MADRE Statements

To Address Climate Change, We Need Social Change: Rural Women's Rights are Key to Solutions

Posted on: Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Keywords: Economic Justice, Environmental Justice, Climate Change, UN, US Foreign Policy

As world leaders gather in Copenhagen to negotiate a climate change agreement, women’s organizations emphasize that the creation of any new policy is an opportunity to advance human rights. While most Parties to the UNFCCC approach climate change as a technical or scientific problem, we hold that human rights are central to resolving the crisis. In particular, we call on the Parties—and the US in particular—to recognize small-holder women farmers as a crucial, but underrepresented constituency in addressing the crisis.

MADRE, an international women’s human rights organization, and our partners in Nicaragua, Peru, Kenya and Sudan emphasize that small holder women farmers are not only disproportionately threatened by climate change; they also hold key solutions in the eco-agricultural practices they have developed over generations. A climate agreement that upholds the full range of women’s human rights and promotes sustainable agriculture is critical to stabilizing the climate, preserving the balance of the planet and safeguarding the rights of all of its inhabitants.

Dear President Obama and the US Delegation to Copenhagen,

When President Obama took office, he promised a change from his predecessor’s failed climate policy. On the very night of his victory speech, he recognized that we inhabit “a planet in peril.” The time for bold action to address the threats of climate change—and uphold the rights of those most directly impacted by those threats—is now.

One of the most pervasive outcomes of gender discrimination is poverty among women and girls, who represent 70 percent of the world’s poor. As such, women are disproportionately threatened by impacts of climate change, including disruptions in agriculture caused by increased droughts, flooding and rising temperatures.
Women also make up the vast majority of the world’s small-holder farmers, with specialized knowledge of sustainable agriculture, preservation of biodiversity, water collection and seed banking. These are the very practices that hold solutions to the inter-related crises of climate change, ecological destruction, rural poverty and abuses of women’s human rights.

President Obama leads the country with the highest per capita carbon emissions in the world. Positive leadership from President Obama and the United States delegation in Copenhagen is critical to securing an effective climate agreement.  We therefore call on you to:
  • Agree to effective, binding targets to reduce massive US energy consumption and carbon emissions.  To avoid the worst consequences of climate change, industrialized countries need to reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. The provisional targets announced by President Obama in November do not reflect the magnitude of the crisis we face.
  • Implement the recommendations of the 2008 IAASTD Report. The study confirms that industrial agriculture is a major cause of climate change and urges a transition to small-scale, sustainable farming methods, which can feed the world and help stabilize the climate.
  • Recognize that small-scale, women farmers grow 80 percent of the world’s food. To maximize their capacity as producers, we need policies that advance the full range of women’s human rights and ensure their access to land, seeds, water, credit and other inputs.
  • Establish trade rules that prioritize natural resource conservation and human rights over profits. Support a process to replace the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Agriculture with a Convention that implements the concept of food sovereignty, whereby communities control their own food systems.
  • Recognize that women constitute 70 percent of the world's poor and are therefore disproportionately threatened by climate change; and that women's expertise and participation must be central to crafting solutions to the climate crisis.  
  • Commit financing and technical assistance to support rural and Indigenous women in developing countries—who are the least responsible for climate change—in their mitigation and adaptation efforts.


Vivian Stromberg

Fatima Ahmed
Zenab for Women in Development, Sudan

Mirna Cunningham
CADPI, Nicaragua

Lucy Mulenkei
Indigenous Information Network, Kenya

Tarcila Rivera
Chirapaq, Centro de Culturas Indígenas del Perú

Taller Permanente de Mujeres Indígenas Andinas y Amazónicas del Perú

Florina Lopez
Daughters of the Stars, Panama
Indigenous Women’s Biodiversity Network

Monica Aleman
International Indigenous Women’s Forum

Rose Cunningham
Wangki Tangni, Nicaragua

Lucy Mulenkei
Indigenous Information Network (IIN), Kenya

African Indigenous Women Organization, East Africa

International Indigenous Women Forum, Africa

Pokot Indigenous Peoples for Sustainable Development (PIPSD), Kenya

United Organization for Batwa Development in Uganda (UOBDU), Uganda

Waata Indigenous Minority Alliance (WIMA), Kenya

Habiby Muslim Women Foundation, Kenya

Naboishu Women Group, Tanzania

Entukai Youth Group, Kenya

Qalesa Environment Conservation Organization, Kenya

Hadzabe Survival Council, Tanzania

Samburu Nomads Integrated Programme (SANIP), Kenya

Namanga Environmental Organization, Kenya

Koibatek Socio-Economic Organization, Kenya

Merigo Women Group, Kenya

Tunga Cross Border Rural Peace Initiative (TOBARI), Uganda

Lelewal Women Network, Cameroon

African Indigenous Women Organization, Southern Africa

Rift Valley Women and Children Development Association, Ethiopia

Ogoni Women Network, Nigeria

Naramat Women’s Group


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