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Doña Rosa reaches for sev­eral old plas­tic Coca-Cola bot­tles filled with de­hy­drated onion, spinach, car­rot, and a va­ri­ety of other veg­eta­bles. She emp­ties a lit­tle of each into a bowl and, af­ter a few min­utes, adds sev­eral hand­fuls of these veg­eta­bles to the pot of boil­ing wa­ter on her stove. This pre­served food not only saves the time of buy­ing, prepar­ing, and chop­ping veg­eta­bles; it also pro­vides meals for her fam­ily when there are block­ades of the city or when veg­etable prices rise - both of which are com­mon oc­cur­rences in the life of Doña Rosa An­gulo, a woman liv­ing in the south­ern zone of the city of Cochabamba, Bo­livia. This south­ern zone is what is known as a 'peri-ur­ban' area, and within it is sit­u­ated the com­mu­nity of Maria Aux­il­i­adora, where Rosa lives.

This com­mu­nity was es­tab­lished for women. Only women own the land and only women can hold the po­si­tions of pres­i­dent and vice pres­i­dent. A process in­volv­ing the en­tire com­mu­nity has been es­tab­lished to deal with any do­mes­tic vi­o­lence. It is a place where many women have found safety and sup­port.

My col­league Leny and I spent three months vis­it­ing mem­bers of the Maria Aux­il­i­adora com­mu­nity and learn­ing about these women’s re­silience to chal­lenges in their daily lives. The pro­ject 'Cli­mate Change is About.. Women' seeks to show the re­la­tions be­tween this re­silience and the global chal­lenge of cli­mate change, in­clud­ing the dis­pro­por­tion­ate im­pact it has on women.

Cli­mate Change and Dis­pro­por­tion­ate Im­pacts

In 2013 the In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change (IPCC) des­ig­nated cli­mate change as a threat to hu­man se­cu­rity for the first time. How­ever, we are not all im­pacted equally. The IPCC re­port states that 'peo­ple who are so­cially, eco­nom­i­cally, cul­tur­ally, po­lit­i­cally, in­sti­tu­tion­ally or oth­er­wise mar­gin­al­ized are es­pe­cially vul­ner­a­ble to cli­mate change.'1 Those who have done the least to cause cli­mate change suf­fer dis­pro­por­tion­ately from its ef­fects.

How we have con­tributed to and are af­fected by the plan­e­tary cri­sis dif­fers de­pend­ing on where we live. Those liv­ing in the global North are not im­pacted to the same de­gree as those liv­ing more vul­ner­a­bly in the global South, nor have those from the ‘de­vel­op­ing’ world con­tributed to the cri­sis any­thing like as much as gov­ern­ments, in­dus­tries and pop­u­la­tions in rich coun­tries. Mit­i­ga­tion, adap­ta­tion, and re­silience have dif­fer­ent mean­ings in the global North than in the global South. While we all have re­spon­si­bil­i­ties when it comes to the cur­rent cri­sis, our re­spon­si­bil­i­ties do dif­fer de­pend­ing on where we are based.

In the global North we must think about adap­ta­tion, but not at the ex­pense of mit­i­ga­tion ef­forts or con­sid­er­a­tion of the his­tor­i­cal in­jus­tices that have de­fined the dy­nam­ics be­tween the rich and poor ar­eas of the globe. In­hab­i­tants and gov­ern­ments of wealthy coun­tries need to fo­cus on mit­i­ga­tion first and fore­most, and on ad­dress­ing un­sus­tain­able, highly en­ergy-in­ten­sive lifestyles. The ap­proach to "de­vel­op­ment" of poorer na­tions like­wise needs to have sus­tain­abil­ity and jus­tice at its core. Just one ex­am­ple would be ad­dress­ing the de­for­esta­tion of large swaths of the Ama­zon for agroin­dus­try. The South has a lot to of­fer in terms of learn­ing about al­ter­na­tive de­vel­op­ment, ways of liv­ing, adap­ta­tion and re­silience. The North also has a lot it needs to of­fer in terms of tech­nol­ogy and knowl­edge trans­fer around both sus­tain­able in­fra­struc­ture and adap­ta­tion as­sis­tance. But once again, ac­knowl­edg­ing and meet­ing these re­spon­si­bil­i­ties must not dis­tract from a fo­cus on mit­i­ga­tion and over­all emis­sions re­duc­tion. Rich coun­tries must not be al­lowed to use South­ern 're­silience' or small hand­outs of adap­ta­tion aid money as an ex­cuse for car­ry­ing on with busi­ness-as-usual.


