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.
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.
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:
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.”
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!
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.
“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:
“Women are an “unstoppable” force for climate action” (Thomas Reuters Foundation)
Here at WEA, we have spent the last 7 years committed to small scale, regenerative farming practices that restore rather than deplete our lands. Currently, industrial scale agriculture is consuming Earth’s resources in a grossly unsustainable manner and is a primary driver for the destabilization of the worlds ecological balance. A revolution of ecological agriculturalists is necessary to shed light on and bring momentum towards the shift to regenerative farming, a practice that incorporates ecological principles into closed loop farming systems to provide more sustainable means for food production.
“As a farmer, I have spent the last few years making transformative changes to my own thinking and agricultural practices… I have studied how other farmers are applying this approach in Australia, Africa, and North and South America. The results, as on our farm, have been remarkable: Healthy landscape function was restored, production increased, biodiversity rebounded, climate change factors were ameliorated, and vastly healthier food was produced.
It is our beliefs that will determine our fate. And there’s reason to believe a new cohort of ecological agriculturalists can alter the course of our civilization with new ideas and practices. They understand that we must embrace a new way of feeding the world, or there won’t be any people left to feed.”