By Kelly Fish

Detrimental effects of climate change are increasing in visibility and frequency throughout the world, but do not affect all equally. Women disproportionately bear the burden of the impacts of climate change, which are often exacerbated in situations of political instability and conflict.

I remember when the connection between climate change and conflict and the differential impact on women and girls crystalized for me. In the early years of the Darfur crisis in Sudan, I was leading a gender-based violence program in Eastern Chad, serving refugees who had been displaced. In all the camps I visited and consultations with men, women and youth, I heard a common story:

When women and girls go to collect firewood….when women and girls try to use a latrine…when women and girls go to collect water…they are not safe. Women and girls are being physically, sexually and emotionally abused. 

Darfuri refugees fled atrocities only to be hosted by communities who were nearly as vulnerable and insecure, due to desertification, environmental degradation and political instability. Women and girls, who bore an unprecedented brunt of the conflict in Darfur found themselves with innumerable safety and security risks within their refugee camps “safe havens.”

Fast-forward to today and we continue to witness the harmful effects of climate change and conflict on women and girls. However, we are also seeing how women can play a crucial role in driving climate solutions.

Empowering women and addressing negative gender norms, whether in nutrition, livelihoods, or any other type of programming, are critical to advancing these changes. No matter how many resources we put in the hands of women, if they do not have control, agency, decision-making power and confidence, those investments will not be maximized.

At PCI, we ensure that gender equality and female empowerment are at the center of everything we do.

Last month, I visited our programs in Guatemala for the first time, where PCI is responding to the ongoing food security crisis, attributed to El Nino. Drought and food scarcity, caused by weather and climate change, are increasing the burdens on women, and on men who feel their role as “men” is diminished when they are unable to be the lead or primary breadwinner.

I visited a community where we had trained a mother leader and a lead farmer on issues of gender and I was amazed to see an impact from one simple activity – the lead mother and farmer both worked with their local leaders to organize a community event that brought together families and enabled them to share some of their learnings with the community.

Immediately following that event, three women were able to join our local Women Empowered group, as their partners and fathers finally understood the value of these women participating in economic and empowerment activities.

The lead farmer shared with me, “Maybe if I can make some small changes in my home, my neighbors can follow my example.”

Kelly Fish is a Technical Advisor, Gender for PCI.