International Women's Day is a time to celebrate women's achievements, but it's also a good time to draw attention to problems too often overlooked by policymakers and begin discussing constructive solutions. As a member of the Congressional Safe Climate Caucus, I am struck by the disproportionate toll that environmental destruction driven by climate change exacts on women.
Women account for 20 million of the 26 million people displaced by climate change -- a staggering disparity driven by the fact that women make up over 70 percent of the world's poor. When access to food, shelter, education, income, land, and health care are already limited, the effects of a natural disaster caused by a changing climate are devastating.
Women in the world's poorest regions are the most immediate victims of climate change. In Africa, women and girls spend 40 billion hours a year collecting water. As drought becomes increasingly common, they must travel further distances and face greater danger from attack and sexual assault. After the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the death rate for women soared, and in some areas it was three times greater than it was for men.
The London School of Economics studied the impact of 141 natural disasters on women and men and concluded that women have a higher death rate because of their lack of rights and mobility.
Unfortunately, these problems are getting worse, not better, and it's time to sound the alarm. Poverty, especially among women, is growing in large part due to our changing climate. The United Nations Development Program 2013 Human Development Report concluded that the number of people living in extreme poverty may increase by up to 3 billion by 2050 unless there is international response to environmental disasters.
As the U.S. and other nations struggle to address environmental challenges, we must recognize the unique challenges women face. But we cannot adapt without including more women of diverse backgrounds in the discussion. Unfortunately, that is not what is happening now. A 2012 report by the European Institute for Gender Equality shows that men continue to outnumber women in high-level decision-making positions related to stopping climate change and mitigating its effects.
On International Women's Day, let's commit to correcting this disparity. We need women at the table to ensure that more perspectives are heard and that the impact of climate change on women is not forgotten. Climate change is here. It is happening, and it is affecting women at a greater rate than men. While our effort to limit carbon emissions and assist those impacted by climate change is no small task, involving more women in these negotiations is something that we can change immediately. I say we do it.
This post is part of a series from the Safe Climate Caucus. The Caucus is comprised of 37 members of the House of Representatives who have committed to ending the conspiracy of silence in Congress about the dangers of climate change. For more information, visit the Safe Climate Caucus website and like the Safe Climate Caucus on Facebook.