Re­search by Ox­fam states that be­cause of the com­bi­na­tion of its ge­o­graph­i­cal lo­ca­tion, di­verse ecosys­tems, ex­treme poverty and in­equal­ity, Bo­livia is one of the most vul­ner­a­ble coun­tries im­pacted by cli­mate change.2 ‘In Bo­livia... five main im­pacts are pre­dicted to re­sult from cli­mate change: less food se­cu­rity; glacial re­treat af­fect­ing wa­ter avail­abil­ity; more fre­quent and more in­tense ‘nat­ural’ dis­as­ters; an in­crease in mos­quito-borne dis­eases; and more for­est fires.’3 This means a unique vul­ner­a­bil­ity to cli­mate change as well as lim­ited (and, in some cases, dwin­dling) re­sources, such as wa­ter, with which to con­front its pre­sent and fu­ture ef­fects – to adapt and be re­silient.


One fea­ture of Bo­livia’s fu­ture cli­mate sce­nario is mas­sive rural to ur­ban mi­gra­tion ac­com­pa­nied by poverty, un­em­ploy­ment, and the un­rav­el­ing of tra­di­tional so­cial fab­ric.4 The 2013 IPCC re­port also iden­ti­fied in­creased mi­gra­tion as a fu­ture ex­pec­ta­tion of cli­mate change im­pacts on hu­man se­cu­rity.5 How­ever, this is not a fu­ture cli­mate sce­nario. Bo­livia is al­ready wit­ness­ing mass mi­gra­tion to ur­ban ar­eas, such as El Alto, the south­ern zone of Cochabamba, and Plan 3000 in Santa Cruz. In El Alto in-mi­gra­tion has been so high that the pop­u­la­tion of one mil­lion has sur­passed that of the ad­ja­cent city of La Paz, the po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal of Bo­livia.

This blur­ring of the rural and ur­ban di­chotomy is seen pri­mar­ily in the global South and the re­sult­ing conur­ba­tions, of­ten in­for­mal, have been in­creas­ingly re­ferred to as “peri-ur­ban ar­eas”. Such ar­eas are po­lit­i­cally mar­gin­al­ized and tend to lack nec­es­sary ser­vices such as wa­ter de­liv­ery. A large sec­tion of the rapidly grow­ing world pop­u­la­tion is mi­grat­ing to these ar­eas, be­ing left ex­tremely vul­ner­a­ble to cli­mate change im­pacts and liv­ing with un­cer­tain food, wa­ter and other re­sources.


Within these peri-ur­ban ar­eas it is also the case that not all are af­fected by cli­mate change equally. Women will be dis­pro­por­tion­ately im­pacted. The 2009 Ox­fam re­port high­lights that cli­mate change im­pacts in Bo­livia will not be felt uni­formly and that women, small­holder farm­ers and poor com­mu­ni­ties will bear the brunt of this prob­lem, to which they did not con­tribute.6

These women cook, clean the house, wash clothes, make sure there is food and wa­ter, watch the kids, main­tain agri­cul­tural land and many also work out­side of the home - sell­ing what they can, sewing, cook­ing, nurs­ing…Few have the time or money to study, much less earn a de­gree and be­gin a pro­fes­sion. Many of these same women ex­pe­ri­enced sex­ual vi­o­lence as young girls and/or teenagers and go on to live with sex­ual and/or do­mes­tic vi­o­lence as adults. Women have an un­equal bur­den of re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, less time avail­able, and ex­pe­ri­ence a greater amount of daily vi­o­lence. It has also been em­pha­sized that women lack ac­cess to par­tic­i­pa­tion in pol­icy and de­ci­sion mak­ing and that they have fewer in­for­ma­tion re­sources and less de­ci­sion mak­ing au­thor­ity to cope with cli­mate shocks and stresses.7 Women live the im­pacts of cli­mate change dis­tinctly - as an­other form of vi­o­lence in their lives, in­ter­wo­ven with the rest; and they bear a larger bur­den of the vi­o­lence than their male coun­ter­parts.

