Right-wing media have been mocking a recent resolution to address the disproportionate impacts that women will face from climate change, laughing at the possibility that “climate change will turn women into prostitutes.” But the grim reality is that climate change will affect women in ways that should not be laughed at or ignored.
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) introduced legislation on March 25 to “recogniz[e] the disparate impact of climate change on women and the efforts of women globally to address climate change.” When an identical resolution was introduced in 2013, PolicyMic reported that it would oblige Congress to “acknowledge the disparate effects that climate change will have on women, build gender into a framework for combating climate-related issues, and take steps to reverse this disparity.”
Right-wing media coverage of this bill, on the other hand, has been exclusively focused on sex -- by ridiculing the notion that climate change could force women into prostitution.
Conservative news sites published scandalizing headlines such as Breitbart's “Congresswoman Claims Climate Change Will Turn Women Into Prostitutes,” WorldNetDaily's “Lefty Lawmaker Warns: Climate Change Makes Women Prostitutes,” Powerline's “Will Global Warming Cause Prostitution?” and Daily Caller's “Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA): Global Warming Will Turn Women Into Prostitutes For Food.” A blog post on the American Spectator wrote that climate change “is going to be great for dudes, who apparently don't have to worry about any negative effects of the transactional sex they engage in as a result of the warming climate.” An editorial at Tennessee's Kingsport Times-News quoted the movie Forrest Gump to attack the proposal, writing: “Forrest Gump said that 'stupid is as stupid does.' Witness Rep. Barbara Lee, Democrat of California ... [who says] that global warming will force women into prostitution.” Fox News' late night show Red Eye devoted several minutes to mocking the idea that climate change harms women more than men. And Rush Limbaugh asked on the March 27 edition of his show, “which came first, prostitution or climate?”
They are all are referring to a single line in the bill's text: "[F]ood insecure women with limited socioeconomic resources may be vulnerable to situations such as sex work, transactional sex, and early marriage that put them at risk for HIV, STIs, unplanned pregnancy, and poor reproductive health."
The harmful impacts of climate change on women, which Rep. Lee's resolution hopes to address, are no laughing matter. A United Nations analysis detailed how women are often more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change than men, particularly in developing countries, and that it is therefore “important to identify gender-sensitive strategies to respond to the environmental and humanitarian crises caused by climate change.” U.N. Climate Chief Christiana Figueres noted further in a CNN.com op-ed that “women often bear the brunt in places where the impacts of climate change are already being felt”:
Although climate change affects all people, women often bear the brunt in places where the impacts of climate change are already being felt. This is due to their central role in their families and communities.
For example, most of the world's small-scale farmers are women, producing most of the food. This is especially true in developing countries where men often must leave their villages in search of work.
When the climate changes, women work harder and longer. As food, fuel and water become scarce, women have to walk farther to collect them. Long treks often put women at a greater risk of violence. All of this in regions where women are also the health care providers and caregivers in their families.
Several other international think tanks have detailed how the impacts of climate change will disproportionately affect women across the globe, including the Population Reference Bureau, Oxfam America, and the United Nations Development Programme. And Rep. Lee's resolution points to climate-related threats in the United States as well, noting that Hurricane Katrina displaced over 83 percent of poor, single mothers in the Gulf Coast region.
Last April, Rep. Lee expressed concern that her bill was being misrepresented by online media. She said in a statement to the Los Angeles Times:
It's unfortunate that this resolution has been misrepresented as to its goals ... Tragically, as women across the world are pushed to the margins, they become more vulnerable. And we've seen time after time that women on the edge are forced to make heartbreaking choices, this among them.
Photo at top retrieved via World Bank Photo Collection's Flickr account with a Creative Commons license.