Although melting glaciers, rising sea levels and polar bears may be the faces of climate change, women " who bear the brunt of global warming " are on the front lines of its ravages.
In some areas, women provide up to 80 per cent of agricultural labour, a task that will be made more difficult with the onset of inconsistent rainfall and fluctuating temperatures since they will have less resources and capacity to adapt.
Already up to 14 times more likely to die in natural disasters, women could suffer more as hazards increase in frequency and intensity due to climate change. In the aftermath of disasters, many women who were not allowed to leave their homes without a male relative have perished, while others who never learned how to swim also lost their lives.
Household tasks often falling on women " including gathering water and fuel " will become increasingly onerous as global warming leads to shortages.
Their health will also take a hit due to increases in diseases and food shortages, and as primary caregivers, they will also see their responsibilities increase as their family members suffer from rises in diseases such as malaria and cholera.
We`re dealing with age-old problems that have more significance " as a result of climate change, said Tracy Raczek, Partnership Analyst and Focal Point for Climate Change at the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).
Even before the current economic crisis, women and girls have comprised the majority of the world`s poor. Existing inequalities between men and women will only amplify the effects of climate change, she stressed.
Nations are expected wrap up negotiations on an ambitious new climate change agreement in December in Copenhagen, Denmark.
The current negotiating text includes over 20 references to gender, including recognizing gender equity as an integral part of effective implementation of adaptation " and boosting women`s roles in decision-making processes.
It also includes language on recognizing that women and children are particularly affected by the impacts of climate change.
We hope governments recognize that [these references] are a valuable inclusion, " Ms. Raczek said.
Efforts to improve gender equality must be seen as a long-term process, but she underscored the need for systems to be put into place now to strengthen women`s participation and access so they can better deal with climate change.
Gender equality brings resilience to entire communities, " with fewer people losing their lives as a result of global warming, the UNIFEM official emphasized.
An early-warning system run by women is credited with contributing to the zero-fatality rate in the Honduran municipality of La Masica when Hurricane Mitch struck in late 1998, according to a UNIFEM-supported study. That hurricane claimed an estimated 7,000 lives and caused some $3.8 billion in damage to infrastructure, agriculture and homes in the Central American nation.
If women are recognized as stakeholders, you have a more well-balanced problem-solving paradigm, " Ms. Raczek noted, highlighting the value of real-life experience and generational knowledge in combating climate change.
In its just released State of World Population 2009 report, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) contends that the international community`s fight against climate change would be more successful if policies, programmes and treaties consider the needs, rights and potential of women.
It also states that investment in women and girls " particularly in education and health " boosts economic development, reduces poverty and benefits the environment.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has underscored that, with their skills, perspectives, and experiences, the voices of women " many of whom depend directly on the environment for their livelihoods " must be heard more clearly in responding to the impacts of climate change.
It is time to involve them as equal partners. When we do, our world as a whole will benefit, " he said in a message to an event in New York in September on peace and security through women`s leadership.
Although the UN has succeeded in amplifying the voices of women on a range of issues, including conflict prevention, conflict resolution and peacebuilding, Mr. Ban said the special perspective of women is often overlooked in global discussions on climate change.
We must do more to give greater say to women in addressing the climate challenge, " he stated.
I urge Member States to foster an environment where women are key decision-makers on climate change, and play an equally central role in carrying out these decisions. "