Women are often disproportionately impacted by climate change, especially in low-income countries where they may be more susceptible to harm due to poverty, lack of education, and limited decision-making power.
But with the proper support, women can be a tremendous force in protecting their livelihoods, families, and the environment. Here are a few areas that are vital to women worldwide who are impacted by climate change.
1. Water Impacts The Impact of Water Scarcity on Women’s Workload
Women in developing countries are typically responsible for collecting water for their households. According to UNICEF, women and girls are responsible for retrieving water in 80% of households that require water collection. However, as climate change leads to water scarcity, women must travel further to find water, increasing their workload and leaving less time for education or other income-generating activities.
Hygiene and sanitation can be severely affected by the lack of access to clean water, which means women and girls can become more vulnerable to communicable diseases. In particular, women and girls of color, low-income women, and women living in poverty are especially impacted by the lack of access to clean water and diseases related to water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH). Safe WASH creates stronger livelihoods and means vulnerable communities avoid diseases. The World Health Organization states that at least two billion people use drinking water contaminated with fecal matter. When this water is used for consumption and sanitation, it can transmit diseases such as cholera, typhoid fever, and hepatitis A and E.
2. Climate Change and its Effect on Women Farmers
Women are often responsible for food production and farming activities in developing countries. Variations in extreme weather events due to climate change can negatively impact crop yields, decreasing income and food insecurity for women and their families. A report from the United Nations found that women are less likely than men to see their work demands decrease during periods of extreme heat.
Women farmers often work on small-scale farms and rely on natural resources for their livelihoods, making them highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Additionally, women farmers have limited access to resources and information, such as credit, land ownership, and technology, that could help them adapt to the changing climate.
3. Vulnerability to Climate-Related Diseases and Violence
Women are more vulnerable to the health impacts of climate change, such as food insecurity. Heatwaves, floods, and hurricanes can result in injury or death, especially for women who lack access to adequate shelter and healthcare. Additionally, these events can also lead to the spread of disease, as contaminated water and damaged infrastructure can increase the risk of infectious diseases.
Women are also more likely to face gender-based violence and exploitation as they travel further to find resources in times of scarcity. Additionally, climate-induced disasters can exacerbate gender inequalities, making women more vulnerable to gender-based violence. Finally, research indicates that women and girls are up to 14 times more likely to be harmed during a disaster.
4. Gendered Consequences of Climate Change on Economies
Women are disproportionately affected by the economic impacts of climate change, as they often work in industries that are more vulnerable to climate change impacts. The Asian Development Bank states that due to the low rate of women’s participation in the labor force and that women are mostly self-employed in the informal economy, they are more likely than men to live in the poorest households. This makes them more vulnerable to the effects of climate change, which can also exacerbate gender inequalities and limit women’s economic opportunities.
As the areas mentioned previously are affected by climate change, they have economic consequences. Women may have limited access to resources such as land, credit, and technology, which can limit their ability to adapt to climate change and mitigate its impacts. As water becomes scarcer, women may have to spend more time and energy collecting it, which can limit their opportunities to engage in income-generating activities and education. And women are often the primary caregivers for children, the sick, and the elderly, and are therefore more likely to be exposed to health risks associated with climate change.
5. Limited Education Opportunities and Climate Disruption
Household chores, including collecting water and caring for family members, often fall at the feet of women and girls. When climate change increases their workload and limits their access to resources, they may have less time for education and skill-building opportunities, which can perpetuate cycles of poverty and inequality.
Natural disasters and extreme weather events can damage schools and disrupt educational activities, leading to missed classes and decreased access to education for girls and young women. In fact, these events already disrupt the education of approximately 37.5 million students each year. And more than 200 million adolescent girls living in poverty face greater risk from these extreme weather disasters.
And in some cases, climate change can force families to relocate, which can disrupt children’s education.
Empowering Women in Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Efforts
Women are essential players in climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts. Unfortunately, they are often disproportionately impacted by the effects of climate change due to their social and economic vulnerability. However, women also have unique knowledge and perspectives that can help shape effective climate change policies and interventions.
By supporting women in areas such as water management, agriculture, health, and education, we can empower them to protect their livelihoods, families, and communities from the impacts of climate change. Ultimately, addressing gender inequality and promoting women’s participation in climate action is a matter of social justice and critical for achieving sustainable development and a more resilient future.
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