Women's Earth & Climate Action Network, International
The Women's Earth & Climate Action Network is a solutions-based, multi-faceted effort established to engage women worldwide to take action as powerful stakeholders in climate change and sustainability solutions. For Our Earth and Future Generations A project of Women's Earth and Climate Caucus and its partner eraGlobal Alliance

Why Women are Key

Women have unique and essential ideas to offer at this turning point in history when humanity is making decisions about our very existence and how we are treating our Earth--and each other.

On the ground level, providing support to women benefits entire communities and society overall. United Nations studies show us that worldwide, when women are empowered, local economies improve, populations stabilize, and children’s health and education improve.

In many countries, women get out the vote and vote more often. It has been shown that women are an essential component -- and in some cases the main one -- in peace-making. Concerning the environment, women are the main recyclers in the home, and often decide how the family income is spent. Women are responsible for half of the world's food production and produce between 60-80% of the food in most developing countries.

Women as a constituency are a relatively untapped and potentially strategic force for helping to make the societal changes we need for a clean energy future. For instance, women in North America now control over half of the wealth and are behind 80 percent of all consumer purchases. These points of leverage are often not recognized, supported or mobilized into action.

At the same time, we need to address the fact that Indigenous women and women from low-income communities and developing countries bear a heavier burden from the impacts of climate change because they are more reliant upon natural resources for their survival and/or live in areas that have poor infrastructure, which makes their communities particularly vulnerable. Drought, flooding, and unpredictable temperatures present difficult challenges for women that are responsible for providing food, water and firewood for their families.

We have been deeply touched by the remarkable efforts of women around the world who care for their families and communities under extreme environmental hardships and injustices. We imagine what can happen if these women garner support and a seat at decision-making tables. Our goal at WECAN is to ensure this.

We believe that women leaders of NGO’s, grassroots organizations, business and local and national governments can make a major contribution by developing new levels of cooperation to exercise the “applied feminine” - caring for the Earth and for future generations. These are the hallmarks of women as powerful change agents for creating a sustainable and just world.

Women at the Forefront of Change: 
Unlocking the power of women in climate solutions

  • “Women (…) are responsible for half of the world’s food production and produce between 60-80% of the food in most developing countries.” 
    FAO, Women and Sustainable Food Security(accessed: 10 Nov 2011)
  • In India and other developing countries, women are the keepers of native seed banks and biodiversity.
  • Women’s involvement in decision-making has important implications for climate change – a recent study of 130 countries found that countries with higher female parliamentary representation are more prone to ratify international environmental treaties. 
    Norgaard and York, Gender Equality and State Environmentalism. Gender and Society. 2005.
  • Women and girls are primarily responsible for collecting water and taking care of the environment in their households and communities - women are responsible for collecting water in almost two-thirds of households in developing countries. 
    WHO and UNICEF, Progress on Sanitation and Drinking Water.  2010 Update; UNDP, Resource Guide on Gender and Climate Change. 2009
  • The UN has repeatedly recognized that effective sustainable water resources management depends on engaging women at all levels of decision-making and implementation. It is now recognized that the exclusion of women from the planning of water supply and sanitation schemes is a major cause of their high rate of failure.

  • In OECD countries, women are also more likely to recycle, buy organic food and eco-labeled products and place a higher value on energy-efficient transport.  
    OECD, Gender and Sustainable Development, maximizing the economic, social and environmental role of women. 2008.
  • Women in North America control half the wealth and determine 80 percent of all consumer purchases. This market power is untapped and needs to be organized and mobilized to demand from the markets clean energy solutions.
  • Seventy percent of new businesses in the U.S. are started by women.
  • As the family’s primary caretaker and conveyor of values, women can play a powerful role in ushering in a new paradigm to promote a just and sustainable future.
  • Women have served as key leaders of social and environmental movements.