Yet most women forge on day af­ter day, think­ing of their chil­dren: mak­ing sure their bel­lies are full, that they are healthy, that they are go­ing to school. Women around the world are re­silient. Many are the rocks of their fam­i­lies de­spite the great amount of vi­o­lence and op­pres­sion that they live with every­day. Some women - those that have the sup­port, re­sources, strength and op­por­tu­nity that they need - have more chances to get out of vi­o­lent sit­u­a­tions. It be­comes pos­si­ble for them to take back con­trol of their lives, for them­selves and for their chil­dren.

Much of the cli­mate change dis­course frames “…women as ‘vul­ner­a­ble, pas­sive vic­tims,…[which] re­in­forces [the] ex­clu­sion of women as ‘ac­tive agents’ in re­spond­ing to cli­mate change and ig­nores their ca­pa­bil­i­ties, knowl­edge and rel­e­vant skills, which should be built upon in cli­mate re­sponses.”8 The strength and re­silience of women, in di­verse ar­eas of their lives, makes a woman’s vi­sion dis­tinct when it comes to con­fronting the in­creas­ing dif­fi­cul­ties of cli­mate change im­pacts on, for ex­am­ple, their house­hold bud­gets and food se­cu­rity.

Women are not pas­sive vic­tims of vi­o­lence or po­lit­i­cal mar­gin­al­iza­tion and nor are they pas­sive vic­tims of the ef­fects of cli­mate change on their lives. Women’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties, skills, and knowl­edge are the di­rect re­sults of every­thing they have ex­pe­ri­enced as chil­dren, as wives and as pri­mary care­tak­ers of their chil­dren; as sur­vivors of sex­ual and do­mes­tic vi­o­lence; and as those re­spon­si­ble for pro­vid­ing food and wa­ter. Their over­all re­silience means that they are uniquely able to con­front the ef­fects of cli­mate change in their homes and com­mu­ni­ties.

How­ever, it would be a fur­ther in­jus­tice to rely solely on women to take this on. Do­ing so would add to the al­ready in­equitable bur­den of re­spon­si­bil­ity - and poverty of time - that women bear. Re­sponses to these im­pacts should be col­lec­tive in na­ture, with in­di­vid­u­als and com­mu­ni­ties learn­ing from women’s dis­tinct abil­i­ties and knowl­edge in or­der to re­pro­duce the re­silience they demon­strate at the per­sonal level in the broader so­ci­etal ef­fort to con­front cli­mate change.

And of course, re­silience does have a limit, es­pe­cially in ex­treme con­di­tions. While the ca­pac­i­ties of women like those liv­ing in Maria Aux­il­i­adora to bounce back from shocks and suf­fer­ing is ad­mirable, in the end of course women should not have to be so re­silient: the un­der­ly­ing causes of those shocks and suf­fer­ing are sys­tems of pa­tri­ar­chal op­pres­sion which give so­cial sanc­tion to vi­o­lence against women as well as poverty and eco­nomic in­equal­ity. These sys­tems need to be chal­lenged and taken apart. Women are not un­break­able, even if they are re­silient. With­out sys­temic threats to their well­be­ing, all women could en­joy op­por­tu­ni­ties to flour­ish and de­velop them­selves in other ways. What ap­plies at the per­sonal level is also rel­e­vant when we talk about cli­mate re­silience. The strate­gies that many women em­ploy in deal­ing with cli­mate change in their daily lives at pre­sent may not serve them as their sit­u­a­tions shift and the con­se­quences be­come more ex­treme. But we also have to work to mit­i­gate against those more ex­treme im­pacts – which again means con­fronting cli­mate change and its in­her­ent in­jus­tices at the sys­temic level. Ad­dress­ing cli­mate change im­pacts and vi­o­lence against women go hand in hand.


“Due to the frag­ile phys­io­graphic con­di­tions of the coun­try, the state of the land and wa­ter re­sources, and the pre­car­i­ous agri­cul­tural sys­tems, food se­cu­rity in [Bo­livia] is highly vul­ner­a­ble to cli­mate change ef­fects.”9 This 2008 state­ment re­in­forces the 2013 IPCC re­port’s find­ing that one of the key threats that cli­mate change rep­re­sents is to our food. Crop yields need to in­crease to sup­port the growth of the global pop­u­la­tion, but yields such as wheat and corn have slowed over the last 40 years. The re­port shares the ex­pec­ta­tion of us see­ing in­creas­ing food short­ages and ris­ing food prices over the next half-cen­tury.10

