Women Leaders And Climate Change

This post is part of a series by guest bloggers Anthony Tomaine and Leah Block, senior chemistry students attending the COP16 conference in Cancun under the sponsorship of the ACS Committee on Environmental Improvement.

Christiana Figueres

I arrived a bit early for a session yesterday titled "Women Leaders and Climate Change" and was noticed by someone getting ready to speak, Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC.  I must admit I did not know who she was at the time. We made eye contact, and then I walked up and introduced myself to her.  We were the only people in the room and had a casual conversation for a couple of minutes. She told me a story of a time when she had a dialogue with her daughter as a small child, about five or six years old.  Her daughter asked if her father was miserable.  Figueres was baffled that her child would ask such a question, and asked her daughter why she would say this.  Her daughter replied, “Since he is a man, he can’t make all the decisions and does not have all the power anymore.” In one of the talks at the session, Ambassador Patricia Espinosa, Mexico's Secretary of Foreign Affairs and president of COP16/CMP6, began with a quote: “If you want something said, ask a man.  If you want something done, ask a woman.”  The audience was mostly female and lightly laughed after this comment.  According to the woman leaders, generally, women suffer more in developing countries than any other group.  In these places, it is the woman’s job to walk hours to collect clean water or to travel great distances for firewood to cook food with. Cooking on an open fire produces black soot, which is extremely bad to inhale and can take years off a general lifespan. Because women are busy managing these tasks, they often forfeit their chance for an education. And the session speakers consider these women to be the most vulnerable population to suffer due to climate change. Connie Hedegaard, the European Commissioner for Climate Action, made the point that climate change needs to be more “people-centered” and that a greater communication outreach needs to be accomplished.  This outreach needs to be more tangible and known by the masses.  Other speakers commented that the vocabulary used needs to change and be more general and that the youth needs to become more involved and support their movement.  Being the youngest member in the audience, I felt a few stares directed my way. As young chemists, we should be interested in and questioning the chemical roles of climate change.  When presented with the facts of the rising levels of CO2, we must understand how this affects the climate.  Developing countries and the women completing their daily chores in these areas will feel the effects of the changes first and hardest.  The women leaders at this session have spoken for the underprivileged women in the past and want to continue helping them; they feel as though it is partially their duty.

Author: leahblock

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18 Comments

  1. Bringing the global aspect down to the individual… sort of humbling isn’t it ?
    Keep us posted !

  2. Wow, what an interested perspective into climate change. I never thought of it in this way. Although climate change has become a highly discussed topic, one usually hears about it in general. It is disturbing to read exactly how and who it will affect.

  3. I was wondering how the “Women Leaders and Climate Change” session would go, along with the major topic. This was not what I was expecting, but is still very interesting. It is sad to know that there are still these extreme differences and that women are still underprivileged in different countries.

    The only thing I want to know is if there is a belief that women in countries that have more equal opportunities between the sexes still feel that climate change affects women more so than men. I think that in countries like the United States or most European countries, climate change is affecting everyone equally.

  4. This discussion can go on for quite some time. The climate change may be global but everyone will experience it differently. Some farmers feel it now with crops being ruined with the weather. In the long run the more wealthy will still feel the strain but they will feel it in their wallets. The wealthy will spend money to compensate for the change: air conditioners, more expensive heating, travel expenses, and many other ways. The less wealthy feel the hit more directly because their tasks become physically harder and food can be harder to come by. In many developing countries men automatically have a higher status than women which ends up in them feeling the strain less directly. As I stated before, everyone feels the strain differently.

  5. I’ve heard staying like…the world owes you nothing, it was here first, or something to that sorts. I, like everyone else, believes that we are not doing enough to make a change. The world was here first and it doesn’t matter if your male, female, young, old, etc. we all feel the effects. There is such a stereotype and prejudice among people that it does separate us as a nation, as a country.
    People aren’t aware of such organizations or committees that put themselves out there for the world to hear. Honestly, if it weren’t for this convention and the media that went along with it, I would have never heard about it.

  6. It is interesting to see that undeveloped countries still have equality issues, but I am not sure I see your connection with how it would effect women first. Connie Hedegaard said that climate change is important to be known by the masses. If these women are cooking and walking miles for water, why would they be so concerned with climate change? I understand they need their resources but is climate change really on their minds?

