Climate change is arguably the one disaster that unites the world; something that will wreak havoc across countries and oceans alike due to its all-encompassing nature. Despite the unbiased nature of CO2, climate change itself is not a gender-neutral phenomenon; the impacts are found to have disproportionately negative effects on women, especially those from lower socio-economic backgrounds. With the fate of (effectively) half of the world’s population hanging in the balance, this is something that deserves immediate attention though research in adaptation and prevention specifically targeted at the impacts on women.
Economic and social inequality between the sexes is the first major stumbling block in the face of climate change. Many women, particularly those from poorer backgrounds, have limited economic and work opportunities. This leaves them more vulnerable to the effects of climate change; over 83% of single mothers were unable to return home for over 2 years following the impacts of Hurricane Katrina, a tragedy argued in part to be the result of climate change.
Gender specific roles are also a setback for women across the world, as following events such as Katrina many jobs are initially to be found in the construction industry, stereotypically a male profession. Similarly, women in rural areas within developing countries often take up providing roles where they gather fuel, food and water for their families, and are as such heavily dependent on the natural environment. This leads to increased risk to their livelihoods as a warming climate causes plants and animals to shift their ranges, and means they have lower adaptive capacities in the event of a resource shortage.
Studies have also shown that many women experience decreased life expectancies following catastrophic events, such as climate induced natural disasters and resource shortages. This suggests that women are at greater risk from mortality than men as a result of climate change.
Women are also underrepresented in the global climate discussion; the average representation for women in both national and global climate regulatory bodies is only 30%. This means that the issues faced by women more than men are perhaps not given the placement they deserve on the global stage, preventing greater change from happening.
Whilst women (especially from poorer socio-economic backgrounds) are found to be disproportionately impacted by climate change, this is an area in which steps are being taken to address the inequality. The 2015 Paris agreement outlines specific provision for the empowerment of women, taking into account the ways in which climate change adversely impacts their lives across the globe. Further development is required, but this is a beginning.
OCS Media Team
The latest in climate science and policy from the OCS team.