When it comes to taking action on climate change, women are often left out of the conversation. Women’s voices and perspectives go unheard in decision-making processes and policy reforms that aim to allow the world to adapt to a changing climate.

It is all too predictable that women are excluded from vital conversations at influential levels such as governing bodies, national delegations and intergovernmental forums. But women need to be at the forefront of these discussions.

Considering about two thirds of the world’s population lives outside of Western civilization, I will refer to what is often called the “third world” as the “two-thirds world.” In the two-thirds world, women and children are often the most exposed to the instability of
the climate.

For example, despite Africa’s minimal emission of greenhouse gases, the continent is one of the most vulnerable to climate variability. 

Because of the gender division of labor, ecosystem degradation and complex natural disasters tend to affect women and children more than men because they bare the burden of household and agricultural labor. Women are more connected with their ecosystems and environments, which makes them not only more directly affected by changes but also more knowledgeable about issues and possible solutions.

Many women and children in the two-thirds world collect water and firewood for their households and provide up to 80 percent of labor in agriculture. Many Africans reside in rural areas, but with the changing climate, these areas are experiencing drought, deforestation and contaminated water supplies. 

This means women and children have to travel further, find new sources for water and firewood and create alternative ways to provide food for their families.

But because of unequal access to education, information and resources, women and children are more likely than men to become climate refugees because they are ill-prepared for changes in their environments.

Women in rural areas of Africa are the main custodians of environmental conservation and sustainability, yet they are often marginalized from the decision-making processes related to solving problems on climate change. Women often have greater knowledge of indigenous plant and seed varieties and their important nutritional and medicinal values, but economic policies continue to negatively affect the environment and threaten the roles of women. Though agricultural and service policies affect mostly women, they are minimally involved in these new technologies and service discussions.

A critique of the global economy as a continuation of colonialism has risen as Western societies continue to extract resources from the two-thirds world. Western worlds and corporations reap the benefits while ecosystems are devastated by these extractions. These economic processes undeniably impoverish and disenfranchise women in the two-thirds world.

There is a need to link environmental issues with issues of gender, race and class. Integrating gender analysis into the study of environmental issues will better equip us to face the mess our global economy has created and find alternative solutions for local and global obstacles. Because the two-thirds world is currently experiencing the consequences of Western world greenhouse gas emissions, policy change and decision-making processes must not only incorporate two-thirds world experiences but also the knowledge and adaptations women are making to survive in their changing world.

With the information and knowledge these women can provide, policy makers will be able to make better decisions and changes that can truly have a positive impact on the environment.