Women Face The Brunt Of Climate Change: An Urgent Call For Gender-Responsive Solutions
Women and men often have different roles, responsibilities, and access to resources, impacting how they adapt to climate change.
Gender is an important factor in climate change, as it affects how people experience, respond to and are impacted by climate change. Women and men often have different roles, responsibilities, and access to resources, impacting their ability to adapt to climate change and contribute to mitigation efforts.
For example, women gather food, water, and fuel in many parts of the world. They may have to travel farther distances due to changes in weather patterns or declining resources. This can put them at greater risk of physical harm and limit their ability to participate in other activities such as education or income generation.
Moreover, women are often excluded from decision-making processes related to climate change and environmental policies, which can result in policies that do not address their needs or priorities. This can perpetuate gender inequalities and exacerbate the impacts of climate change on women.
Climate Change and Gender Relations: Understanding the Unequal Impact
Climate change can have significant impacts on gender relations, as it can exacerbate existing gender inequalities and create new challenges for women and men. Some of the ways in which climate change is impacting gender relations include:
Increased Workload For Women
According to the United Nations, women in developing countries spend up to 10 times more time than men collecting water and fuel and can spend up to 90% of their day on unpaid care work. As climate change leads to declining natural resources and more frequent natural disasters, women may have to spend even more time and energy collecting water, fuel, and food, which can limit their ability to participate in education, income generation, or other activities. As climate change leads to declining natural resources and more frequent natural disasters, women are spending more time and energy collecting water, fuel, and food, which can limit their ability to participate in education, income generation, or other activities. In some cases, climate change is shifting traditional gender roles and responsibilities. But men are not supporting in, and women’s burden is increasing in the process. In some parts of India, climate change has shifted traditional gender roles and responsibilities. For example, men traditionally working in agriculture are now migrating to urban areas for employment, leaving women to work in agriculture.
Displacement And Migration
According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, women and girls are often more vulnerable to displacement and its associated risks, such as sexual violence, exploitation, and forced marriage. Data from the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) shows that the number of migrants in India increased from 31.5 crores in 2007-08 to 45.4 crores in 2011-12. The majority of migrants, over 63%, were male. In addition, rural-to-urban migration accounted for most of the migration in India, with 52% of migrants moving from rural to urban areas. Reports show that climate change is one of the factors for forced displacement and migration, which impacts women and men differently. Women may be more vulnerable to sexual violence and exploitation during migration, while men may face greater challenges in finding employment and supporting their families.
According to the World Health Organization, climate change is expected to increase the number and intensity of climate-sensitive health outcomes, such as heat stress, malnutrition, and vector-borne diseases. Climate change has increased health risks like heat stroke, respiratory illness, and water-borne diseases. Women, in many cases, are more vulnerable to these risks due to their physiological differences and limited access to healthcare. In India, women are particularly vulnerable to the health impacts of climate change, including climate-related diseases. According to the National Health Profile 2019, women accounted for 63% of all deaths due to climate-sensitive diseases in India.
One example of a climate-related disease that disproportionately affects women in India is dengue fever. Data from the National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme shows that between 2016 and 2019, the number of reported dengue cases in India increased from 1.29 lakh to 1.88 lakh. In 2019, more than 51% of reported cases were women. Heat stroke is another climate-related health risk that can affect women more severely than men in India. According to a study by the Indian Council of Medical Research, heatwave exposure accounted for over 6,000 deaths in India between 2010 and 2019. Women accounted for 68% of these deaths, with many cases occurring in rural areas where women are more likely to engage in outdoor work.
Increased Conflict And Violence
According to the United Nations, women and girls are often more vulnerable to gender-based violence during conflict and displacement. Climate change can exacerbate conflict over scarce resources such as water and land, leading to increased violence and displacement. Women may be more vulnerable to gender-based violence in these contexts.
Gender and Climate change: From Vulnerability to Resilience
It is vital to recognise the gendered dimensions of climate change and to ensure that policies and strategies for adaptation and mitigation are gender-responsive and promote gender equality. However, gender can also be a source of strength and resilience in the face of climate change. Women are often the primary caregivers in their families and communities and can play an essential role in promoting sustainable practices and educating others about the impacts of climate change. Additionally, women's groups and organisations can provide a platform for women to voice their concerns and participate in decision-making processes related to climate change.
Overall, it is essential to recognise the ways in which climate change can impact gender relations and to ensure that policies and strategies for adaptation and mitigation are gender-responsive and promote gender equality. This can include ensuring women's participation in decision-making processes, providing access to resources and services that meet women's needs, and addressing gender-based violence and discrimination.
The policy option is to adopt a gender-responsive approach in all climate change mitigation and adaptation policies and strategies. This can involve incorporating gender analysis and mainstreaming gender perspectives into policy design, implementation, and monitoring, to ensure that the different needs, priorities, and experiences of women, men, girls, and boys are considered. This approach can also involve empowering women and other marginalised groups to participate in decision-making processes and ensuring their access to resources, information, and technologies that can help them adapt to the impacts of climate change and mitigate its causes. Such measures can contribute to a more equitable and sustainable response to climate change that benefits everyone.
Anjal Prakash is the Research Director and Adjunct Associate Professor Bharti Institute of Public Policy at the Indian School of Business. He led the cross-chapter box on gender and climate change in WG2 of IPCC, published in 2022.
The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of BQ Prime or its editorial team.