International Women’s Day Special 2021: Women and Climate Change

Published by Georgia Crump on

Women and climate change on International Women’s Day

This Monday the 8th of March is International Women’s Day, when countries all around the world celebrate the achievements of women and rally together for gender equality. Thanks to the pandemic it will be a bit different to other years. But the message of support for women around the world remains very much the same. Not only are women disproportionately affected by climate change, they also play an important role in the fight against it. 

So to recognise and celebrate women around the world this International Women’s Day, we’re shining a spotlight on women and climate change. We’ll be looking at the history of the movement and it’s continuing relevance today, particularly in the fight against climate change. 

The origins of IWD

Clara Zetkin, the founder of International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day (IWD) as we know it today, started over 100 years ago in the United States. In 1908, 15,000 women gathered to march through New York City, demanding shorter working hours, better pay, and the right to vote. The following year on February 28th, the anniversary of the march, this day was celebrated as National Women’s Day. 

However, the day didn’t become an international celebration until a year later, when Clara Zetkin suggested it at the International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen and it was agreed to by 17 countries. 

In 1975, the United Nations officially recognized the annual celebration, and in 1996 they began creating a theme for each International Women’s Day. Today, the day continues to be both a celebration of the achievements of women so far, and a recognition of continued gender inequality, raising awareness of the work we still need to do as a society. 

We still use the same colours for International Women’s Day as were used in the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) in the UK in 1908: green for hope, and purple for justice and dignity. 

Why does IWD remain important today?

According to the IWD campaign, “gender parity will not be attained for almost a century.” Referring to the World Economic Forum, it says “none of us will see gender parity in our lifetimes, and nor likely will many of our children.”

In the context of the pandemic, this year has been particularly tough for women, with data from UN Women revealing that the pandemic could wipe out 25 years of progress in gender equality. 

Although progress has been made in the advance of women’s rights in the last 100 years, a significant inequality between men and women still remains. 

  • Around the world, women remain concentrated in the lowest paid jobs, many in extremely vulnerable forms of employment
  • Women are nearly twice as likely as men to lose their jobs during the COVID-19 crisis, according to this recent report. 
  • The pandemic will dramatically increase the poverty rate for women and widen the gap between men and women who live in poverty

Not only this, but climate change specifically affects women more than men. 

Recognising the impact of climate change on women this IWD

Around the world, climate change is changing our weather patterns, including more frequent flooding and droughts, rising sea levels, and more intense heat waves. This has a direct impact on millions of people, disproportionately so for women and girls. Women are more likely to live in poverty than men, have less access to basic human rights like the ability to move freely and acquire land, and face systematic violence that escalates during periods of instability. 

As climate change intensifies, women and girls are likely to struggle more than men. For this reason, the Paris climate agreement includes specific provisions to ensure women receive additional support to cope with the hazards of climate change. 

Here are a few of the ways that climate change is specifically affecting women and girls around the world:

Increased risk of violence against women and girls.

Climate change causes extreme weather events like droughts, hurricanes, and flooding, which can make women’s homes and neighbourhoods uninhabitable. As a result, they may be forced to migrate to camps for displaced people, where living in temporary tents and shelters with no doors or locks can expose them to violence from strangers.

Higher risk of child marriage.

When a disaster strikes, girls can be more vulnerable to child marriage than usual. For poor families, child marriage can be seen as a way of reducing poverty. When extreme weather events hit, families risk losing everything, and are more likely to marry off their daughters at a younger age. This means they can no longer attend school and girls are extremely vulnerable in their new married lives.

Girls are more likely to miss classes or drop out of school.

When climate disaster hits, parents often require their children to help at home, with cooking, looking after younger siblings, or earning income. This results in them dropping out of school or missing important chunks of their education. What’s more, school buildings can be damaged in extreme weather events as a result of climate change, and it can take years for communities to find the funds to rebuild them. 

Greater risk of injury and death.

