Climate Change Is A Women's Rights Issue

Photo: Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/Getty Images.
It’s 2017, and yet women are still fighting for equality. Data suggests it will take until 2152 to close the gender wage gap, but it shouldn’t take a century to get what we want. We want more, and Refinery29 is here to help — because 135 years is too long to wait for what we deserve today.
Women know that when we stand together, we can effect change. We’ve been doing it for generations.
On a cold winter morning more than 100 years ago, women marched down Pennsylvania Avenue to demand the right to vote. A half a century later, women of color marched on the National Mall to demand that one day they would be judged by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin.
And just this past January, we marched on our nation’s capital again to protest a new president and administration that is launching a wide-ranging assault on our core values. We marched for equal pay. We marched to protect our bodies. We marched for the rights of our immigrant and LGBTQIA sisters and brothers.
As a mother and one of the first women of color to lead a major international environmental nonprofit, I marched to ensure that my young daughter, and the millions of other little girls just like her, inherit a world where clean air, safe drinking water, and secure communities are basic rights for all of us — no matter where we live, what we look like, how much money we make, or how we vote.
I marched for climate justice. Because the violent storms, dangerous heat, and devastating droughts, and floods have begun. And women, low-income communities and people of color are among those bearing the heaviest burden.
On April 29, I will be marching again. At the People’s Climate March in Washington, I will join thousands in saying corporate polluters must not come before our health, our families, and our communities. The greatest nation in the world must rise up to tackle the greatest environmental challenge of our time.
Make no mistake — climate change is a women’s issue. Women often face a greater risk of getting sick, losing their livelihoods, living in poverty, and being displaced when weather disasters strike.

The greatest nation in the world must rise up to tackle the greatest environmental challenge of our time.

Worldwide, women suffer a greater share of the acute impacts of natural disasters. They are more likely to die from staying behind during extreme weather events to protect children and the elderly. Indeed, women made up 80% of those remaining behind during evacuations of the Gulf Coast during Hurricane Katrina. And in developing countries, basic survival strategies such as securing water, food, and wood often fall to women.
In the wake of a natural disaster, women-dominated industries like healthcare and tourism suffer big losses. Nearly 60% of jobs lost after Katrina belonged to women. And even as women help rebuild in places like New Orleans, their wages decreased between 2005 and 2007, while men’s increased.
The longer term health impacts of climate change also hit women and children the hardest: Infants and toddlers are especially vulnerable to air pollutants and extreme heat, resulting in increasing numbers of children in emergency rooms from heat-related illness and more missed school days for kids with asthma. Meanwhile, global warming has helped expand the range and activity of mosquitoes that can carry Zika in the U.S. — a disease that particularly threatens pregnant women and their unborn children.
But women are not only on the front lines of the climate crisis, we are essential to the solutions.
It is up to us — as workers, community organizers, leaders, mothers, sisters, and daughters — to stand up for climate justice and protect our families’ future. From the mothers of Flint, MI, to the women leaders of the Standing Rock Sioux, women’s continued leadership on climate, environmental, and health issues is critical to a healthy, safe future.

We cannot stop fighting for a world where our health and safety comes before the interests of polluters.

We cannot stop fighting for a world where our health and safety comes before the interests of polluters. A world where we don’t have to worry so much about a mosquito bite when we’re pregnant. Where we don’t have to question the safety of our drinking water. Where we don’t have to worry that our children will get asthma attacks from dirty air.
We will show up on April 29 because we cannot stop fighting for the world we want to leave behind for our children and the generations of women to come. I hope you will join us.
Rhea Suh is President of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

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