Climate change deal must aim to help women: U.N.

LONDON (Reuters) - Women bear the brunt of drought, rising seas, melting glaciers and other effects of climate change but are mostly ignored in the debate over how to halt it, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) said on Wednesday.

In its 2009 state of the world population report, the agency said the world’s poor are the most vulnerable to climate change and the majority of the 1.5 billion people living on $1.0 a day or less are women.

“Poor women in poor countries are among the hardest hit by climate change, even though they contributed the least to it,” said UNFPA executive director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid.

World leaders are due to meet at a U.N. global warming summit in Copenhagen in December and the U.N. agency urged them to think about how much women are harmed by climate change and how much they could be engaged in the fight against it.

“With the possibility of a climate catastrophe on the horizon, we cannot afford to relegate the world’s 3.4 billion women and girls to the role of victim,” Obaid said in a commentary on the report. “Wouldn’t it make more sense to have 3.4 billion agents for change?”

Obaid said that because the poor are more likely to depend on agriculture for a living, they risk going hungry or losing their livelihood when droughts, floods or hurricanes strike. They also tend to live in marginal areas, more vulnerable to floods, rising seas and storms.

Because women are often the poorest in society and have less power over their lives, less recognition of economic worth and bear the brunt of raising children, they suffer more, she said.

The UNFPA report cited research which showed that women are more likely than men to die in natural disasters and that the gap is widest in poorer societies where women have low status.

It called for investments aimed at empowering women and girls -- particularly in education and health -- and said the international community’s fight against climate change was more likely to succeed if policies and treaties take into account the needs, rights and potential of women.

“Girls with more education, for example, tend to have smaller and healthier families as adults,” it said. “Women with access to reproductive health services, including family planning, have lower fertility rates that contribute to slower growth in greenhouse-gas emissions in the long run.”

Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton