The United Nations held a conference last week to reduce women’s vulnerability to disasters and climate change. Women are impacted by weather-related disasters differently than men due to social constructs.
The conference, held from 5 to 7 November in Geneva, was hosted by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) to develop more gender-sensitive weather and climate services.
Women, especially in developing countries, are often more exposed to the risks of extreme weather because they can be less mobile than men, lack access to traditional means of communication, and are more vulnerable to associated risks such as under-nutrition and water-borne diseases.
For instance, in the 1991 cyclone disasters that killed 140,000 people in Bangladesh, 90 per cent of victims were women. In May 2008, when Cyclone Nargis came ashore in Myanmar, 61 per cent of the 130,000 people dead or missing in the aftermath were female.
Explanations for these disproportionate rates include the fact that more women than men are homebound, looking after children and property. But more must clearly be done, said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud.
“We have made great progress in improving weather forecasts and climate services such seasonal outlooks to help protect lives and livelihoods.”
“But if we are to help communities cope with long-term climate change and the anticipated increase in hazards like floods and heat-waves, then we need to do more to reach out to women with gender-sensitive services,” Jarraud added.
The gathering was co-sponsored by a wide range of partners including the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the World Health Organization (WHO), among others.
One of the conference’s central themes explored how to empower women to get involved in science-related careers; as a global average, only one third of professionals in meteorology and hydrology are women.
“There is a need to encourage and create a conducive environment for young girls who have vision of being great future scientists to realize their vision,” said Dr. Agnes Kijazi, Director-General of the National Meteorological Service of Tanzania, a conference co-sponsor.
Conference outcomes will feed into the post-2015 development agenda, the disaster risk reduction future framework, and other future climate action, and Beijing+20 platform on gender equality.