Marginalised women and girls, particularly the disabled and elderly are more vulnerable to death and injury when natural disasters hit. In their roles as traditional caretakers, women and girls often stay back in a disaster to protect children or adults in their care where men sometimes escape. Not only that, but in many societies, social norms dictate that women and girls are less likely to be taught skills like swimming and fending for themselves, which can be essential to survival when disaster hits.

Climate change affects the availability of food and the chances of earning a living.

As a result of climate change, crops are dying in floods and droughts. This wipes out a vital source of food and income. Women in rural communities are more likely to have a limited access to and ownership of their land, impacting the availability of food to eat and potential income.

However, while it’s true that women are disproportionately affected by climate change, they also play an important role in the fight against it. 

Women working to fight climate change

Women are at the forefront of diverse and inclusive movements for social change. They take a leading role in the fight against climate change, fighting for a green economy and women’s rights.

There’s no question that more inclusive leadership and representation leads to stronger democracies, better governance, and more peaceful societies. Research from UN Women shows for example that involving women in peace processes is likely to make peace agreements last longer.

To celebrate the achievements of women on International Women’s Day, we’re taking a look at a few of the women making a significant contribution to the environment and sustainability of our planet:

Caroline Lucas

MP for the Green Party, Caroline Lucas has been a constant advocate for the environment in the UK Parliament. Lucas has consistently shown support for green issues including animal welfare, trade justice and green economics.

Farhana Yamin

A lawyer and powerhouse of climate justice, Farhana Yamin has been advising leaders and countries on climate change and developmental policy for over 20 years. Her work as an Environmental Lawyer at the highest levels of global climate negotiation is absolutely unparalleled. 

Rosamund Kissi-Debrah

Following the tragic death of her nine year old daughter Ella in 2013, Rosamund Kissi-Debrah founded the Ella Robertson Foundation and is a tireless advocate for clean air. Reports linked her daughter’s death to dangerously high levels of air pollution in the area of their London home. Kiss-Debrah is now a World Health Organisation Advocate for Health and Air Quality. 

To learn more about amazing women working to fight climate change, check out the Woman’s Hour Power List 2020

How will people be celebrating International Women’s Day this year?

This year, people around the world will be coming together virtually to celebrate International Women’s Day. The theme as selected by the UN is #choosetochallenge. 

“We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality,” the campaign says. “We can all choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. Collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world.”

The campaign encourages people to post on social media with their hand raised, showing that they choose to challenge and call out inequality. To take part yourself, make sure to use the hashtags #choosetochallenge and #IWD2021. 

All around the world, there will be talks, discussions and events taking place on line in recognition of the day. Some of the highlights that we’ll be tuning in for include:

Women of the World at Southbank Centre, UK

The annual Women of the World festival is taking place virtually this year.  To mark IWD, prominent female leaders including Hon Julia Gillard AC, the only woman to serve as Prime Minister of Australia, and Mandu Reid, the first Black leader of the UK’s Women’s Equality Party, will be speaking to WOW Founder Judy Kelly about political leadership and the change they want to see. 

Museum of London’s Votes for Women Exhibition

The Museum of London launched its Votes for Women exhibition physically in 2018 to mark the centenary of some women getting the vote. This IWD, the show is now fully accessible online with films, objects and articles about the Suffragettes.

Live Letters IWD Special

Letters Live, the star-studded initiative that sees celebrities perform readings of letters, is holding a virtual IWD special which will be available on YouTube for seven days, free of charge and with all donations going to The WOW Foundation, which runs the global movement that is WOW – Women of the World Festivals.

The video will feature standout performances from women such as Olivia Colman, Gillian Anderson and Caitlin Moran reading letters by women, about women and to women, to shine a light on the continued global fight for gender equality.

How will you celebrate International Women’s Day?

So how are you going to celebrate International Women’s Day this year? Will you be tuning in to a talk? Or perhaps you’ll be posting on social media with the #choosetochallenge hashtag. Drop us a message on Instagram or by email [email protected] to let us know what you’re up to. 

The most important thing to remember that International Women’s Day is as much a recognition of how far we still have to go in the fight for women’s rights as it is a celebration of the progress made so far.