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Is climate change really creating a gender issue?
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Blog...Is climate change really creating a gender issue?

Is climate change really creating a gender issue?

Ecology News
Global Warming
woman with her child in a refugee camp
In this article, we’ll explore the connection between gender and the impacts of climate change to determine whether women are more negatively affected.
Ecology News
2024-03-21T00:00:00.000Z
en-us
woman with her child in a refugee camp

Climate change is often referred to as a ‘threat multiplier’ because it exacerbates existing social, political, and economic tensions, particularly in regions that are already grappling with fragility and conflict. Not only does this intensify conflicts worldwide, but it also places an undue burden on the most vulnerable in our societies, especially women and girls. 

Women face amplified risks from climate change due to deeply entrenched gender inequalities, which manifest in disparities in information access, mobility, decision-making authority, and resource availability. In times of disaster and climate stress, these inequalities are exacerbated, with women less likely to survive and more prone to injury. 

The aftermath of climate crises further entrenches their vulnerability: women and girls frequently find themselves with limited access to essential relief and assistance, jeopardizing their ability to recover. This ongoing cycle not only undermines their well-being but also leaves women more susceptible to future disasters, perpetuating a vicious cycle of hardship and inequality.

👉 In this article we’ll explore the connection between gender and the impacts of climate change to determine whether women are more negatively affected.

Gender issues and climate change - what’s the connection?

Climate change is often seen as a universal challenge that affects us all indiscriminately. However, a closer look reveals a significant disparity in how men and women experience and respond to climate-related crises. This disparity stems not only from economic differences but also from entrenched gender roles and social norms. 

Yet, despite the disproportionate challenges that women face they also possess invaluable knowledge and skills that are crucial for climate adaptation and mitigation. Their understanding of resource management and community networking often places them in a unique position to drive change and implement sustainable practices.

Understanding the factors that make climate change a gender issue is important if we are to develop climate change policies and initiatives that are not only effective but also equitable across society. 

In this article, we’ll explore why women are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change, how they are impacted, and why they are central to mitigating and adapting to global warming. Read on to find out more… 

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Gender issue: poverty and access to resources

The exacerbation of gender issues by climate change underscores an underlying reality: women are already disproportionately affected by poverty and limited access to resources. This pre-existing inequality makes them particularly susceptible to the extreme and volatile conditions brought about by our changing climate. 

💡 Did you know? Around 9.2% of the world’s population lives below the poverty line. This means that 719 million people live on a daily income of less than 2.15 USD. And a disproportionate portion of those living in poverty are women: 1 in 10 women across the world are living in extreme poverty! There are a variety of reasons that women are more likely than men to find themselves living below the poverty line:

  • Low wages - Globally, women face a significant wage gap, earning on average 24% less than their male counterparts. This disparity is further compounded by the fact that there are approximately 700 million fewer women engaged in paid employment compared to men, illustrating a substantial gender imbalance in the workforce.
  • Lack of employment opportunity - It’s no coincidence that 1 in 10 women in the world live in extreme poverty. 75% of women living in developing countries are part of what’s referred to as the informal economy. This means they lack employment contracts, legal rights, or protection, and are frequently underpaid. 
  • Carer roles - The burden of childcare, housework, and caring for other family members is much more likely to fall on women. In fact, women do twice as much unpaid care work as men, which is often on top of paid work! The value of this unpaid work is estimated to be around 10.8 trillion USD!
  • Longer hours - If we take into account paid and unpaid work, a woman will work an average of four years more than a man throughout her lifetime.  

Sadly low wages and lack of employment opportunities are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding the various challenges that women face in the context of climate change. Other significant factors that make them more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change are:

  • Barriers to accessing resources - Women's limited access to essential resources such as land, credit, and technology further deepens their vulnerability. In many societies, legal and cultural barriers prevent women from owning land or inheriting property, restricting their ability to make decisions that could help mitigate the impacts of climate change on their livelihoods.
  • Impact on health and well-being - The burden of poverty and climate change often results in deteriorating health for women. Limited access to healthcare, nutritional food, and clean water, compounded by the responsibilities of unpaid care, can lead to serious health issues. In times of climate disasters, these issues are exacerbated, with women and girls often the last to eat or receive medical attention.
  • Education and empowerment - Women’s education is frequently disrupted due to poverty. Girls are more likely to be taken out of school to help with chores or due to early marriages, particularly in regions where climate change impacts are severe. Education is not just a pathway to better economic opportunities, but also a means to empower women with the knowledge and skills needed to combat climate change impacts.
  • Societal expectations and mobility - In many cultures, societal norms restrict women’s physical mobility and participation in the workforce. These restrictions limit their ability to adapt or seek refuge during climate disasters. Moreover, in crisis situations, women often prioritize the safety and well-being of family members over their own, increasing their vulnerability.
It’s this intersection of gender, poverty, and climate change that exacerbates the difficulties women face. Thankfully these challenges are not insurmountable, but addressing them requires a concerted effort to understand and dismantle the structural barriers that limit women’s economic, social, and political empowerment.

How does climate change impact women?