The Disproportionate Impact on Women in Low Income Comminutes and Developing Countries

  • Women comprise 20 million of the 26 million people estimated to have been displaced by climate change.  Global warming (and its impacts on such things as food production, severe storms, and drought), impact the world’s poorest nations the hardest. Consequently, women make up 80 percent of “climate refugees.” 
    Gender and the Climate Change Agenda The impacts of climate change on women and public policy, Women’s Environmental Network © 2010
  • “The poor are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and the majority of the 1.5 billion people living on $1 a day or less are women.” 
    UNFPA, State of World Population 2009: Facing a Changing World, Women, Population and Climate. 2009.
  • In a sample of 141 countries over the period 1981–2002, it was found that gender differences in deaths from natural disasters are directly linked to women’s economic and social rights.  In inequitable societies, more women than men die from disaster. 
    Neumayer and Plumper, The Gendered Nature of Natural Disasters: The Impact of Catastrophic Events on the Gender Gap in Life Expectancy, 1981–2002. 2007; Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 97(3), 2007, pp. 551–566.  
  • Sri Lanka’s 2004 Tsunami killed nearly one in five displaced women, more than two times the mortality of displaced men.  
    Nishikiori, Abe, Costa, Dharmaratne, Kunii and Moji, Timing of mortality among internally displaced persons due to the tsunami in Sri Lanka: cross sectional household survey. 2006.
  • Women in poor countries engage disproportionately in subsistence farming and water collection exposing them more to adverse repercussions of environmental degradation.  UNFPA, State of the World Population 2009: Facing a Changing World, Women, Population and Climate. 2009.
    The UN estimates that in some parts of Africa, women and children spend up to eight hours a day collecting water. As droughts increase, there will be an increased burden.
  • Women and children are generally more susceptible to the harmful effects of coal-fired power plants, including increased asthma and mercury toxins. Approximately one in six women of childbearing age now have unsafe levels of mercury in their blood and it is estimated that between 300,000 and 600,000 children are at serious risk of severe neurological and developmental impairment from mercury exposure each year. 
    Physicians for Social Responsibility
  • Women from poor countries lack access to the necessary information and financial resources to adapt to the changing climate.


  • Despite agriculture being the most common source of work for rural women in most developing regions, they have less access than men to assets, inputs and complementary services – for example just 20 percent of landholders in developing countries are women, and their landholdings are smaller than those of men.  
    FAO, The State of Food and Agriculture 2010-2011. 2010.
  • Worldwide, women predominate in food production (accounting for 50-80 percent of all food production), but own less than 10% of land. 
    IUCN, UNDP, GGCA, Training Manual on Gender and Climate Change. 2009.
  • Women in the developed world have a much greater carbon footprint than women in the developing world. While climate change is already touching the lives of the world’s most vulnerable, women in the developed world are not immune from its impacts.  They too must prepare for water shortages, floods, food scarcity, and extreme weather events. 
  • Women from the world’s wealthiest countries must use the resources they have now to curtail emissions, before it is too late. 
  • The wealthiest 20 percent of the world's population consumes 80 percent of the world’s goods and services. High-net-worth women in the US account for 39 percent of this group.
    MassMutual Financial Group–2007

Women in government and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Negotiations

  • The percentage of female delegates increased overall from 1996-2009, ranging from 15 – 30 percent, and surpassing 30 percent in 2008. In contrast, over the same period, the representation of female heads of delegation never surpassed 20 percent, but lingered around 15 percent.
    Women for Gender Justice, In Retrospect: Gender in COP15. 2010.
  • Women continue to be underrepresented in national parliaments, occupying on average only 19 percent of seats and making up only 11 of 192 heads of government.
    UNDP. Human Development Report. 2011; UNDESA, The World’s Women 2010: Trends and Statistics. 2010.
  • Widespread trend of women being overrepresented in national level environmental ministries at lower levels but under- represented at higher levels. Of the total staff of 17 environmental ministries, on average 41 percent of staff are female, while at management level in 16 ministries, excluding the ministers themselves, only 27 percent of staff are female. 
    UNEP, Gender Mainstreaming among Environmental Ministries: Government Survey 2006.
  • Between 2000-2010 as few as 10 – 15 percent of women ministers held portfolios in finance and trade; 7 percent held portfolios in environment, natural resources and energy, and 2-3 percent held portfolios in science, technology & research- all areas which are important to sustainable development as well as the allocation of related finances.
    UN Women internal calculation of the number of portfolios held by women ministers based on International Organization of Parliaments (IPU) data found in IPU, Women in Politics World Map 2000; IPU, Women in Politics World Map 2005; IPU, Women in Politics World Map 2010.