Thursday, August 02, 2007

Women & Children are 14 Times More Likely to Die During a Disaster, yet Gender Perspective Missing in Climate Change Discussions

UNITED NATIONS, Aug 2 (IPS) - When the United Nations concluded a two-day debate Wednesday on the potential devastation from climate change, it covered a lot of territory: deforestation, desertification, greenhouse gases, renewable energy sources, biofuels and sustainable development.

But one thing the debate lacked, June Zeitlin executive director of the New York-based Women's Environment and Development Organisation (WEDO) told IPS, was a gender perspective.

"Women and children are 14 times more likely to die than men are during a disaster," she said.

In the 2004 Asian Tsunami, 70 to 80 percent of overall deaths were women. And in the 1991 cyclone disasters that killed 140,000 in Bangladesh, 90 percent of victims were women.

"Similarly in industrialised countries, more women than men died during the 2003 European heat wave," Zeitlin told a panel discussion Tuesday, in advance of a first-ever thematic General Assembly debate devoted exclusively to climate change.

She also said that following the August 2005 Hurricane Katrina in the United States, African-American women who were the poorest population in some of the affected states of Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi faced the greatest obstacles to survival.

She argued that women make up the majority of the world's poor, and in particular the world's rural poor, and are largely responsible for securing food, water and energy for cooking and heating.

"These statistics beg the question: Why? And what can we learn from this to fashion more effective solutions to the climate change crisis," Zeitlin said.
Zeitlin of the Women's Environment and Development Organisation said women have always been leaders in community revitalisation and natural resource management.

"Yet women are so often barred from the public sphere and thus absent from local, national and international decision-making related to natural disasters and adaptation."

There are plenty of examples where women's participation has been critical to community survival.

In Honduras, she said, La Masica was the only community to register no deaths in the wake of Hurricane Mitch in Central America in 1998 due to an early warning system operated by women in the community. (Full article at IPS News)

Women and children bear the highest degree of effect from disasters caused by climate change. Not coincidentally, they also have the least ability to effect decision-making power in the greater public sphere.

Proposal: in a true democracy a person would have input into a decision in the proportion to which that decision affects her or him. In the case of pregnancy and abortion, women, not men, should have veto power. Those who live in a neighbourhood should have power over what kind of development that neighbourhood will undergo, more so than the developer whose only interest in the neigbourhood is to build, make money, and skedaddle. People who are dying because of pollution in their town should have say in where factories can be located and how industry conducts itself in their town.
It's pretty simple, really.


Matthew The Astrologer said...

I'm astounded!

Olaf said...

Dear Red Jenny,

I know we don't exactly run in the same "circles", but I'm looking for some advice regarding possible contributors to a debate experiment we're putting together. Scott Tribe mentioned that you might be willing to help me out, and would be a good person to talk to regarding the information I seek. I won't get into it here, but if you're willing to hear me out, please send an email to, and I will write you back soon thereafter.


TomCat said...

RJ, your position makes good sense to me. Certainly in matters of pregnancy and abortion, I have long believed that the choice belongs to the woman facing the choice and nobody else.

Nevertheless, the inequity of women's deaths in disasters shocks me. Do you have any idea why more men have not died?

Alan said...

This is indeed shocking. Almost as
shocking as the fact that
sex-selective mass murder has
overwhelmingly targeted men
throughout history, and that this
fact has been studiously ignored
by everyone: