Consequences of climate change—floods, droughts, extreme weather, declining agricultural production—affect everyone. But in many developing countries, shifting temperature and precipitation patterns are making life especially hard for women and families. A new documentary, Weathering Change, tells the stories of women around the world who are shouldering a disproportionate share of the burden of climate change. Here are their stories.
Chico Canrey, Peru
Edita Zambran Romero plunges her hands into the soapy basin, where colorful items of clothing swirl together under a layer of bubbles. Black pants. Her daughter’s yellow t-shirt. A striped baby blanket.
She carefully lifts each piece, scrubbing it with the coarse bristles of a wooden brush and squeezing the suds out between her fingers, before heading across the road to a small stream. Kneeling beside it, she rinses the items, one by one. Her toddler squats next to her, tossing pebbles into the water with chubby hands.
“This river used to be much bigger,” Edita says, turning a shirt over in the rushing water. “Now it’s gone down to just a little… Without this river, where would we get water? There isn’t any.
The river comes from the ice.”
She glances up briefly at the snow-capped mountains in the distance, before returning her attention to the chore at hand. “When I was a girl, the snowcaps were really white with a lot of ice,” she says. “Now you can see that there isn’t ice left. Little by little, it’s going away. It’s melting.”
Peru’s glaciers have lost more than a quarter of their surface area since 1970. These glaciers serve as a critical source of water for millions in Peru’s rural areas and coastal cities, including the capital city of Lima. Lima has almost 9 million residents, and is growing rapidly.
Though water may seem abundant, less than 1 percent of the world’s water can be used for human needs, and population growth is already straining this limited supply. Today, around 2 billion people live in areas of water stress or scarcity, and this number is expected to rise. By 2035, around 3.6 billion people worldwide are projected to live in countries where water scarcity threatens public health and constrains food production and economic development.
“We’re worried that over time, we might not even have water to drink because there isn’t any other source of drinking water,” Edita says.
Women, in particular, will be negatively affected by water scarcity. Women and girls in developing countries are largely responsible for obtaining family water supplies and may have to walk long distances to reach a water source. Women are also mainly responsible for household hygiene and nursing sick children, who can become ill with diarrhea from a lack of clean water. Girls may also be pulled out of school to help fetch water if it is not available nearby, negatively affecting their educational opportunities.
“In the community in general, they don’t really care much about the women,” Edita says. “The way I understand it, we aren’t worth much and men are worth more. Something along those lines is understood.”
In her rural area, she sees a lack of opportunities for women to earn an income, and a tendency for more boys to attend school. She sees women struggling to care for many children without support, and facing pressure from their husbands to have even more.
“There’s a woman who lives down near the plaza… she had six children already,” Edita explains. “I told her, ‘Take care of yourself. Any method. Go to the clinic and get it.’ She said, ‘No, my husband doesn’t want it.’ But she didn’t want any more children.”
Edita hopes things will be different for her own daughter, Lourdes, now two years old. She wants her to study, and have her own profession. She wants her to use family planning and space her children, so they grow up healthy. But with a changing climate, she worries about how hard Lourdes’ life could be. Already, the heat seems hotter, and the cold more intense. In the rainy season, the grasses no longer grow tall for the animals to eat. During the dry season, the frost comes quickly, killing crops.
“We will get older and die, but the children who are just born now, they are the ones who are going to suffer through the changes that are coming,” she says.
“Without water, we can’t live. Not plants, not animals, not us. I don’t know what’s going to happen when the ice is gone.”