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May 10, 2013

Remembering All Mothers on Mother's Day


By Naomi Brodkey, Program Assistant, Global Population and Environment Program

While moms in America are celebrated this Mother’s Day weekend, we should take time to recognize how climate disruption is making mothers' jobs much harder everywhere.

In many parts of the world, women continue to fill traditional roles as mothers and caregivers. They are often the first to rise to collect water and firewood, prepare food, and care for young children, but these already strenuous tasks are becoming ever more daunting due to unanticipated and continued climate disruption. In the 2009 United Nation’s Population Fund (UNFPA) “State of the World Population” publication, Leucadia, a rural Bolivian woman, tells of the dried streams from the Huayna Potosi glacier and the hours she now spends collecting water to prepare food and irrigate crops. For many, securing these resources is not just a struggle, but a fight. At a presentation about his newest book this week in Washington, D.C., author and doctor Paul Farmer quoted a Haitian woman who spoke of her daily struggle for survival as a fight to collect food, wood and water – for her 5 children.

The realities of climate disruption are well documented, as are the disproportionate effects that it has on women. United Nations WomenWatch’s “Women, Gender Equality and Climate Change” states, “The effects of climate change, including drought, uncertain rainfall and deforestation, make it harder to secure … resources. By comparison with men in poor countries, women face historical disadvantages, which include limited access to decision-making and economic assets that compound the challenges of climate change.” The unreliability of resources forces women like Leucadia to wake up even earlier and walk even further from home, spending more time collecting water and fuel – tasks which already comprise about 26 percent of their waking hours – rather than spending time with their children at home.

For a number of reasons, including gender disparities in economic and social rights, women are also less mobile during natural disasters and more vulnerable than men of dying during extreme weather events. This has also been evidenced in the United States, for example when “83 percent of low-income, single mothers” were displaced in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf Coast in 2005. As the primary family caregivers, women are tasked with ensuring the safety of their children and other family members before securing their own.

Economic and social inequalities make it harder for women to adapt to climate disruption – as do inequalities in education and women’s lack of control over their own reproductive health. Giving mothers the ability to plan their family size and space their children is in fact a climate change adaption strategy.

Women who can choose when and how many children to have can be more economically independent, can reduce carbon emissions, and can better plan for and adapt to future climate disruptions. Empowering women with access to family planning resources strengthens entire communities’ ability to adapt, and it enables mothers to invest in their children’s health, education and well-being.

This Mother's Day weekend, while we thank our mothers for all that they already do, let’s ensure that mothers everywhere have the same ability to care for their own families. I can’t think of a gift mothers would appreciate more than having the resources to raise happy, healthy kids.

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