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Puerto Rico and Gendered Natural Disaster Resilience

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In September 2017, Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated Puerto Rico and wiped out much of the island’s infrastructure. Hurricane Irma touched down on the island first, and left approximately 1 million residents out of the island’s 3.4 million without power. Two weeks later, Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 Hurricane, left more than 60% of the island without water and almost all without electricity. It was the worst hurricane to have ever hit Puerto Rico.

(US Department of Defense)

The hurricanes severely damaged the island’s power grid, and nine months later, Puerto Rico’s residents are still frustrated by the lack of power and stability available. Although electricity has at long last been restored to a majority of neighborhoods, many are still struck by random power outages which, at times, lasts for hours. This instability has kept residents in a state of perpetual limbo, uncertain when they’ll be able to return to anything resembling normal.

As Puerto Rico continues to grapple with the catastrophic scale of destruction on the island, it is crucial that we lift up those who are most often disproportionately impacted by natural disasters. While natural disasters affect all in its wake, research has shown that women and girls are at greater risk in post-disaster regions. Using data from more than 140 countries, the United Nations Development Program recognized the complex relationship between gender equality and natural disaster resilience, finding that natural disasters lower women’s life expectancy more so than for men – 14 times more. Many times, this is because women traditionally serve as primary caregivers in families and are often tasked with caring for (and therefore ensuring the safety of) children and the elderly.

Even in the aftermath of natural disasters, women remain at risk, often experiencing high levels of violence as a result of cramped and overcrowded shelters. Furthermore, UNDP found that women are more susceptible to sexual and domestic violence following disasters when possible perpetrators’ feelings of helplessness and loss of control are heightened. Prior to Hurricanes Maria and Irma in September, women in Puerto Rico already experienced high rates of violence as well as higher rates of poverty among women. These are often compounding factors; in post-Hurricane Katrina Louisiana, for example, many of those who faced the most violence were also those who experienced the deepest poverty – African American women and children.

(FEMA Photo Library)

As climate change-induced natural disasters increase, we will undoubtedly be faced with more hurricanes, typhoons, earthquakes, flooding and brush fires. It is critical that we center the needs of women and girls, both in disaster prevention and relief efforts. While women’s vulnerability post-disaster is great, so too is their strength and leadership to connect, support, and rebuild communities.

Here are just a few local organizations in Puerto Rico working to rebuild their communities:

 

Indigenous Women Taking Active Role in Bolivia’s Agriculture

Project: Women Collaborating Towards Food Justice in Bolivia

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WEA’s 2006 Transformative Advocacy Exchange in Bolivia

In Bolivia, women play a large role in the agriculture sector. They work to harvest crops, raise livestock and provide food for their families. The changing climate has impacts on the livelihoods of these women as unpredictable storms and irregular rainfall affect the productivity of their crops and security of their income and food.

For the last 10 years, Bolivia’s government and local NGOs have been focused on empowering women and creating decision-making space for them when it comes to adapting to these issues. NGOs have financed projects to empower women farmers, creating space for them in political contexts and empowering them to make changes in their communities.

Here is an excerpt from Al Jazeera’s photo story on women farmers in Bolivia. You can view the whole story here.

“Because of deep-rooted gender inequality, women are less informed, less valued by men and excluded from the decision-making process in the community, making them even more vulnerable.”

WEA’s 2006 Transformative Advocacy Exchange in Bolivia

In 2006, WEA partnered with Global Exchange on a Transformative Advocacy Exchange which led a team of women environmental attorneys on a journey through the regions of La Paz and Santa Cruz in Bolivia. Through this project, these advocates worked with indigenous and women-led organizations to encourage sustainable, indigenous-managed land use and agricultural practices, a necessary focus for agricultural communities as they face these irregular rainfall patterns, higher rates of erosion and inconsistent yields.

It is inspiring to continue to see the incredible skill and knowledge Indigenous women hold as they ensure and preserve their communities food security resources!

Being an Indigenous Women Environmental Activist in Mexico

Project: Mexican Indigenous Women Uniting for Land Protection

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Over the last few years, it has become heartbreakingly evident that being an environmental activist these days is not only difficult, but dangerous as well. In Mexico, being a women environmental activist brings with it anti-activism abuse and gender violence, and being an Indigenous women environmental activist often means an increase in these attacks and the general threat these women face to their lives on a day to day basis.

As this article via Telesur shares, “Women environmental activists in Mexico usually face both abuse over their activism and gender violence. On top of that being Indigenous makes it even more difficult, as Mexico has a big systematical discrimination problem against its Indigenous people.

Photo: Semillas
According to [Angelica Simon, Media Coordinator for Greenpeace Mexico] women play a crucial role in the environmental struggles in Mexico, being one of the social sectors most-affected by the loss of natural resources and climate change. “A general ecological perspective should also be promoted within the gender struggle. Today more than ever we know there can’t be social and environmental justice without equality.”
 
[Furthermore,] the National Network in Defense of Human Rights in Mexico reported 615 aggressions against women human rights defenders between 2012 and 2014, with an average of four per week.
WEA is acutely aware of critical role Indigenous women environmental leaders in Mexico play, ensuring the preservation of communities, culture and the earth. This is one of the reasons we partnered with Semillas—the only women’s fund in Mexico—and the National Network of Indigenous Women Weaving Rights for Mother Earth and Territory (RENAMITT) in 2014 to support Indigenous women who were gathering together to protect the earth in the face of development and land dispossession. Our hope is that through efforts like these that bring communities of women together, we can also increase the safety of these brave leaders as they stand on the frontlines of this movement.

Read the entire article from Telesur here.

