Climate Change and Women’s Rights: Intertwined Crises 

Extreme weather events threaten women disproportionately

On February 28th, the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a grim report on the status of the climate crisis. As conveyed in the IPCC report, experts from around the world have agreed that the threat of climate change on human security is “unequivocal,” and that action needs to be taken immediately. The report notes that there is a “rapidly closing window of opportunity” for measures to be implemented to secure a livable future for humanity. The UN chief has issued a warning that “delay means death.” 

The report reveals that there are currently 3.3 to 3.6 billion people living in contexts that are highly vulnerable to the risks of climate change. By 2100, weather extremes will likely increase four-fold, and up to 75% of the world population will be exposed to life-threatening heat and humidity. These statistics comprise only a fraction of the frightening information that the report reveals. As the Earth’s temperature continues to rise, the world’s population will face greater levels of illness, poverty, and food insecurity.

The IPCC has continuously found that the consequences of climate change are deeply gendered. While the deteriorating state of the climate poses a serious threat to all of humanity, on a global scale, climate change disproportionately affects women. In fact, The United Nations estimates that 80% of people who have been displaced by climate change are female. Time and time again, data reveal that women account for the vast majority of fatalities caused by natural disasters. In an unfair twist of fate, women bear the brunt of the climate crisis.

Climate change has an increased impact on those whose livelihoods are dependent on natural resources. Due to traditional occupational gender roles, women’s livelihoods are significantly more likely to fall within this category. When people depend on natural resources, natural disasters can easily rob them of their main source of income, propelling them into poverty. Compared to men, women face a far greater risk of this occurring.

Women around the world generally face greater poverty and less access to basic human rights than their male counterparts. Consequently, women are also often less able to adapt to climate change, both due to financial constraints and the lack of rights to property and land ownership.

Further, gender-based violence increases when nations face periods of economic and political instability; these periods will be increasingly more frequent as the health of the Earth continues to deteriorate. Thus, many speculate that the climate crisis has the potential to fuel violence against women. 

Despite the fact that women are disproportionately disadvantaged by climate change, they are often systematically gatekept from political processes, and therefore, unable to implement climate-conscious policies. Research has shown a strong correlation between women’s representation in political leadership roles and the enactment of more environmentally-conscious climate policies, as well as reduced emissions.

As climate change worsens, the intersection of climate change and women’s rights is gaining attention. The UN Commission on the Status of Women will soon convene for its 66th Session to examine global women’s empowerment and draft solutions to dismantle barriers to gender equality. Representatives, member states, and select NGOs will join together to discuss what has been identified as the newest priority issue affecting the future of women’s rights: the climate crisis.

The repercussions of climate change are far from gender neutral. To preserve and advance women’s rights on a global scale, the climate crisis needs to be addressed immediately and with utmost urgency. Existing gender inequalities will be severely exacerbated by further consequences of the climate crisis. At first glance, climate change and women’s rights are seemingly unrelated. However, in reality, these two pressing matters are deeply intertwined. The future of women’s rights resides in whether the world will take action to mitigate the climate crisis before it is too late.

By Nora Weiss, Government Relations Intern

Further Information

UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2022 Full Assessment Report

  • Summary for Policymakers

  • Technical Summary

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