News: For The Environment, Women May Be Our Greatest Asset

eco-tourism women

A special report compiled by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to be released later this year is expected to show that the global average temperature increase will exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2040.

The impacts of such a rise would devastate people, planet and our shared prosperity. It is yet another reminder of the peril we have placed ourselves in and is an urgent call to action.

In responding to the challenge, our first priority must be those most vulnerable. We know that our mothers and daughters are disproportionately affected by the impacts of a warming world. According to UN figures, women account for 80 percent of people displaced by climate change.

If we are to successfully address the climate and other environmental challenges, we must not see women as victims, but rather as part of the solution. Women must be provided opportunities to be involved in and lead environmental protection initiatives – from grassroots conservation to scientific research and international climate negotiations. Indeed, women may be our greatest asset in this effort.

In Rwanda, 30 percent of applications for the most recent intake with the Safari Guides Association were women. Just a few years ago, you would have been hard-pressed to find even one. As a mentor of young women in the industry, I’m pleased to see this progress. We now need men to get on board to create more inclusive and professional working conditions for women. This is true for all environment-related fields, especially science and politics.

Given that the challenge disproportionately affects women, we need female scientists developing research to help us understand and respond to the problem. Sadly, only one quarter of the authors of the upcoming Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report are women.

It’s a similar story around the negotiation table. The average representation of women in climate negotiating bodies currently sits below 30 percent – despite research showing women in government positions are more likely to sign on to international treaties on climate action.

Even with these sobering figures, there are those blazing a trail for others. Judy Kepher-Gona, Founder of the Sustainable Travel and Tourism Agenda, is revolutionizing tourism through her work with women around protected areas in Kenya. Thanks to the leadership of Helen Lubowa from the Uganda Community Tourism Association, women are now accessing their land rights and creating meaningful jobs in rural communities.

The President of the Marshall Islands, Dr Hilda Heine, is steering the global push for greater ambition on climate action. The environment ministers of Canada, Germany, South Africa, Sweden and Japan – all women – are doing the same.

These passionate environmental champions are advancing the climate agenda so that the world moves further and faster to address climate change. If we are to solve the greatest challenge humanity has faced, and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, we must build on this progress so that women take their rightful seat at the table. Experience shows us it’s an investment worth making.

BY CARMEN NIBIGIRA
Tourism Policy Analyst & Former Head of the East Africa Tourism Platform

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