Women bearing greatest burdens of climate change

Campaigns and Advocacy, Media Releases article written on the 13 Nov 2008

Women throughout the world are bearing a bigger burden from climate change than men, an audience at an Oxfam Australia and Make Poverty History film launch will be told today.
In the lead-up to the crucial UN meeting on climate change in Poland from 1 December, women from Australian, Pacific and Bangladesh communities will form part of a diverse group of women helping Oxfam and Make Poverty History launch a series of short films, Sisters on the Planet, at the Museum of Sydney at 10.30am.
Women will join together to link arms around a giant world map and sign their names on a letter to Federal Environment Minister Penny Wong urging Australian leadership on the issue.
The films capture the inspiring stories of women who are tackling climate change head-on, from spearheading community efforts to adapt and prepare for flooding in Bangladesh, to finding the families of Papua New Guinea’s Carteret Islands a new homeland because of rising sea levels.
Oxfam Australia Climate Change Advocacy Coordinator Julie-Anne Richards, who will speak at the launch, said climate change hit women in developing countries harder than men as it exacerbated already existing social inequalities.
“Women often grow the family’s food, fetch fuel and water, and bring up the children. So when clean water becomes harder to find during a drought, crops are destroyed by floods, or children become sick as a result of dirty water or lack of food – women are hit hardest and they have to find solutions,” Ms Richards said.
She said there was compelling evidence that women were harder hit by natural disasters, which were increasing with climate change: “In the 1991 cyclone disaster in Bangladesh, the death rate was almost five times as high for women as for men,” she said. “This was because warning information was transmitted to men by men in public spaces.
“As many women are not allowed to leave the house without a male relative, they perished waiting for their relatives to return home and take them to a safe place.”
“What is inspiring about these women in the films is the amazing changes they have been able to initiate, often with limited resources,” Ms Richards said. “It makes you wonder: if women from Bangladesh can inspire such change, what can we achieve, with the technology and networks that we have at our fingertips?”
Captured on film is the story of Helen Henry, of Hamilton, Victoria, who will speak at the launch. She has gone from concerned citizen to community leader – launching the group Future Makers, which is lowering the carbon footprint of the region by holding community leaders to account.
“If we wait for ourselves to be perfect, or our economy to be perfect, we may never take action at all,” Ms Henry said. “There will always be a reason why things are not perfect and why we cannot act, but, we must not wait to make things better.”
Maria Tiimon, of Kiribati, will speak of the heartbreaking impacts rising sea levels are having on her Pacific homeland.
The six Sisters on the Planet
• Helen Henry from Australia, who formed a group of concerned citizens in her hometown of Hamilton, Victoria, committed to the fight against climate change.
• Ursula Rakova, from Papua New Guinea, who is supporting her community as they are forced to relocate from their island because of climate change.
• Muriel Saragoussi, as a senior member of Brazil’s Environment Ministry, who uses her voice to ensure that women’s needs are taken into account in all environmental policies.
• Sahena Begum, who is teaching others the principles of disaster management to help them cope with increased flooding in their village in Bangladesh.
• Martina Longom from Uganda, where rain is increasingly infrequent, who is working to safeguard supplies of water, wood and food.
• Melissa Davies Oliveck, a teacher from the UK, who is inspiring her students in the fight against climate change by incorporating it into the school curriculum.
What needs to happen?
Australia must call for emissions reductions targets of at least 40 per cent by 2020 and 95 per cent by 2050 on 1990 levels.
Australia, as one of the world’s highest per capita emitters of greenhouse gases, must help provide developing countries, including our Pacific neighbours, with financing, to help them adapt to climate change.
We must help developing countries leapfrog the fossil fuel cycle by providing them with access to renewable technologies.
And we must do it with a sense of urgency because the millions of people facing climate change now cannot afford another year without bold and united leadership.

For further information, interviews or images, please contact Laurelle Keough, on 0409 960 100