Menu Close

Women and girls bear brunt of climate change

Add to my bookmarks
ClosePlease login

No account yet? Register

Share This Article:

Picture: Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters – Women are less likely to own land but at greater risk of hunger when droughts hit.

By Zainab Monisola Olaitan and Tinuade A Ojo

Gender equality and climate change are often seen as two distinct concepts with no relationship between them. We must investigate the link between achieving gender equality and mitigating climate change.

Studies have drawn a link between gender inequality and climate change, arguing that women are among the most affected by demography. The UN environment noted that around 80% of people displaced by climate change are women. The UN Human Rights Commission adds that when women are displaced, they are at greater risk of violence, including sexual violence.

Focus has often been placed on the devastating consequences of climate change on the environment and people as a whole, necessitating active measures towards its mitigation. However, enough attention is not being placed on the effects of climate change on women and how it stunts efforts towards gender equality.

Another side of this lack of attention is the non-recognition given to women’s work in their various communities to address climate change. It is a fact that climate change affects everyone but not equally, as it has a differential gendered impact. Women have lower climate-adaptive capacity because they have fewer material and social resources to cope with, absorb and recover from climate shock. Climate change also exacerbates an uneven distribution of labour as women spend two to 10 times more on unpaid care than men, including caring for others whose health is affected by environmental hazards.

UN Women notes that women depend on natural resources for income, sustenance, and health. They are disadvantaged regarding ownership of and access to land and control over the resources they produce. Women are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change than men, primarily as they constitute most of the world’s poor and are more dependent on their livelihood on natural resources threatened by climate change.

Due to their overdependence on natural resources for their sustenance, women in rural areas in developing countries are especially vulnerable to climate change effects. When combined with unequal access to resources and decision-making processes, limited mobility places women in a position disproportionately affected by climate change. Women and girls spend a significant amount of time each day carrying water from far-off sources as they are responsible for getting water for their families. They suffer the most from poor sanitation because the water from remote sources is rarely sufficient to meet household needs and is frequently contaminated.

Because of the changing climate, women’s roles as primary caregivers and their families health are not the only things that are impacted by inadequate access to and quality of water. It also impacts agricultural production, livestock care, and the labour required to collect, store, protect and distribute water.

Psychologist and social philosopher BF Skinner said “there is a substantial risk that the very measures that try to address climate change may increase existing inequities” due to the failure to account for underlying gender inequality. Gender-differentiated roles and duties in families and households, gender-segregated labour markets and income differences bring on differentiated vulnerabilities of women and men to the effects of climate change. Hence, we must acknowledge that gender inequality affects climate change and vice versa.

Due to the damaging effects of climate change on women, they are not only suited to find solutions to prevent environmental degradation and adapt to a changing climate, but they have a vested interest in doing so. Women are critical in their communities as they mobilise to adapt to climate change and preserve natural resources. Therefore, gender and climate change raise awareness of not only the status of men and women but also the intersections of various identities and how these impact the interactions between them and their respective roles, responsibilities, vulnerabilities, and capacities to adapt to and mitigate climate change.

Measures directed towards mitigating climate change must be comprehensive, integrated, long-term, and, most importantly, cognisant of its gendered differentiated impact. Alber notes that because climate change could otherwise increase disparities, it is necessary to analyse the many implications of planned legislation, policies, and programmes for women and men.

When considering climate change from a gender equality perspective, various aspects must be considered. One consideration relates to power and participation in policy-making: Who plans and decides, and how are the planning and decision-making carried out?

Second, climate policies should consider various gender-related aspects of climate change, including how women and men are affected, how they contribute to and perceive it differently, and the mitigation and adaptation strategies they favour. Including gender equality considerations in climate change plans are crucial because they speak to issues of equity and equality.

*Zainab Olaitan is a Doctoral Candidate in the Department of Political Sciences at the University of Pretoria.and Tinuade Adekunbi Ojo is the Head of Pan African Women Studies at the Institute of Pan African Thought and Conversation at the University of Johannesburg.