“The main way that most peo­ple will ex­pe­ri­ence cli­mate change is through the im­pact on food: the food they eat, the price they pay for it, and the avail­abil­ity and choice that they have,” says Tim Gore, head of food pol­icy and cli­mate change for Ox­fam.11 This will be ex­pe­ri­enced more acutely by those liv­ing in peri-ur­ban ar­eas and by women, who are gen­er­ally re­spon­si­ble for pro­vid­ing food and wa­ter for the fam­ily. Rosa An­gulo and her fam­ily live in the south­ern zone of Cochabamba and she re­mem­bers how 2 bo­li­vianos (ap­prox US¢30) used to buy 25 ba­nanas and 7 bo­li­vianos used to buy 3 ki­los of onion; now the price of 25 ba­nanas fluc­tu­ates be­tween 5 and 10 bo­li­vianos and you need 14 bo­li­vianos to buy that amount of onion. A 2010 study by the Women’s En­vi­ron­men­tal Net­work says that women in poor com­mu­ni­ties, as a re­sult of cli­mate change im­pacts, are more likely to “ex­pe­ri­ence in­creased bur­dens of wa­ter and fuel col­lec­tion, feel the ef­fects of ris­ing food prices most acutely, and be the first to suf­fer dur­ing food short­ages…[as well as] be ex­pected to, and need to, adapt to the ef­fects of cli­mate change, in­creas­ing their work­load.”12

Women in Bo­livia like Rosa An­gulo are al­ready ex­pe­ri­enc­ing both food short­ages and food price in­creases as a re­sult of cli­mate change im­pacts. With agri­cul­tural pro­duc­ers los­ing an in­creas­ing num­ber of crops due to ef­fects such as changed plant­ing sched­ules and heavy and de­struc­tive floods in the Beni re­gion, less veg­eta­bles and fruits are ar­riv­ing in Cochabamba. More widely felt is the im­pact on in­creas­ing food prices. 2013 world food prices were the third high­est they’ve ever been13 and a UK re­port by the In­sti­tute of De­vel­op­ment Stud­ies pre­dicts a 20-60% rise in food prices by 2050. Mean­while 2012 was the sec­ond to worst, and 2011 the worst year so far, for in­flated food costs.4 This demon­strates a trend of in­creas­ing cri­sis which is only set to worsen in the face of an ever more un­pre­dictable cli­mate. Those most vul­ner­a­ble, es­pe­cially women, will be fac­ing the brunt of this. Ad­di­tion­ally, in­ten­sive in­dus­trial farm­ing and ex­trac­tive in­dus­tries will be pushed more heav­ily onto de­vel­op­ing economies - when sus­tain­able food sov­er­eignty should be a main fo­cus and pur­suit.


Doña Irene Car­dozo has put her fam­ily’s qual­ity of life at the cen­ter of her daily de­ci­sion-mak­ing. Liv­ing in the com­mu­nity of Maria Aux­il­i­adora she is the owner of her own home - which she built her­self - pro­vid­ing a se­cure, sta­ble, and safe place to live for her­self and her two daugh­ters. Be­long­ing to the com­mu­nity and own­ing her own home sup­ported Irene in get­ting away from do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, and they pro­vide the place where she can plant trees and veg­eta­bles so that she and her daugh­ters have a se­cure fresh food source free from pes­ti­cides, preser­v­a­tives and chem­i­cals. This is a huge help to them, par­tic­u­larly as veg­etable prices con­tinue to rise in the mar­ket, which is close to an hour’s bus ride away.

Back at Doña Rosa’s kitchen table, we sat down to eat a soup she had pre­pared with her de­hy­drated veg­eta­bles and which she shared with us for lunch. Around the world women are striv­ing to pro­vide healthy food and a se­cure en­vi­ron­ment for their chil­dren, to en­able them to thrive.

The changes in cli­mate af­fect the abil­ity to ac­com­plish this. It is be­com­ing harder to be re­silient be­cause we are faced with more chal­lenges – some, of course, much, much more so than oth­ers. Yet for the women we spent sev­eral months vis­it­ing in Maria Aux­il­i­adora, the im­pacts they are feel­ing from cli­mate change are just an­other chal­lenge in a vast sea of vi­o­lence they have been en­coun­ter­ing their whole lives. The ways in which they are each re­silient are in­spir­ing.

Carey Averbook

Carey Averbook is a photographer and poet living in California.
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