Time to Adapt to Climate Change Impact on Women’s Lives
LIMA, Peru -- This year’s unusually rainy season in Peru is having a negative effect on the wellbeing and health of women in rural areas who are forced, for example, to spend three times as much time walking to collect firewood and water. But the authorities continue to turn a blind eye to the problems they face.
By Mariela Jara, IPS
"It’s very difficult for us to
find firewood, but not only that – since it’s wet because of the rain, we have
to dry it so it will burn well, and that is causing us bronchial and lung
problems," María Témpora Pintado, a farmer from Peru’s northern coastal
region, told IPS.
Photo: Women washing clothes in a village in northern Peru. Credit:Elena Villanueva/IPS
Pintado, the president of the district
association of women of Tambogrande, a farming valley 950 km north of Lima,
described how the women, and often their young children, are exposed to smoke
for hours as the firewood dries.
"These tasks are done by the
women, who stay in our homes, while the men leave early and come back at night,
and do not take part in the collection of water or the care of the children
that we have to watch after constantly, to keep the mosquitoes brought by the
rain from nesting in their eyes," she said.
Throughout February, the rains
affected 12 of Peru’s 24 departments (provinces), and according to the National
Civil Defence Institute, have left more than 32,000 people homeless.
That figure was not broken down by
gender, but an estimated half of the people affected are women, including
Pintado and her fellow farmers in the 186 hamlets and villages in Tambogrande
valley, which is 60 km from Piura, the capital of the department of the same
Due to climate change, the rainy
season has been more intense this year. For example, rainfall in the southern
Andean highlands region of Arequipa has been 327 percent heavier than normal,
according to the National Meteorology and Hydrology Service.
As a result, rivers have
overflowed their banks; houses, farms and roads have been flooded; villages and
towns have been cut off; food shortages have set in; and access to public
health services has become extremely difficult.
"Our manioc, sweet potato,
plantain, corn, val beans, mango and lemon crops have been destroyed,"
Pintado said. "What are we going to feed our children? We are anguished,
but we don’t just sit around worrying; we go out and walk, we find a way to
make soup to feed them."
Manioc, sweet potato, plantain, corn
and val beans are staples of the Peruvian diet.
Agriculture is the economic mainstay
in Peru’s rural areas. Women take part in farming activities like planting,
watering and harvesting. In addition to these tasks, they are in charge of food
preparation and child care, and they also dedicate time to community
But their work is not recognised.
However, the concentration of
responsibilities in their hands, which is exacerbated by the effects of climate
change, is causing health problems that have begun to alarm experts and
"We suffer from vaginal
inflammation and dropped womb (prolapse) because we are running around all day
gathering firewood, drying it out, lugging water, cooking, checking on the
crops, feeding the animals, and taking care of the kids," Pintado said.
"Is this recognised by any of
the authorities? Since they’re all men, they’re indifferent to it; they tell us
we were born to do all this," the community leader complained.
The gender discrimination and
poverty which rural women continue to face due to the lack of inclusive public
policies are aggravated by the different impacts of climate change.
Rural women have fewer resources to
deal with the effects of this global phenomenon precisely because they do not
have equal access to opportunities such as education, training, or property,
studies point out.
According to the latest national
agricultural census, from 1994, 20 percent of farms were run by women, but
fewer than five percent of these women farmers had title deeds to their
Blanca Fernández, a sociologist with
the Rural Development Programme of the Flora
Tristán’s women’s group, told IPS that the impact of gender on climate
change is highlighting the lack of rights of rural women and the enormous
hurdles standing in the way of the full exercise of their rights as citizens.
Fernández argued that the fourth
National Agricultural Census, to be carried out in October, must urgently
incorporate gender variables in order to gain an understanding of the social
and economic conditions of rural women in the Andean highlands and Amazon
"Up-to-date data will make it
possible to design sustainable public policies, with the participation of women
themselves, that would promote their comprehensive development - a viable
strategy to make progress in the work of climate change adaptation and
mitigation," she said.
Photo: Peruvian peasant women are forced to trek further and further from home for firewood. Credit: Elena Villanueva /IPS
One of the priority areas to be
addressed is agriculture, the Peruvian government stated in the second national
report to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, published
The document says the megadiversity
of Peru, one of the world’s 10 most biodiverse countries, is seriously
endangered by the impact of climate change on agriculture, where the chief
factor of vulnerability is poverty.
One-quarter of Peru's population of
29 million is rural, and 70 percent of people in rural areas are poor.
Pintado said it is essential for
local, regional and national authorities to recognise that when talking about
climate change, it is necessary to ask how the phenomenon affects women,
collect data on what is happening in that respect in different regions of the
country, and then start adopting measures.
"When for example a government
official says ‘we are going to evaluate the damage caused to homes by
flooding,’ they have to include the damages suffered by women and ensure that
the actions carried out will benefit our quality of life," she said.
These and other proposals from
women’s organisations in eight regions in Peru have been compiled in a national
The content of the agenda of rural,
Andean and Amazon women of Peru will be shared at an international meeting to
be held Mar. 5-9 in Santo Domingo de los Tsáchilas, in northwest Ecuador.
The third meeting of rural women of
Latin America and the Caribbean is organised by a network of organisations and
activists throughout the region, which was created in 1990 during the Fifth
Latin American and Caribbean Feminist Meeting, to give rural women a stronger
voice and give a boost to their proposals and actions in the region.
The Peruvian agenda, to which IPS
had access ahead of its release, highlights three aspects related to the
exercise of women’s individual and collective rights: violence, food security
and sovereignty, and climate change.
The proposals are addressed to
government authorities, and include a call for compliance with the law on equal
opportunities between men and women, and the implementation of a national
agricultural policy with an emphasis on small-scale agriculture.
Published by: Magne Ove Varsi