Women, among the first victims of climate change and enduring social ills, must also be seen as principal agents for change both in curbing global warming and in attaining the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to improve the lot of humankind, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today.
“Think of the women who, as a result of desertification linked to climate change, will have to forage even farther and longer for wood and water,” he told the Women’s International Forum that brings together some of the world’s most pre-eminent women. “Think of the women small-holder farmers who could see their crop yields fall by half over the next decade because of increasingly erratic rainfall.
“Think of the women who depend directly on the environment for their livelihoods and for the well-being of their families and communities,” he said, stressing that in most parts of the world, more than half, sometimes 70 to 80 per cent, of the burden is borne by women. “People who have been the least responsible for causing climate change are suffering first and worst from its effects.
“But let us also remember: to see women only as victims is to miss the point. So let us also think of the women who are custodians of local knowledge about food rationing, water harvesting, and forest conservation. Let us recognize how their insights can point the way toward sustainable natural resources management and green prosperity for all.”
With just six days left until the opening of the UN climate change summit in Copenhagen, Mr. Ban said he was looking to women to take up the call for a fair and effective agreement that will reduce emissions while helping vulnerable communities adapt.
“Science demands that we act. So does economic common sense,” he declared. “Some say tackling climate change is too expensive, especially at a time of global economic and financial upheaval. They are wrong. We will pay an unacceptable price if we do not act now.”
Turning to the MDGs, the targets adopted at a UN summit in 2000 that seek to slash extreme hunger and poverty, infant and maternal mortality, and lack of access to education and health care, all by 2015, Mr. Ban cited the stark challenges: 93 million children, mostly girls, not in school; a woman dying every minute during pregnancy and childbirth from preventable and treatable problems; millions of women without access to decent work and social security.
“On development, too, we need to think again: of the women who change their communities,” he said. “Consider Bangladesh, where the success of microfinance has transformed the lives of its people, mainly through the empowerment of its rural women.
“Consider also the women who are shaping the policies of their countries through their growing presence in parliament. Our efforts to reach the MDGs and our response to the global economic crisis must place women at the centre of decision-making.”
He pledged to appoint more women to senior posts, noting that since taking office three years ago nine new women under-secretaries-general (USG) have been appointed and he would soon name two more to the posts of Associate Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and as head of the new gender equality entity.
“We have more women USGs than at any time in UN history – and many of them are the first women appointees to positions which have traditionally been held by men over the past six decades,” he said noting that the number of women in senior UN posts has increased by 40 per cent during his tenure. “I will continue to do everything I can to ensure the equality and empowerment of women and girls.”