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Why climate change disproportionately affects women

5 March 2021

The impacts of climate change are felt by all of us, but research finds that the consequences experienced due to global warming, including droughts, heat waves, rising sea levels and extreme storms affect women disproportionately more than men due to persisting gender inequalities. Today, on International Women’s Day, we raise awareness around the issue.

In line with International Women’s Day, celebrated on the 8th of March around the world, we’ve taken the opportunity to raise awareness about the interconnectedness between climate change and gender inequality, particularly in developing countries. 

The IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) reports that gender inequalities are exaggerated by climate-related hazards – increasing workloads, indoor and outdoor occupational hazards, emotional and psychological stress and mortality rates among women disproportionately more compared to men. 

This is directly attributed to women’s’ unequal access to and control over resources, education and information, as well as equal rights and decision-making powers. Women are more likely to live in poverty, have less access to basic human rights, including the freedom of movement and acquiring capital and land, and must endure greater systematic violence, which tends to worsen during periods of instability. 

On top of this, gender inequality presents additional barriers of entry for women into climate-related decisions and actions which could help mitigate the burdens and risks of climate change on communities and countries. 

To understand the true weight of climate change on gendered inequalities and its effects on women in developing countries, we’ve taken to the research to unravel some of the truth:   

1)    The detrimental impacts on education 

During crisis, when money is tight, family members need looking after or other domestic chores need increased attention, girls are often first to be forced to drop out of school. It is found, for example, that refugee girls are half as likely to be in school as boys. 

This puts girls at a major disadvantage not only in terms of prospects and in attaining economic independence, but in how to deal with climate change and its effects. 

In rural communities, girls and women are also overwhelmingly burdened with the labour of having to gather food, water and other household energy resources. This will usually require them to travel long distances to acquire the resource. This labour-intensive and time-consuming activity, alongside inequalities surrounding access to property rights, acquiring loans and other financial means, means that when impacts of climate change strike in the form of disaster and resource depletion, women are left with very heavy burdens to bear.

2)    Experiences of violence 

Extreme weather events increase the risks of violence and exploitation of women. This includes sexual and physical abuse, as well as trafficking – heightened when women must gather resources or are displaced into temporary shelters. Figures provided by the UN shed light on how 80% of those displaced by the effects of climate change are women, meaning that this issue is a lived reality not for a few, but many. 

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) similarly reports that the degradation of nature is linked to gender-based violence.

3)    Increased risks of child marriage 

With family income and survival at stake during extreme weather events and disasters brought about by climate change, child marriage is deemed as a way to reduce the financial burden of caring for girls.

In Malawi alone, climate change could mean 1.5 million additional child brides in the near future. 

4)    Worsening sexual and reproductive health 

Health service disruptions due to climate disasters are shown to increase unplanned pregnancies and reproductive health issues. Coupled with reduced access to education during extreme events, this further agitates the issue. 

Moreover, when pregnant women are displaced, their chances of receiving pre- and post- natal care are reduced, and the risks of catching infectious diseases like cholera heightened as they are forced to stay in displacement camps. 

5)    Other health-related impacts and risks

Food shortages brought by climate change also mean that girls are increasingly likely to suffer from hunger or a lack of water. In turn, this prevents them from receiving the nutrients they need, a particularly dangerous situation for pregnant women. 

With men also more likely to know how to swim, women’s lives are at greater risk during extreme weather events like flooding or tsunamis. 

A critical need for women’s involvement 

Women’s participation in climate leadership can significantly transform impacts and outcomes of climate change in communities and countries. UN has, for example, found correlations between gender inequality and worsening deforestation, air pollution, and resource loss.  

Other evidence shows that for every additional year a girl receives schooling, her country’s resilience to climate change improves.

Despite this, less than 2% of national climate strategies currently mention girls. 

Luckily, some steps are being taken to change current conditions. The 2015 Paris Agreement has, upon recognising these disproportionate effects on women, made specific provision for the empowerment of women. Global Goals 1, 5 and 13 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals also urges countries to mitigate global climate change, end poverty, as well as promote gender equality. 

Climate change is so much more than warmer weather, having direct and indirect impacts on everything and everyone on the planet. With the world’s poor majorly constituted of women, and occupying less positions of power due persisting gender inequalities, they are faced with additional risks to their psychical and psychological health and safety due to climate change. 

An issue, we can longer turn a blind eye to.



So, what can you do? Educate, talk or donate. We’ve gathered some useful resources to help get you started. 

Have a listen to some climate change podcast’s hosted by women:

Collaborate or donate to related charities: