According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s fifth assessment report, the world will continue to be vulnerable to climate change regardless of low or high emission scenarios. Over the 21st century, world temperature will continue to rise and extreme precipitation events will become more intense and frequent. Developing countries such as Cambodia will bear the most burden of climate change impacts. It is inevitable that climate change effects such as floods, droughts, windstorms and seawater intrusion will have severe implications on the country’s development. While Cambodian women may be among the most vulnerable to the consequences of climate change, they are integral to any solution.
An assessment from the Ministry of Environment reports that in the last 20 years, agricultural production lost 62% and 36% due to floods and droughts, respectively. In addition, climate change financing estimates that if world temperature rises by 20C, the damage that climate change brings will reduce 3.2% of GDP by the year 2050.
While climate change affects everyone regardless of wealth status, education levels and ages, people with disabilities and women remain disproportionately vulnerable. Climate change impacts such as droughts and floods can increase women’s workload and limit women’s access to natural resources, thereby limiting their decision rights, mobility and decision making at household and community levels.
In the 2013 floods, 377,354 households and 1.8 million individuals living in 20 provinces in Cambodia were severely hit. Women and children were the most affected. Women were stranded at home during the flood due to cultural and gender constraints to mobility and reduced livelihood activities.
Disruption to health care infrastructure and service left pregnant women to deliver in very critical conditions such as flooded delivery rooms or worse, at home where immediate medical care is not available.
Another factor that places women, especially those from poor rural communities and are therefore in more vulnerable conditions, is the lack of timely and reliable climate information. A Vulnerability Reduction Assessment (VRA) conducted by the Cambodia Community Based Adaptation Programme in over 35,000 households in 21 provinces across the country demonstrates that women are greatly affected by climate change. This is due to their limited ability to access information on climate change and on how to protect themselves against climate-related disasters.
Despite being portrayed as victims to climate change, women play a crucial role in climate change adaptation and mitigation. In the VRA results, for example, women tend to be more concerned about climate change impacts on their families’ future, particularly the threat of slipping into deeper poverty. Whereas, men are more concerned about the effects of climate change on natural resources for profit.
It is increasingly evident that women would also play an important role in natural resource stewardship such as forest and biodiversity, which are important in mitigating climate change effects.
For instance, a group of women in Trapeang Chan commune, Boribo district in Kampong Chnang province would never have thought that they could do more than just household chores such as cooking, until they participated in the Sustainable Forest Management Project in 2012. Their knowledge on natural resources have proven vital in forest inventory exercise.
With training, they have begun to play more active roles in forest protection such as joining forest patrols and participating in the development process of their Community Forest Management Plan.
Women are also a driving force in climate innovative solutions. In Kratie and Preah Vihea provinces, a project on Promoting Climate-Resilient Water Management and Agricultural Practices shows that solutions on domestic water and home gardening generated by women groups not only address the water shortage problem, but also improved their food security and income generating capacity.
As illustrated in different cases here, women should not only be seen as passive agents facing climate change challenges, but their roles must be recognized as part of long-term solutions to the impacts of climate change.
—------------------ UNDP has been supporting the Government in institutionalizing gender issues in its policies and national strategies. Specifically through financial support from European Union and the Government of Sweden, UNDP provided technical assistance in developing the Gender and Climate Change Strategic Programme which draws on women’s knowledge and roles relevant to climate change adaptation and mitigation. UNDP works to strengthen capacity and provide an enabling framework for women to participate in decision making processes to improve resilience of their communities. In addition, women have actively participated in mainstreaming gender in developing the framework for a community-based forest management plan. At the commune level, women were also trained to produce and market energy-efficient stoves, giving them sustainable livelihoods and income while reducing their reliance on non-timber forest products.