Drought in Uttar Pradesh, India – Prabhat Kumar Verma/ZUMA
BOGOTÁ — Is there a relation between women and the environment? Is it necessary to view environmental policies through female eyes? Is there is a difference in the male and female relationship to the matter? The response to all these is a definite “yes.”
Around the world, women are the most interactive with natural resources, especially in rural communities in the global South. In such areas, women produce between 60% and 80% of foodstuffs, according to figures from the World Food Program.
Within historically defined roles, rural women are also those tasked with supplying their households and communities with water. In Colombia, in a department like La Guajira in the north, this is the day-to-day life of a woman or girl in a Wayú community. The most common situation is finding a well or waterhole at one or two-hours walking distance from the settlement, though in some cases they might have to trek as much as four hours — each way!
In other words, they can spend a full working day just to fetch water, which in any case is almost never potable. Needless to say, that leaves no time for study, or for engaging in activities to earn a personal income.
Women will bear the biggest brunt.
Again, given the gender roles that exist in such rural communities, all of this will affect women and children in particular.
A related issue is the fact that in most rural areas, women are also responsible for preparing the food. And to cook, they use biomass fuel — firewood mostly. This may initially seem harmless and I know from visits to local communities that the sancocho soup prepared on firewood provides a most eagerly awaited family occasion. But constant contact with wood smoke can have dire consequences for health, including a very high probability of contracting respiratory illnesses when smoke is inhaled close up.
Biomass fuels likewise emit greenhouse gases like CO2 and carbon monoxide, which fuel climate change. Rural women are key subjects, therefore, in the transition to new energies in lower-income countries.
Separately, women tend to suffer the most from both natural calamities and armed conflict. More women die than men in such events due to both direct and indirect causes. Paradoxically, it is not the disaster itself that kills women but structural gender roles — such as having to care for children, the elderly and the sick — that make them more vulnerable. MORE