Climate Change Exacts a Harsher Impact on Women

“The femicide is directly linked to the ecocide,” Delee Nikal, part of the Wet’suwet’en indigenous community in Canada, made clear at a COP26 rally. She highlights what many are unaware of: that climate and gender issues are linked. In this case, Nikal explains how extractive industries are intertwined with violence against women and girls and how this is taking place on her native land.   

Unfortunately, this is not the only way in which climate issues have gendered impacts, and it’s important to understand these dynamics in order to implement effective mitigation and adaptation solutions.  

COP26, the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference, took place in Glasgow, UK, last month, and recognizing the relevance of gender in climate considerations, the UN dedicated November 9th as Gender Day. That being said, while gender mainstreaming has been recognized as valuable, not much has been done beyond acknowledging its importance.  

As Bridget Burns, the director at WEDO and Co-Focal Point of the Women and Gender Constituency, states about COP26, “What we have seen in Glasgow was a parade of publicity and a failure on policy.”  

Gotelind Alber, a representative from the GenderCC-Women for Climate Justice, spoke similarly about COP26, stating, “The language on gender and climate change, unfortunately, did not define a clear pathway towards gender-responsive policies, including adaptation and mitigation.” 

The outcome of COP26 therefore was disappointing, and the consequences from a lack of action are detrimental.   

Climate Change and its Gendered Impacts   

Over the years, we’ve been living out of sync with nature, exploiting our planet and its natural resources. As a result, we are experiencing global temperatures and sea levels rising, a loss of biodiversity through habitat destruction, and an increase in natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. These factors have detrimental consequences to society such as impacting access to food and water, health consequences, forced displacement, gender-based violence, and violent conflict.   

Climate change impacts the poorest countries the most, specifically those that depend on natural resources for livelihood. Not to mention, the poorest are also the ones with the least resources to adapt to climate change. It is, therefore, significant to note that women make up 70% of the world’s poor. Furthermore, there are socio-cultural norms at play, which also increase women’s vulnerability to climate change. Let’s dig deeper into why women are disproportionately affected.  

Food and Agriculture  

If we continue to emit greenhouse gases at our current rate, one-third of the global food supply will be threatened. This impacts those that are reliant on agriculture to make a living the most, which in this case means a large proportion of the female population. 

A reason for this is that in many developing countries, women are responsible for cultivating small plots of land to provide for their families while men work away from the home. This contributes to the fact that women are responsible for 50-80% of world food production. While this is the case, they own less than 20% of land. Gertrude Kenyangi, the executive director of Support for Women in Agriculture and Environment (SWAGEN), explained during the COP26 that this is often due to patriarchal inheritance practices. She also pointed out that women don’t have the authority to adapt and make changes in response to reduced land fertility caused by climate change and furthermore, that they are consequently blamed for poor management and often violently abused. 

Water  

Climate change is also bringing about water scarcity. UNICEF documented that four billion people currently experience severe water scarcity for a minimum of one month a year and that by as early as 2025, half of the world’s population might live in areas facing water scarcity.  

This has gendered impacts because oftentimes women are responsible for collecting water for their families. Worldwide, they collectively spend 200 million work hours each day doing so. Even more water scarcity will only increase the amount of time they must spend collecting water, impacting their daily workload.  

Natural Disasters 

Climate change increases the rate of hazardous weather events such as tsunamis and hurricanes, and people’s vulnerability impacts their ability to prepare, respond and recover from these disasters. 

Women, boys, and girls are 14 times more likely than men to die during a disaster. A reason for this is that social customs leave women more vulnerable to these situations. An example that highlights this point is the fact that women in certain countries often don’t know how to swim due to cultural norms and therefore are more likely to drown during a tsunami.   

When it comes to recovering from disasters, women often assume caregiving responsibilities. They are responsible for caring for the injured while also having to complete daily chores or may be pulled out of school in order to do so. In addition to this, as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) indicates, women lack the assets to recover from disaster situations and are consequently more likely to encounter sexual harassment, trafficking, unwanted pregnancies, food shortages, and vulnerability to diseases. 

Forced Displacement  

Natural disasters as well as food and water scarcity are all factors that force people to migrate. In addition, violent conflict can erupt when people fight over resources, which also causes forced displacement. According to UNICEF, by 2030, about 700 million people will be displaced by intense water scarcity alone.  

It is noteworthy that 80% of the people who are displaced by climate change are women. In these situations, health services are often not in place to address displaced women’s needs such as reproductive healthcare.  

That being said, women often don’t have the resources to migrate due to socio-cultural norms, a lack of financial assets, and a lack of access to formalized safety nets. They can consequently be stuck in climate disaster-prone areas.  

Women Must Be Given a Primary Role in Developing Mitigation and Adaption Solutions 

Women are more vulnerable to climate change impacts due to social customs and structures in place that create gender inequalities. It is, therefore, crucial to consider this and implement solutions accordingly so as not to exacerbate this issue.  

Not only would gender considerations prevent further inequalities, but they would also create more effective solutions. As the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) highlights, women have shown to be more responsive to citizens’ needs and improve outcomes of climate related projects and policies when included in political participation. Furthermore, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization highlights one of many ways it’s important to address women’s needs by pointing out “If women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20-30%. This could raise total agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5-4%.”  

Call to Action 

We need to keep our governments accountable and ensure that they incorporate gender-inclusive decision-making and equitable access to financial resources as a principal element of their climate initiatives. This needs to take place in the public and private spheres at the local, national and global levels. There also needs to be higher female representation on all constituted bodies on climate strategy since there are only currently on average 33% women government delegates, as was the case in 2019 and 2020. 

NOW takes a holistic approach to women’s rights and recognizes how climate change impacts women in a variety of ways. This matter touches on themes of economic justice and violence against women, which are two of NOW’s core issues. We are committed to raising awareness about the gendered impacts of climate issues and acknowledge the importance of necessary policy change that will address this! 

 Isabelle Homberg, President’s Office Intern 

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