    I guess I am showing some ignorance here in the cultural differences but I was wondering if you could shed any more light on how undeveloped countries handle the topic.

  7. This sounds like it was an interesting discussion. I am glad that you were able to talk to Mrs. Figueres. I also believe that we need to be to change we want to see to help either slow down the climate change or possibly reverse it. I know that this is a long shot but it is worth the shot. I rather see us do something than nothing at all. This conference needs to lead to action on all parties because this is our home and we need to start taking care of it.

  8. I feel like by saying this I am going against myself, as a women, but I don’t see how one specific group can be more effected. I think that the cultural differences and inequalities is a shame, and that yes climate change will effect those women and al women. But climate change is affecting all of us, as far as I know.
    I am glad that you got the opportunity to go to this presentation and to talk to Ms. Figueres. I hope that some time down the road we can have a longer discussion on this topic and maybe you can enlighten me more.

  9. I like the comment about climate change needing to be more “people-centered”. I agree with this, I think that this is also a topic that needs to be discussed more.

  10. It amazes me that her daughter noticed a change in gender roles of the parents at such a young age. Times have changed and lot of people (more women now) are receiveing recognition. Unfortuntely, women seem to be deprived of opportunites in other countries and more women are experiencing climate change in a negative way more than men.

    I’m still not sure if I completely understand why women have more of an effect on climate change than men do; but I would love for Leah to explain to me more about it upon her arrival back to the US.

  11. It is amazing that there are such differences between countries. Women are effected more by the climate change in other countries, but I feel that in the United States, genders are being effected equally. I was interested in hearing about this disscusion topic when you said you were going. Its not what i expected it to be, but its a very interesting topic.

  12. Women living in developing countries throughout the world are certainly the most affected group regarding inaccessibility to education resources. One could argue that a large flux of information in some these communities could lead to drastic changes. This could inevitably affect the cultural ideologies which are likely the foundations of many of the ethical and moral decisions made by the people of these communities. This is not to say that this is a bad thing, in this “age of information” better decisions can be made when all the facts can be weighed. Human nature however has shown itself time and again to be aggressive even when appealing to reason. In terms of climate change I think that the priorities of those struggling everyday to eat and survive from natures hazards are going to be more important than a political motivation to influence the governments to be more environmentally friendly. Indeed even if the people of these countries are able to become educated enough to understand the significance of the climate change issues how will women in these developed countries be able to make a difference with the power spectrum shifted towards more direct interests?

  13. I am very glad that you get to have this experience, and talk with these people. I also agree with Kayla though, how is it that one sex can be affected more than the other? Maybe I am also uneducated on this certain aspect, and seeing the cultural differences might help with that. While the women are performing these tasks in the other countries, what is it that the men are doing? Are they not just as affected by climate change? Just trying to understand everything here. Hope you are learning a lot to bring back to us!

  14. There is no doubt over the fact that women, specially those living in rural areas of developing countries, faces the grunt of the nature most in their daily life. They have to spend more time on household chores of fetching water or firewood and get less time for income generating activities. Women need to have more active role at local governance level where they can be a part of decision making process. It is very heartening to see women members of EU and UN bodies at respected positions. This is the time when we need more gender empowerment, more awareness building of women till the grassroots level.

  15. It is very sad to see that there are underprivaleged women in certain countries that don’t even think aboiut getting an education. What’s even worse is that they seem to be contributing to this global warming issue the most, when all they are trying to do is take care of their families.

    Although this may be a cause in other countries, I believe that in the United States this issue should be blamed equally. Not only are there stay at home moms now, but there are also dads that stay at home, and could be contributing to this issue as well.

  16. I think this is a good article. However, I do not like the idea that a women driven conference was held. I think this should be a problem worked out by both sexes. I like that more people are getting involved but the idea that only women are going to get it done is kind of demeaning to men.

  17. I like how you mentioned at the end that young chemists must become involved in this issue. Many of the people that are currently involved in the situation will never see the real effects that climate change can bring. However, younger generations may begin to see these effects if something isn’t done to help handle the problem. Each generation needs to do their part to help the issue, but it is time that chemists of our generation really get involved. It is amazing what you and Anthony have accomplished, and you are the beginning to this positive change.

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