Empowering women: an important ingredient in building climate resilience

Women often bear the most responsibility for household food and water supply. They produce roughly 60% of the world’s food; in rural communities, they are most dependent on natural resources that are under threat from climate variability and global change. They are frequently exposed and more vulnerable to natural hazards like floods or droughts and to climate-related health risks like under-nutrition and malaria. They also have valuable knowledge on weather and climate, but many cannot contribute to or benefit from weather and climate services.

The Conference on Gender Dimensions of Weather and Climate Services that opened today in Geneva aims to spearhead a drive to ensure that weather and climate services embrace the special needs and strengths of women to reduce their vulnerability to disasters and climate change and realize their potential as champions of community resilience. It will focus in particular on climate change adaptation, disaster risk reduction, health, water and food security. It will also discuss how to attract and promote more female scientists in meteorology and hydrology.

Part of the problem is access to knowledge. “Educating women is educating a whole community, and this is also true for climate change education”, explained UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova during the introductory high level panel. “Women empowered through education can be leading actors, as they often form part of strong social networks within their communities and can play a vital role in the collective management of change. It should be a priority to provide women access to information and education for sustainable development – and this is a key aspect of UNESCO’s action.”

Good weather and climate services are essential for good decisions. Better access to weather-related information and knowledge translates into a better productivity and a better life.

A high-level panel on Women and Careers in Weather, Water and Climate will examine how to attract and promote more female scientists. Over the last forty years the number of women involved in science related careers and organizations has increased. But as a global average, only one-third of professionals in meteorology and hydrology are women. Discussions will focus on what can be done to improve the situation.

UNESCO is co-leading the thematic sessions on: Water and Women and Careers in Weather; Water and Climate, and Disaster Risk Reduction.

Women in developing countries are often more exposed to the risks of extreme weather because they can be less mobile than men, with less access to traditional means of communication. For instance, in the 1991 cyclone disasters that killed 140000 people in Bangladesh, 90% of victims were women. Explanations for this include the fact that more women than men are homebound, looking after children and property.

Equal inclusion of women’s and men’s voices in disaster risk management activities is essential to reduce impacts and build community resilience. Providers of weather and climate services for disaster risk reduction must enhance design and delivery for women to have better access to critical information crucial to decision-making in such situations.

Their experience means that women are often the most powerful advocates of resilience. In the aftermath of disasters, it is frequently women who are the driving force behind hands-on recovery efforts.

The World Meteorological Organization is hosting the international conference in Geneva on 5-7 November 2014; it is co-sponsored UNESCO, among a wide range of partners.

Outcomes
Conference outcomes will feed into the post-2015 development agenda, the disaster risk reduction future framework, and other future climate action, and Beijing+20 platform on gender equality.

The conference will help national meteorological and hydrological services around the world develop more gender-sensitive services and forecasts and will also inform the implementation of the WMO-spearheaded Global Framework for Climate Services as well as the provision of weather services.

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