Due to their more marginalized societal and economic roles, women often face unique challenges when it comes to the effects of a changing climate. Here, we explore the specific ways in which climate change disproportionately affects women, further complicating the already complex interplay of gender inequality:

  • Agricultural impact and food security - For women in developing countries, agriculture often serves as the primary employment sector, with many women taking on the crucial role of managing food production at the household level too. The increasing extremes of climate change, such as severe droughts and unpredictable weather patterns, pose direct threats to their capacity to sustain stable food sources. These challenges not only impact the stability of their family's nutrition but also have significant repercussions for the broader community.
  • Water scarcity and increased labor - With the responsibility of water collection often falling on women, decreasing water availability means increased labor and risks. Longer treks for water not only add a physical burden but also expose women to dangers, including heightened risks of gender-based violence.
  • Health risks and healthcare access - Unique health challenges arise for women as the climate changes, particularly in reproductive health. In regions where women already face hurdles in accessing healthcare, the added strain of climate change exacerbates these challenges. Extreme weather events can disrupt crucial health services, impacting maternal and child health.
  • Economic vulnerability and livelihoods - Economic shocks due to climate change, such as the destruction of agricultural or tourist-dependent areas, disproportionately affect women. Loss of work in these sectors can lead to increased poverty rates among women, who often have fewer alternative job opportunities than men.
  • Displacement and migration - Women are often more likely to be displaced during climate-related disasters. The UN estimated that 80% of those displaced by climate change are women. This displacement disrupts their lives significantly and makes them vulnerable to exploitation. In settings like refugee camps, women face additional challenges, including the lack of safe shelter and proper sanitation, and increased threat of sexual violence.
  • Education disruption for girls - Girls are often the first to suffer in terms of education when families face climate-related difficulties. Whether due to displacement or because their labor is required at home, interruptions in education limit their future opportunities and economic empowerment.
  • Increased gender-based violence - The aftermath of climate disasters sees a disturbing rise in gender-based violence. Research shows that women and girls are 14 times more likely to be harmed during a disaster. Economic stresses and societal upheaval contribute to this increase, with women and girls bearing the brunt of the impact.
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Case study: the impact of drought in Sub-Saharan Africa

In the rural regions of Sub-Saharan Africa and particularly in Kenya, communities are increasingly facing the harsh realities of climate change. Prolonged droughts have become more frequent and severe, creating a state of crisis that severely affects the lives of women in this region. 

As the primary caretakers of water and food in their families, women bear the brunt of these environmental changes. The scarcity of water has become a pressing issue, with traditional sources such as rivers and wells running dry. This scarcity forces women to travel greater distances in search of water, significantly increasing their daily workloads. The journey for water is not just physically demanding; it also exposes them to heightened risks, including the danger of attacks or harassment along isolated paths.

Furthermore, the failing agricultural yields due to the drought have placed an additional burden on women. As crop production dwindles, the responsibility to feed their families becomes even more challenging. This situation has a ripple effect on the entire community, especially on the education of girls. With the increased demand for help in gathering water and performing other domestic chores, many families pull their daughters out of school to assist at home. This disruption in education not only affects the immediate well-being of these girls but also impacts their future prospects and opportunities for empowerment. As a result, communities find themselves in a vicious cycle of poverty, with each drought diminishing their resilience and capacity to recover.

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Women as agents of change in climate change

As we’ve already touched on, women are not just disproportionately affected by climate change, they're also central to effectively combatting and adapting to its impacts. Their unique experiences and perspectives - especially those from marginalized communities - make them indispensable in developing and implementing effective climate strategies. 

This is because women tend to have a better understanding of and connection to natural resources, often being the primary managers of food, water, and fuel in their households. This places them in a unique position to contribute to sustainable resource management and climate resilience strategies.

Data supports the vital role of women in climate action. According to the United Nations, empowering women in environmental decision-making leads to more effective climate action outcomes. Studies have shown that when women are involved in natural resource management, there is a higher likelihood of sustainable outcomes. 

Not only this, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) states that if women had the same access to agricultural resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20 to 30%, which could help lift 100-150 million out of hunger. This underlines how gender equality in access to resources and decision-making can significantly amplify the effectiveness of climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts.

The significant value that women bring to the table with regard to change mitigation and adaptation is something that is increasingly recognized across the world. There are countless initiatives that seek to capitalize on their knowledge and skills. Let’s explore some of these success stories, highlighting the importance of including women in the fight against climate change: 

Community-led environmental initiatives in Africa

The Women’s Environment Program in Nigeria

This program has been crucial in growing sustainable environmental practices in Nigeria. It engages women in tree planting, waste recycling, and environmental education initiatives. Empowering women to lead in these areas not only tackles environmental issues but also strengthens community resilience and livelihoods.

Advancing renewable energy in Latin America

Solar power projects in rural Guatemala

In rural Guatemala, women-led cooperatives are at the forefront of implementing solar power projects. They are involved in installing solar panels and educating locals on maintenance, which not only ensures access to clean energy but also enhances women’s technical skills and leadership capacities.

Sustainable agriculture in Southeast Asia

Integrated farming systems in Vietnam

Vietnamese women are spearheading integrated farming systems that combine crop cultivation with livestock raising and aquaculture, adapting to changing environmental conditions. These sustainable practices not only enhance food security but also reduce environmental impacts, showcasing women's ingenuity in resource management.

Water conservation efforts in the Middle East

Rainwater harvesting in Jordan

In Jordan, women are leading efforts in rainwater harvesting, a vital practice in a region facing severe water scarcity. These projects involve collecting and storing rainwater for household and agricultural use, significantly improving water availability and reducing dependency on scarce groundwater.

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What about Greenly?

At Greenly, we can help you to assess your company’s carbon footprint, and then give you the tools you need to cut down on emissions. Why not request a free demo with one of our experts - no obligation or commitment required. 

If reading this article has inspired you to consider your company’s own carbon footprint, Greenly can help. Learn more about Greenly’s carbon management platform here.

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