“Why the Climate Crisis is a Women’s Issue”, a KAMY’s response to International Women’s Day 2021
In conjunction with International Women’s Day and one of the Women's March unfulfilled demands of declaring a climate emergency, KAMY organised a panel discussion featuring Malaysian climate activists, researchers, and consultants to explain how the climate crisis impacts women disproportionately in Malaysia.
Women are disproportionately affected by the climate crisis because of existing systemic & societal gender inequalities
Drawing from global statistics from the UN, we have overwhelming evidence to show that because women account for the majority of the world's poor, when there are climate related disasters, 80% of people displaced by climate change are women. Women are hit harder because women are far more dependent on natural resources for their livelihood. This reliance becomes exacerbated because women face higher social, economic, and political barriers than men in order to recover from climate-related disasters. This vicious cycle is also worsened by the fact that women are hugely underrepresented in leadership positions, with only 14% of women currently in the Dewan Rakyat in Malaysia.
To explain how women are disproportionately affected by the climate crisis, Hailey explains that “I feel like our system is still very patriarchal - it's built on the exploitation and silencing of women and gender diverse people. So if we don't consider the climate crisis, like we look at our current situation where women and gender diverse people are already oppressed on a daily basis, where their voices are constantly being silenced, their voices are not amplified, they're not getting their rights. And then you put it in an extremely stressful situation, such as the climate crisis, where it not, not only does it impact everyone else, but it disproportionately affects marginalized communities like women, gender diverse people, indigenous people, because of the current oppression they already face.”
Example 1: How indigenous women in Sarawak are affected by climate change
The research, that Sunitha was part of, found that there were linkages between climate change and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in Malaysia through a community consultation with indigenous women leaders from Sarawak:
Example 2: How the climate crisis affects Orang Asli women’s access to clean water
Through Hwei Mian’s experiences working in OA villages, she found that access to water is still an issue in most Orang Asli villages who depend on harvested rainwater or ponds or well water near the villages for water which they use for cooking, bathing, washing, and farming. During drought seasons (that are worsening year on year with the climate crisis) where there is no rain, it's really hard for the villagers because the ponds and wells are dried up, which means no water for the OA villages.
It disrupts OA women’s lives who wear multiple hats in the household in their roles as carers, as cooks, as childminders, as farmers as they have to venture out of the village to search for clean water just for their livelihoods.
Lack of safe, clean drinking water leads to drinking less water, resulting in health complications for women’s reproductive systems, like urinary tract infections, or complications for pregnant or women who breastfeed.
OA women who rely on farming are affected by lack of water which affects their ability to earn a consistent living off their crops as well as food security for their village.
The international community only began to seriously acknowledge the link between gender and climate crisis in 2017
As Hwei Mian explained, this inextricable link “is already acknowledged by the United Nations Convention, a Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the CEDAW general recommendation No. 37, on gender related dimension on the disaster, race, risk reduction in the context of climate change.” At the international level, there is the UNFCCC Gender Action Plan (GAP), adopted at COP 23 in 2017, requiring member states to be responsible to adopt gender-responsive climate policies. However, even though these agreements exist,it was only in 2019 that the language changed on women’s role in the climate crisis, from victims of climate change to agents of change.
Malaysia is far behind on integrating gender-mainstreaming policies into its governance, let alone for climate mitigation and adaptation policies
Despite the UNFCCC’s progress on advocating for gender-responsive climate action at the international level, there is no mention of gender in Malaysia’s National Policy on Climate Change or Malaysia’s latest UNFCCC Periodic Report on our progress, indicating Malaysia’s lack of priority in climate policies.
This highlights a greater issue on the lack of gender mainstreaming policies at the national level on all issues besides climate. For example, the Sarawak research in Example 1 found “that there is a lack of recognition for gender based violence within a context of climate justice.” What this results in is a lack of gender-disaggregated data that can clearly distinguish how the climate crisis affects men and women differently. Without this gender-disaggregated data, policymakers are missing this evidence and cannot integrate gender-responsive policies into climate mitigation and adaptation plans.
The importance of intersectionality as a way to move forward to connect women’s rights and climate crisis
As Hailey explains, the conversations between women’s rights and climate crisis are quite limited, “because there's such a divide, and there's not much understanding in terms of what intersectionality is, and its role and its importance. So we have different NGOs fighting for different causes, but it's, in a way it all links together. So like climate justice is justice for women. So yeah, like when we amplify women voices, we are also amplifying everyone's voices.”