Women are increasingly taking a more significant role in combating climate change. They are too often the most affected by the devastation resulting from a warming climate. “Climate change is a daily issue for us….And women must be a part and parcel of everything,” says Zandile Gumede who is the first female mayor of Durban, South Africa. The following article is re-published from an earlier post of July 2016. (Rolly Montpellier, Managing Editor of BoomerWarrior).
In much of the world, women continue to be engaged in their traditional roles as mothers and family caregivers. Climate change impacts women in many ways. Childbearing makes women more vulnerable than men. Women and young girls often spend large parts of their day in the pursuit of fresh drinking water and diminishing food supplies.
The following is a laser talk featured on the Citizens Climate Lobby website. It’s reproduced with permission.
Women’s Central Role in Climate Action
Image credit: Peoples Climate March
Women are and will continue to be disproportionately impacted by climate change. Yet, women are only 12% of those who lead the global climate policy negotiations (Harris, R. 2012). Here are just some of the impacts of climate change on women:
- Water stress and shortages will lead to an increase in women’s labour in many contexts as they have the primary responsibility of collecting water in many parts of the world (Mearns & Norton, 2010).
Females in Agricultural Labour Force
- About 2/3 of the female labour force in developing countries and 90% in many African countries are engaged in agricultural work. In the context of climate change, traditional food sources become more unpredictable and scarce. As well, women face loss of income as well as harvests.
- Related increases in food prices make food more inaccessible to poor people, in particular to women and girls whose health has been found to decline more than male health in times of food shortages. Furthermore, women are often excluded from decision-making on access to and the use of land and resources critical to their livelihoods (United Nations Women Watch).
- Gender differences in death rates attributable to natural disasters have been linked directly to women’s economic and social rights (Neumayer and Plümper 2007). Women are more vulnerable to death in extreme weather events; women typically outnumber men by 14 to 1 among those dying from natural disasters (Araujo et al. 2007, p. 1). For example, social prejudices keeps women and girls from learning to swim, and as a result, they are more vulnerable to flooding disasters (Oxfam, 2005).
- Women are less mobile due to their roles as primary care givers (Araujo et al. 2007, p. 2) making it difficult for them to move as an adaptive response to a rapidly changing climate.
- Climate change disproportionally affects women due to a lack of power and increased social exclusion in some parts of the world (Mearns & Norton, 2010).
Climate change is and will lead to more competition over resources which in turn leads to conflict and violence. Conflict amplifies existing gender inequalities. Women suffer the consequences of conflict such as rape, violence, anxiety, and depression (Osei-Agyemang, 2007).
In an April 2015 poll of Canadian women, 74% of women believe that protecting the climate is more important than building the Energy East pipeline and further developing the oil sands (Climate Action Network Canada, 2015). This is good news for our sisters in the global south, because Canada could help women around the world by pricing carbon pollution at the national level, spurring other nations to do the same and thus helping to mitigate the impacts of climate change on women.
Anne Hidalgo is the Mayor of Paris and also chairwoman of C40, a network of the world’s biggest cities engaged in fighting climate change. She maintains that “through the Women4Climate initiative, we are asking young, talented and potentially powerful women to believe in their abilities, believe in their chance, because our planet needs them.”
- Araujo, A. Quesada-Aguilar, A., Aguilar, L. Pearl, R. (2007).Gender Equality and Adaptation. Women’s Environment and Development Organization and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, Gland, Switzerland.
- Barnet, J. Adger W.N. (2007) Climate change, human security and violent conflict. Political Geography
- Climate Action Network Canada poll (April 2015) National poll shows Canadians want leadership on climate protection
- Harris, R. (2010). Women’s Environmental & Development OrganizationWomen Making the Case for U.S. Action on Climate Change. Retrieved from:
- Mearns, R. & Norton, A. (2010). Climate Change: Equity and Vulnerability in a Warming World. The World Bank.
- Neumayer, Eric, & Plümper, Thomas (2007). The Gendered Nature of Natural Disasters: The Impact of Catastrophic Events on the Gender Gap in Life Expectancy, 1981–2002.Annals of the Association of American Geographers 97 (3): 551–66.
- Osei-Agyemang, M. (2007). Temperatures Rising: Understanding the Relationship between Climate Change, Conflict and Women.Women & Environments, 74/75. Sourced here:http://www.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/pub-pdf/climateconnections_1_overview.pdf
- (2005). The tsunami’s impact on women.
- Sumati, N., Kirbat, P. & Sexton, S. (2004). A Decade after Cairo: Women’s Health in a Free Market Economy.Corner House Briefing 3. thecornerhouse.org.uk/item.shtml?x=62140.
- United Nations Women Watch.