The Effect of Climate Change on Women: An Overview
BY SABINA GRIEBEL
Women are disproportionately affected by climate change - why? And what can be done? This article provides a brief overview on the effects of climate change on women and looks to future solutions.
Art by Sophia Hidalgo
Climate change has a greater impact on women; in fact, United Nation’s figures note that 80% of those displaced by climate change are women. Why is this? Time and time again the world’s poor bear the brunt of the consequences of climate change. Just from that, we can see one reason why women are more affected: 70% of the world’s poor are estimated to be women. Women’s traditional roles in the household, as well as gender discrimination, contributes to the disparity as well. Rising sea levels, desertification, and other results of global warming all add to this unequal effect.
Rising sea levels due to rising temperatures are causing upticks in diseases such as mosquito-borne malaria and water-borne cholera. Women are usually the ones in a household to care for the sick, increasing their contact with diseases. Pregnant women, along with the elderly and children, are the most at risk for death from these illnesses.
Photo from Yahoo News/Sophia Christensen
While drought and desertification threatens food sources for everybody in a community, women make up the majority of global agricultural workers. As a result, they are often left feeling the burdens of decreased crop production, both as employment and as a food supply.
When climate change affects traditional work for men, they frequently depart their homes to find employment. Left behind, women are now the ones in charge of feeding and heading their households. To exacerbate this, women are outlawed from performing tasks such as owning land, livestock, or other assets in some countries. Women sometimes turn to prostitution, worsening cases of HIV/AIDS, and communities fall into famine.
In many places, women’s and girls’ work include the finding and transporting of water. As climate change decreases access to clean water, women and girls are spending more of their time collecting water instead of attending school or earning a wage. Climate disaster can destroy water infrastructure in areas that have it, as seen in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. There, women had to spend exorbitant amounts of time finding and purifying water to perform their daily chores.
Unfortunately, these factors affecting women will also aggravate rates of sexual violence. As women and girls have to walk further to find water, they experience higher rates of rape and abduction. In addition, when resources become scarcer, women and girls will turn to prostitution, often ending up in exploitative and violent situations. Migrants are also at higher risk for sexual violence. After natural disasters, also, there are increased occurances of violence against women, including sexual assault.
Photo from PWRDF
Fortunately, there is hope. In Puerto Rico, women “showed remarkable strength, resilience, inventiveness, and community devotion” after the hurricane, creating homemade solutions to their water needs. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mali, local organizations are raising awareness and teaching sustainability to local women. In Bangladesh, a non-profit trains and hires women to install solar panels in homes.
Hopefully, more ventures like these continue to empower women and give them autonomy when facing the effects of climate change. More legislation acknowledging climate change’s unequal effect on women is necessary. Most importantly, however, is the need for work to end discriminatory laws and customs that only exacerbate the issues facing women. Women also need to be represented more in government, organizations, and institutions that study and create laws about climate change. The Paris Climate Agreement specifically notes this need for continued gender equality.