Gender and Climate Across Borders: A Perplexing Issue with Many Forms 

with Tidak ada komentar

It is challenging to make a single, globally applicable statement about the relationship between climate change and gender dynamics. Based on variations in local climate, gender representation in the workforce and government, and the expectations of gender in familial and community roles, the ways in which climate vulnerability interacts with gender can be completely unique, even inversed between cultures. Within both the United States of America and Indonesia there exist further exceptions to patterns of gender and climate change exposure and justice. This relationship cannot be simplified by exempting the influence of local socioeconomic status, indigenous cultures, topography, and social and physical infrastructure. However, the complexity and variability of this topic do not diminish the fact that gender inequality plays a role in—and is often exacerbated by—the climate crisis.  

When discussing gender and climate, it is easy to turn to examples of communities in which this relationship appears simple. Namely, women’s role of traveling to collect water in sub-Saharan Africa, which becomes more difficult and time-demanding as drought increases in frequency and intensity. The same goes for examples of small, often rural, communities where agriculture is almost entirely dominated by women, making them more vulnerable in the face of low crop yields. But how do climate and gender interact in global, diversified economies? How do they transcend differences in climate vulnerability and varying workforce compositions? Unsurprisingly, there are no absolute answers, aside from the understanding that gender representation in climate discussions and decision-making processes should be a main priority.  

Many approaches to climate and gender default to agriculture. Agriculture is particularly important to climate vulnerability due to its reliance on consistent environmental conditions, which are becoming less and less common. Furthermore, its manual labor is often performed by those lacking secondary education and privilege in diversified economies or allocated mainly to a specific gender.  

Agriculture differs greatly between the USA and Indonesia. Firstly, as the largest importer in the world, the US imports much of its food from foreign agriculture, resulting in a domestic workforce that is only about 10% agriculture, while Indonesia’s workforce is about three times that at 29%. Further, within the variations in economic composition are variations in gender, with US agriculture being 36% women and Indonesia’s being 24%. The fact that women occupy a smaller relative share in Indonesia may be surprising, as many approach the issue of climate and gender with the belief that women dominate agricultural manual labor in countries not belonging to the Global North. However, what is also crucial to such a comparison is the understanding that while men and women in the US have formal labor participation rates that are relatively similar at 67.9% and 57.6% respectively, men in Indonesia participate in the workforce at an astonishing rate of 80.6%, while women sit at just 52.7%. Thus, of the comparatively small share of Indonesia’s women who participate in formal work, a large portion find work in agriculture.  

This introduces the first challenge of drawing relationships between gender inequality and climate; statistics are oftentimes not sufficient in accounting for crucial distinctions. For example, in Indonesia, farming—aside from plantations—exists in many regions as community and family-based. The family-style farms that were transformed into massive monocultures in the US following the Industrial Revolution still play a major role in feeding Indonesia’s population. Not only does this mean more individuals must participate in agriculture, but also that tending to farms is much more of a secondary responsibility—people are not hired to work on export-based plantations as in the US, they are working to feed their community.  

In addition to the informality of agricultural work in Indonesia, the role of women as unpaid caretakers for their communities and families is ever-present and a source of vulnerability. In Indonesia, food revolves around women. Markets—where most families purchase all their food—are almost entirely composed of older women selling anything from fresh vegetables to meat to pre-made pastries. As early as 4:00 am, the female heads of households depart to the market to ensure that their families are fed. Women often have an obligation to nurse their family to health, cook, and clean, as well as shoulder the financial and psychological burden that comes with this resource management. While in the US there is still a lingering culture of women taking on a similar role, the severity and accessibility of alternative lifestyles is incomparable to Indonesia. Furthermore, upwards of 50% of Indonesia’s elderly population lives with their children and grandchildren, with women often left to care for their aging parents, spouses, and children. Compared to the US, where only 6% of the elderly live with extended family, and in conjunction with a lack of elderly-care resources, women’s caretaking roles demand around-the-clock attention and a greater investment of resources.  

The real disparity in gender and climate vulnerability stems from a lack of representation. Given the significance of agriculture, climate, and natural resources to the livelihoods and societal roles of Indonesian women, their inability to influence decision-making on these topics is disparaging. As farmers, women’s lack of access to educational and agricultural resources results in lower crop yields, less financial assistance, and smaller allocated plots of land in comparison to male-led farms. Concurrently, women’s representation in both local and national legislatures typically remains between 15-22%. Despite the role that women fill regarding climate change, they significantly lack the influence to contribute their knowledge, concerns, and solutions.  

In Indonesia, the climate crisis has been—and will continue to be—disproportionately felt. Approximately 70% of Indonesia’s population lives in coastal villages, making them more vulnerable to rising sea levels and intense weather events. Further, the exponential increase in foreign palm oil plantations over the past few decades has brought devastating forest fires, exacerbated by elongated dry seasons. As women in Indonesia struggle to meet caretaking and agricultural expectations in the face of climate change’s challenges, their societal burden will only increase. With less time to devote to secondary education and formal work, the gender workforce participation gap will grow as men continue to fill high-paying roles as well as the governmental seats that manage them. And under such challenges women will become more strained in finding food and ensuring the health and safety of family, posing a public health risk. In an extreme example that depicts the impact of such expectations, one can look back on the tsunami of 2004 in Aceh, Sumatra. Sociologists struggled to approach why 70% of deaths were women, ultimately determining it to be a combination of employment (many men were out at sea, fishing) and the fact that many women felt an obligation to stay behind and wait for family as opposed to evacuating. In many natural disasters it is common for female death tolls to far outnumber that of males. 

Thankfully, this connection has not gone completely unnoticed. In recent years, World Bank and the United Nations have funded agricultural programs such as ICARE and Energy Patriots, which emphasize the representation of women in finding appropriate responses to the climate crisis. Beyond these programs, it is unlikely that societal expectations of women will undergo any major changes, and it is frankly unproductive to target these topics as the root of the issue at hand. What is most important is first ensuring that Indonesian women have the power and resources to bring attention to their climate vulnerability. This priority is in everyone’s best interest; if female farmers are supported in resource and education accessibility like their male counterparts, Indonesia will find greater food security and well-being. Responses and potential solutions to the climate crisis can be more widely and effectively implemented if women are welcomed into decision-making spaces, and collectively, Indonesia can build a more stable foundation for future development. 


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