On International Women’s Day, we celebrate women in all their diversity. We celebrate their lives, their experiences, and their accomplishments. This year, we focus on women leading the fight against climate change together with their daily struggles against patriarchy and inequalities.
Environmental issues might not be the first thing to come to mind when thinking about Lebanon. With a poverty rate reaching 82% in 2021, climate justice has been pushed to the background in public and political debates. But as poverty, inflation, and unemployment continue to rise, mountains of garbage grow bigger on the corners of the streets around the country due to a protracted waste management crisis. Regular open waste burnings are contributing to worsening air quality, and an overburdened healthcare system regularly treats an array of illnesses linked to air and water pollution. Also, with homes and public spaces having fewer hours of electricity, the country is reporting alarmingly high rates of gender-based violence – which started to spike during COVID-19 lockdowns. Women from marginalized groups pay the heaviest price for poor sanitation and limited access to water as this increases the burden of care work they often shoulder alone. Potable water, almost exclusively accessible through plastic water bottles, is becoming more expensive for poorer and more vulnerable women, and lack of plastic waste management is having dire implications for the environment. Around the world, climate crises have led to twice as much displacement as conflict and violence over the past 10 years, and 80% of those displaced by climate-related disasters are women and girls.
Climate change worsens existing crises and inequalities
Climate change is leading to severe weather conditions, sea-level rise, and increased droughts around the planet. However, these consequences unevenly threaten different countries and communities. For the MENA region, already hotter and dryer than the rest of the world, global warming is happening twice as fast, with temperatures estimated to exceed 60 degrees Celsius in coming years. For Lebanon, climate change comes against a backdrop of growing poverty and systemic gendered inequalities, and the country’s most marginalized bear the brunt of this reality. According to the Ministry of Environment, climate change will lead to a fall in 14% of the country’s GDP by 2040, reaching an estimated 32% 40 years after that, which will have severe implications on poverty and access to services and public infrastructure in a country already facing its worst economic crisis to date.
Women are disproportionately affected by climate crises
Women hold full responsibility over care work, and are therefore the primary users of natural resources, despite limited access or ownership. As resources become scarcer and polluted, the care work burden they carry will only increase, and their inability to access these resources might expose them to further risks of violence and exploitation. Also, with gender pay gaps and women’s labor force participation at a mere 29.3% in Lebanon even prior to the current crises, they have fewer resources to resort to before, during, and after emergencies. In low and middle-income countries like Lebanon, women have less access to digital literacy and communication technologies, which limits their ability to access and use climate information services to adapt or protect themselves from climate-related risks. Despite the disproportionate implications of climate crises on their lives, women in Lebanon remain excluded from decision-making and agenda-setting spaces. This reflects their wider exclusion from such spaces in the country; women make up for 3 to 5% only of Lebanon parliamentary seats and a mere 4% of the cabinet. This also mirrors a global phenomenon of women being under-represented in climate-related policy-making arenas.
Women’s voices and priorities should be central to climate justice efforts
Women are uniquely positioned to respond to climate crises and gender inequalities, as they have long adopted a variety of strategies in the face of oppressive patriarchal systems. Their socially ascribed roles often means that they hold important knowledge related to collecting and managing resources and adapting to adversity and social changes. Accordingly, facilitating women’s leadership and decision-making is critical to achieving social justice and a sustainable future. Below are some key considerations that could pave the way for more and better support to women and their organizations, and for gender-just climate policies and practices.
- Prioritizing community-based women-led climate solutions and adaptation, including advocacy efforts, is critical for inclusive and sustainable change, while recognizing that the heaviest burden and responsibility of changing climate practices should be placed on governments and corporations, rather than individuals and their communities.
- Facilitating resources, skills and knowledge for women and their organizations to engage in climate debates and design solutions is necessary, as they often have less access to resources and capital to engage in or implement such initiatives.
- Supporting women to actively engage in climate related agenda-setting, decision-making, and policy-making spaces, including making space and offering resources for women’s meaningful participation, as well as supporting women – and young women especially – to build solid knowledge and skills to comfortably engage in climate debates.
- Raising awareness and consciousness around climate and gender justice should be a top priority for organizations, donors and governments. Awareness and knowledge about the interconnectedness of climate and gender justice is also critical, whether at community, organizational or national levels.
- Funding, designing, and implementing gender-transformative and community-based climate adaptation interventions and policies, which respond to the needs of people of different genders and transform harmful norms, practices and relations is an urgent responsibility for all actors, including donors, organizations, and policymakers.