The climate change’s impact on women and children is a crisis.” The systems and structures causing the planet to overheat are the very same fueling massive gender inequality on a global scale. As climate change pushes more families deeper into poverty, women and girls around the world are bearing an outsized burden.
They face the brunt of economic precarity, health risks, displacement dangers, and unpaid care responsibilities. Yet, policymakers and organizations largely fail to address the explicitly gendered impacts of climate disasters. Without purposeful funding and inclusive planning that puts the rights of marginalized gender groups front and center, we will never fully mitigate the climate crisis, nor build a more just world. This dire context demands immediate, collective action.
Climate change effects on industries where women predominate
Women make up substantial portions of the agricultural workforce and informal sector in developing economies, with few social protections. Climate impacts like prolonged droughts or flooding not only disrupt crop yields further entrenching poverty, but directly threaten the livelihoods and incomes of female farmers.
Additionally, climate-related disasters in vulnerable communities cause economic precarity across service industries where women predominate. Loss of jobs and income scarcity force painful financial tradeoffs.
Increased poverty puts more pressure on women as caregivers
Existing gender inequalities trap women in cycles of poverty, only worsened by climate change strains. With families pushed to the financial brink from climate hardships or related crisis migration, women absorb heightened care burdens at home.
Cultural norms dictate their time and bodies prioritize the stability of children, the elderly, and men often at the sacrifice of health, economic participation, or education advancement critical for women to break free of marginalization.
More girls are being pulled from school to contribute to family incomes
Desperate loss of crops, livestock, or jobs may compel families to take extreme steps like removing girls from schools to work. Families rationalize investing limited funds in educating sons who can later economically provide for the family.
School dropout rates for climate or conflict-displaced girls are also exceedingly high. Lost education entrenches vulnerability, curtails life options, undervalues women’s contributions, and perpetuates harmful gender norms.
Health & Safety Impacts
Increased risks from disasters, heatwaves, spreading of diseases
Climate change fuels more extreme weather upending women’s lives through injuries, trauma, communicable diseases, or malnutrition when disasters hit. Heatwaves also disproportionally threaten marginalized women who lack proper housing, and healthcare access, or must work physically-intensive jobs increasingly unsafe under extreme temperatures.
Worsening air and water pollution
Dirty household energy use combined with environmental toxins related to climate change poses immense health risks, especially for pregnant women. Contaminated drinking water from floods/droughts also increases women’s infectious disease burdens, as they remain primarily responsible for water collection adding exposure risks.
Food and nutrition deficits
Volatility in food prices, low agricultural yields of subsistence crops, and increasing water scarcity under climate strains directly undermine nutrition security. As primary caregivers, women and girls face heightened threats of anemia, maternal mortality, and stunting from sacrificing their own sustenance for other family members.
Increased rates of sexual abuse and human trafficking
Civil unrest and desperate migration stemming from climate disasters pave the way for more women and children to be coerced into sexual abuse, forced early marriage, or human trafficking fleeing one danger into the grip of another. Natural disasters also inadvertently increase protection risks by disrupting community ties and safeguards.
Coping and Caregiving Burdens
Displacement causes women to shoulder more unpaid work
Climate change is increasingly forcing families to abandon flooded, drought-ridden, or conflict-scarred home regions, with women left to pick up extra household and child-rearing duties as displaced refugees.
Hours fetching water or firewood, cooking with dirty fuels, caring for the elderly alone and other unpaid, grueling work leaves little time for education or economic opportunities to lift women out of poverty.
Shortage of basic resources adding to everyday tasks
Daily subsistence becomes harder with climate strains on water, food systems, and infrastructure. As caregivers, women take on more backbreaking tasks like walking farther to find clean water due to drought, shielding children from extreme weather events in unsafe dwellings, or finding alternative fuels for warmth and cooking as prices fluctuate – all while navigating their own health threats and trauma.
Physical/mental health strain of increased responsibilities
The relentless physical workload and emotional stress women shoulder responding to climate strains manifest in higher rates of musculoskeletal disorders, injury, depression, and anxiety especially where social constraints limit self-care. Despite bearing the brunt of impacts, women have less access to medical services or social support compounding vulnerabilities.
Call for Targeted Solutions
Need for a gendered approach to climate action plans
Environmental policy measures and investments aimed at climate change resilience must consciously evaluate gendered impacts and intentionally design interventions that confront systemic inequalities holding women back.
Climate action plans focused narrowly on carbon reductions or economic solutions often overlook the needs of marginalized groups. Holistic climate justice demands progress tracking and accountability mechanisms. It specifically assesses women’s empowerment through metrics like leadership participation, income generation, health access, education rates, and protection against gender-based violence.
Importance of funding women-led initiatives
At all levels from grassroots activism to international negotiations, long-excluded women climate leaders armed with intergenerational wisdom offer invaluable guidance on solving this existential threat in equitable ways.
Their voices and initiatives focused on resilience, adaptation, and feminist solutions deserve so much more public and private funding support. Research shows that when women control resources, positive impacts disproportionately help families and future generations.