FMWC call to action on Climate crises: Is our healthcare workforce ready?
The Federation of Medical Women of Canada supports the Canadian government in its declaration of a Climate Emergency and we call for urgent action in reducing carbon emissions and in mitigating the negative impacts of climate and environmental changes.
We urge political leaders to listen to the voices and experiences of women in addressing the changes we are all facing (1). In particular, women must be consulted concerning how Canada should prepare and support its health care workforce (of which the majority are women) in dealing with climate change-related health care emergencies. In addition, by utilizing gender-based analysis, policy makers can discover how climate and environmental changes adversely impact the well-being of women and girls.
The Canadian government, in June 2019, passed a motion declaring that Canada, and indeed, the world, is in a climate emergency. This was in response to a report released by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) that Canada is warming at twice the average rate globally. According to Canada’s Changing Climate Report (2), since 1948, the annual temperature in Canada has increased 1.7C, with an even greater increase in the North, average of 2.3C. The report states that the effects will include increased rates of precipitation, disappearing permafrost and the challenge of released carbon and transportation issues as roads decay, intensification of heatwaves, increased drought and forest fires, flooding and extreme weather events such as tornados and hail.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the international body (3) charged by the United Nations to provide up-to-date and accurate information on the state of climate change across the globe. In their most recent report, The Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5C (2.7F), they warn that a reduction of 1.5 is possible, but only with significant changes to how we all live, no matter where we live. The importance of 1.5 degrees is the amount needed to stave off even greater destruction and the negative effects of excess carbon emissions.
Impact on women
Climate experts warn that the effects of climate crises will highlight and further exacerbate existing inequalities. Marginalized people live in precarious environments that will first feel the effects of changing climate patterns, particularly people living in rural and lower lands areas or who are connected more intimately to the land: fishing, hunting, harvesting. Racism, sexism, ableism, will intersect to impact access to mitigation and adaptation resources.
Climate crises are already affecting many communities and countries around the world, creating climate migrants, calculated at 17.2 million in 2018 alone, displaced by the devastation of droughts, floods, forest fires, natural disasters, extreme weather events and eroding coastlines. According to the UN, 80% of climate migrants are women.
As local rivers and lakes that sustain communities dry up and disappear, women are forced to walk further to find water. In flooded areas, women are most likely to die from simply not being able to swim. During food shortages, women eat last. Female headed households are less likely to recover after natural disasters and extreme weather events. Women farmers have the most difficulty in recovery due to lack of access to recovery resources. Women are the invisible producers of food and they are specially positioned to use their intimate experiences with the land to help mitigate and adapt to climate change.
The Situation in Canada
Women and Climate Change Impacts and Action: Feminist, Indigenous and Intersectional Perspectives, a joint report by the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women and the Alliance for Intergenerational Resilience (4) states that women, particularly Indigenous women, are being left out of the climate crisis equation, with little to no analysis of the impacts on women before, during and after climate emergency situations. They charge that climate change solutions are viewed through a Eurowestern lens, favouring neoliberal, masculinized technology that perpetuate existing economic inequities over the “deep cultural shift” in corporate behaviour needed to effect real change. In addition, they assert that the economic and social wellbeing of women in “Fourth World” communities, such as Canadian Indigenous communities, are particularly impacted as their relationship to the environment shifts. It is imperative for policy makers and researchers to use a gender-based and intersectional analysis in understanding the impacts of climate crises on all Canadian women.
The Situation in Health Care
The health care services through their practices, is the largest carbon emitter in the public services sector and most health care workers are women. Again, women are under-represented in health care climate change leadership, yet policy decisions impact women’s employment and processes. In June, Physician Mothers of Canada (5), initiated a petition to the federal government calling for support for the Call to Action on Climate Change, a report produced by the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) (6). This includes prioritizing elimination of emissions across all government portfolios, adopting a carbon pricing strategy, eliminating fossil fuels, incorporation of green energy, and eliminating single-use plastics. The petition is open until October 4, 2019. You can access it here.
Importantly, health care providers need to understand the health impacts of climate crises and how to help and prepare their patients for changes in the future. CAPE has created an online toolkit consisting of 8 modules designed for health professionals to help understand the science and impacts of climate change for themselves and their patients.
FMWC is committed to advocate for and be involved in actions combating climate and environmental changes.
- CRIWA report
- Canada’s Changing Climate Report
- The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
- Feminist, Indigenous and Intersectional Perspectives, a joint report by the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women and the Alliance for Intergenerational Resilience states
- Physician Mothers of Canada
- Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment