Kaylee Sheppard

This past Friday we saw many students take part in the Global Climate Strike. It was so incredible to see so many students on UT’s campus so passionate about the climate and solving problems for a more sustainable future.

A major aspect of climate change I think more people should focus on is how it disproportionately affects genders.

A change in climate like that expected from scientists affects every global citizen, but it will be the poorest and those in vulnerable situations, especially women and girls, who will be most affected by the blow of environmental, social and economic shocks to the planet.

In most affected communities, the combination of climate change and already existing gender inequality will drive a larger wedge between men and women in them. For example, often women and girls are the last to eat or be rescued in times of crisis. Women also face greater health and safety risks as water and sanitation systems become compromised around the globe.

Women offer valuable insights and solutions into better managing the climate and its risks. Yet, their contributions are often overlooked in humanitarian and climate action, their practical needs forgotten.

Building a sustainable future entails harnessing the knowledge, skills and leadership of women in climate action.

This gender inequality is already beginning to shows in recent natural disasters. For example, this year when cyclone Idai struck Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe in March, over 1,000 people were killed and caused some $2 billion in damages. Women and girls suffered in this natural disaster disproportionately.

According to new policy briefing published by the Centre for International Governance Innovation and the South African Institute of International Affairs, Idai caused some 75,000 pregnant women to be particularly threatened due to a lack of access to clean water, sanitation or reproductive health care

The report also shares that in the camps set up for people displaced by the cyclone, women and girls were at higher risk of abuse than men.

As countries become more focused on climate policy reform, they must consider how the solutions affect people of all genders.

But stakeholders must not just look at women as victims of climate change.

Women are also powerful agents of change, and they possess specific and valuable knowledge and skills to effectively contribute to the fight against climate change. World leaders must work to close the gender gap of those involved in the decision-making processes at all levels.

We are already seeing incredible women like Greta Thunberg making great strides for the planet, but we must not forget those in impoverished countries and the great insight they can contribute to the fight.

Kaylee Sheppard is a senior majoring in American Studies and Political Science. She can be reached at ksheppa7@vols.utk.edu.

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