SDGs 2030: Through a Gendered Lens

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The Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 are striving to reduce poverty worldwide, increase the number of people in schools, eliminate hunger, and mitigate climate change. And there is one goal that remains at the center of all others — Goal #5: Gender Equality.

A new report from UN Women, “Turning Promises into Action: Gender Equality in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” puts the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in the spotlight, looking at its progress in terms of gender equality and the current status of women worldwide.

Photo: Sanjeev Gupta, Washington Post

Across a number of different sectors globally, women are among those most vulnerable to inequity and injustices. Research from the UN Women’s report shows that women between the ages of 25-34 have a 22% higher rate of poverty than men; there a 15 million girls not in primary school; and there still remains an alarming 23% pay gap between women and men in the job market.

Additionally, as research and WEA’s work points out, women often have less access to jobs, and face more legal barriers when it comes to owning land, accessing credit and inheriting wealth. Women are more likely to be primarily responsible for unpaid forms of work, including childcare, cooking and housework. As a result of a combination of these and other key factors, women are often placed at greater risk of food insecurity, physical or sexual violence, and climate change impacts.

For these reasons, while the SDGs are inspiring and necessary in their work towards a more sustainable future, the way in which the UN measures the overall success of the SDG’s must go beyond siloed data points like “national averages,” and take into account the realities of people and communities that may slip through the cracks of this data. Gender equality is not a single issue struggle. In order to see true progress on Goal #5, each and every Sustainable Development Goal must be analyzed with accurate gender-specific data to ensure equality is being met, something that is currently lacking in measurements for success and progress.

“The evidence is clear: If we want to solve the world’s biggest problems, we need to break down the silos and work together across issues, sectors, and geographies — with women at the center,” – Katja Iversen, CEO of Women Deliver.

The UN Women’s report states that, though achieving the SDGs is indeed a global priority, there has been limited action by governments to reshape policies, investments and programs to support gender equality around the world. The way forward, the report suggests, is a revolution in democratic governance and public action to make theory a reality. This includes action and cooperation between communities and powerful global players (sovereign states, international financial institutions and transnational corporations). The report suggests that better gender-specific data collection, aligning policies and programs with this data, increasing financial support for women’s organizations, and creating community participation in this work will help us move to a more equitable future.

“Women’s rights organizations were effective in building coalitions and alliances to put gender equality at the center. Such participatory processes and strategic alliances are also needed to ensure effective and gender responsive implementation, follow up and review.”Turning Promises into Action Report

Since our launch in 2006, WEA has been dedicated to nurturing these efforts by uplifting and connecting grassroots, women leaders around the world. These leaders know first-hand the impacts—social, economic and environmental—their communities continue to experience that are often caused or exacerbated by gender inequality.

WEA’s work strongly aligns with the goals of the SDGs as well as UN Women’s findings. We know that the way forward is through the leadership of these grassroots women who are building the strategies, solutions, and solidarity needed to address the threats and injustices their communities face.

Photo: Women’s Earth Alliance

Around the world, WEA women are preserving indigenous seeds and plant knowledge key to our survival; selling clean cookstoves that save lives and reduce the destruction of the forests; modeling the small-scale regenerative farming practices that will feed our planet; protecting our dwindling water sources; staving off destructive and toxic energy extraction; and shaping cultures of peace. They are winning political positions, building grassroots movements, expanding economic opportunities, and most importantly, passing on their knowledge to thousands of other emerging leaders.

To achieve these Sustainable Development Goals, putting women at the center is essential—not just as beneficiaries of policies and aid, but as architects of transformation. 

For more resources and insights on the Turning Promises into Action Report, see:

Women4Climate Conference: Mexico City

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The 2nd Annual Women4Climate Conference took place yesterday in Mexico City, where women leaders from across the globe came together to discuss the response of cities to climate change and the important role women have in shaping our collective future, particularly in urban areas.

Women leaders in government — such as mayors from cities including Rome, Washington D.C., Madrid, Seattle, Capetown, and Montreal — gathered together with innovative women changemakers and business leaders to focus on critical issues like air quality, climate resilience, social inclusion and innovation, sustainable global food systems, climate change through a business lens, and how men and women can work together to create a sustainable future.

When looking at the future of cities, questions arose such as will decision-makers in these urban spaces choose to build new luxury apartments, or instead redesign pavements so that more water will return to the earth rather than runoff into the oceans? Will they choose to design new malls, or instead build sea walls to protect communities from frequent storms and sea level rise? Answers to these questions facing city planners will decide the impacts that climate change will have on the communities living within these city boundaries, as well as the global population effected by these choices.

“Cities will be the battleground and women can be effective warriors on the front-lines in the fight against climate change.” — Women at the Front Can Help Defeat Global Warming, say Leaders

Not only did Women4Climate attendees discuss the future of cities, but also the future of the next generation of women leaders. As part of the conference, young women dedicated to climate action are receiving training and mentorship to transform their visions for a sustainable future into reality. During the inaugural Women4Climate Conference in 2017, Paris and Mexico City launched the first mentorship programs for emerging women leaders. Each mentee developed their own individual project alongside their mentor, with topics ranging from on site clean energy for businesses in Mexico to strategies to hold restaurants accountable for their ecological impacts in Paris. Take a look at all of the inspiring women leaders and their projects here.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo speaks during the C40 Cities Women4Climate event on March 15, 2017 in New York City. Photo: C40 Cities
(L-R) Mark Watts, Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera, Cape town Mayor Patricia de lille, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, Alexandra Plat, Durban Mayor Zandile Gumede and Caracas Mayor Helen Fernandez. Photo: C40 Cities

“Men have had their time in power and brought us here; now it is time for women to also lead. Yes, we are unstoppable. And our movement keeps growing. Join us and be a part of it.” – C40 Women Leaders

Read more about the event in the articles below: