are truly attuned to their needs on the ground.

As citizens of this nation, regardless of our gender, we all have the moral responsibility to join in the great task of making our communities ready against disasters. Now is the time to give nothing less than our wholehearted commitment to a safer world, a more resilient human society for many generations to come.
Thank you.

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[1]Gender Equality and Adaptation. International Union for Conservation of Nature and Women’s Environment and Development Organization (www.gdnonline.org)
[2]Ibid.
[3]UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ Situation Report No. 5 on Tropical Storm Washi (Sendong)
[4]Women at the Forefront of Climate Change, Gender Risks and Hopes. United Nations Environment Programme
[5]Women, Gender Equality and Climate Change. UN Women Watch (www.un.org)