Last week, I participated in a discussion panel following the release of Population Action International’s latest film, Weathering Change: Stories about climate and family from women around the world (www.weatheringchange.org). The film highlights the ways in which women struggle to care for their families and how climate change is impacting their lives. PAI asked me to share CARE’s perspective on climate change and how women are often disproportionately vulnerable to climate impacts.
Yet, though I work on the issue day in and day out and was asked to join the panel as a quote-unquote “expert,” more than anything, the film gave me perspective. I couldn’t help but ask – after watching these women tell their stories and seeing images of their daily struggle to care for their families – how aware is the average American of what life is like in a developing country? For a woman? In the face of climate change?
We struggle to keep up with email, to run errands in the hours outside of work. We get frustrated when there’s traffic or some hiccup on public transportation. But when we need food, it’s at the grocery store. Bountiful, fresh produce seems to magically appear on the shelves in countless varieties. Water – perfectly potable water – is available 24 hours a day, steps from where we sit, right out of the tap.
For Aregash, Radhika, Aurea, and Odelia, and countless other women, it isn’t that simple. Radhika sows seeds by hand. And then she hopes against all hope that the rains come as they have in years past. But they don’t, so her harvest isn’t what it used to be – or needs to be. Odelia waits for the water truck to come to the ramshackle community in which she and her family live on the outskirts of Lima so she can get what she can carry back to her family’s house. But it still isn’t enough. While we bathe under a gush of water, she washes her four boys with as little as possible so she has enough for cooking and drinking.
Aregash wonders how long she and her husband will be able to feed their family. Their harvests aren’t what they were in her father’s days. The land just isn’t fruitful, she says, but that’s the only way they have to raise their children. Aurea watches as the snowcaps that provide water to her family slowly shrink. She’s not worried about herself, but she wonders what her children will do when they grow up. Each of these women – like women worldwide – worries about her children.
Life for these women is hard – physically, mentally, emotionally. One of the most striking images in the film is of two women hauling large jugs of water on their backs. They’re stooped under the weight of gallons. We later see Radhika blink back tears as she talks about doing all that she can to care for her children and try to make their lives better than hers has been. Her husband has had to leave the village to find additional work, leaving her in charge of the cattle, the fields, and growing vegetables, in addition to caring for the children and running the household.
The day of the event, I posted on my Facebook page that I was speaking about women and climate change. I explained why women are disproportionately impacted – because they don’t often have equal access to rights, resources and power and because they are often left in charge of the tasks that are sensitive to changes in the climate. In response, one person commented that she hadn’t ever thought about it that way but that it makes sense…. When we help people connect the dots, they understand the day to day struggle for these women and why it’s important not only to tackle climate change but also to empower these women. To enable them to make decisions in their lives – whether it’s when to have children or how to distribute the family’s budget – and to give them the hand up they might need to face climate change impacts.
That Facebook exchange made me ask, How many people haven’t ever thought about it this way? How do we get that message out? Educating Americans, raising awareness among our friends and family, sharing stories like the ones in Weathering Change are direly needed in the US right now. The political climate (no pun intended) keeps us from passing the legislation we so desperately need to set in motion real reductions in our emissions. But it also highlights how much we need to share these stories, educate Americans, and particularly women, about the plight and struggle of fellow women and the threat that climate change poses. Not in 10 years but today.
Maybe one conversation at a time, we can shift attitudes, turn the tide. So will you start talking?
Tonya Rawe is a Senior Policy Advocate with CARE and advocates on climate change and the linkage between food security and climate change. To learn more about CARE’s work on climate change, visit www.careclimatechange.org.