Gender inequality and climate change – here’s the link

  • The climate crisis has a greater impact on women than on men and, in fact, amplifies existing gender inequalities, warns UN Women.
  • Acting as a ‘threat multiplier’, the crisis makes women increasingly vulnerable to gender-based violence, the effects of future disasters, health threats and other gender inequalities.
  • Centering the experiences and challenges faced by diverse groups highlights the connections between all struggles for justice and liberation, says one activist.

The gender inequality associated with the climate crisis is one of the greatest challenges of our time. It poses a threat to the ways of life, livelihoods, health, safety and security of women and girls around the world.

Historically, climate change scientists, researchers and policy makers have struggled to make the vital links between gender, social equity and climate change. As more and more data and research reveal their clear correlation, it’s time to talk about the disparate impacts of climate change and the links between women’s empowerment and effective global climate action.

On International Women’s Day, we look at the impact of climate change on women and girls, why gender equality is key to climate action and what you can do to support solutions for women, by women.

Haiti, 2016. Aftermath of Hurricane Matthew

Women and girls often face greater health and safety risks and take on increased responsibilities in the aftermath of extreme weather events.

Image: UN WOMEN/UN MINUSTAH/Logan Abassi.

What is the impact of climate change on women and girls?

The climate crisis is not ‘gendered’. Women and girls are the most affected by climate change, which amplifies existing gender inequalities and poses unique threats to their livelihoods, health and safety.

Around the world, women are more dependent on natural resources, but have less access to them. In many areas, women bear a disproportionate responsibility for the provision of food, water and fuel. Agriculture is the most important employment sector for women in low and lower middle income countries, during periods of drought and erratic rainfall, women, as agricultural workers and primary buyers, work harder to secure income and resources to their families. This puts additional pressure on the girls, who often have to quit school to help their mothers cope with the increased burden.

People standing in a flooded village in Bangladesh

Climate change increases the likelihood of natural disasters, which disproportionately affect women.

Image: UN Women/Mohammad Rakibul Hasan

Climate change is a ‘threat multiplier’, that is, it exacerbates social, political and economic tensions in fragile and conflict-affected contexts. As climate change drives conflict around the world, women and girls are increasingly vulnerable to all forms of gender-based violence, including conflict-related sexual violence, human trafficking, child marriage and other forms of violence.

When disasters strike, women are less likely to survive and more likely to be harmed due to long-standing gender inequalities that have created disparities in information, mobility, decision-making, and access to resources and training. Subsequently, women and girls are less able to access relief and assistance, further threatening their livelihoods, well-being and recovery, and creating a vicious cycle of vulnerability to future disasters.

The health of women and girls is threatened by climate change and disasters by limiting access to health services and care, as well as increasing maternal and child health risks. Research indicates that extreme heat increases the incidence of stillbirths and that climate change increases the spread of vector-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue and Zika virus, which are linked to worst maternal and neonatal outcomes.

How does climate change intersect with other inequalities for women and girls?

While women and girls experience disproportionate impacts from climate change globally, the effects are not uniform. Considering climate change through the prism of intersectional feminismthe way various forms of inequality often operate together and compound each other, it is clear that the risks of climate change are acute for indigenous and Afro-descendant women and girls, older women, LGBTIQ+ people, women and girls with disabilities, migrant women, and those living in rural, remote, conflict and disaster prone areas.

Matcha Phorn-In, a lesbian feminist human rights defender

Matcha Phorn-In, a lesbian feminist human rights defender.

Image: UN Women

“If you are invisible in everyday life, your needs will not be considered, let alone supported, in a crisis situation,” says Matcha Phorn-In, a lesbian feminist human rights defender who works to empower stateless and landless indigenous LGBTIQ+ women, girls and youth in the Thai provinces of Chiang Mai, Mae Hong Son and Tak. “Humanitarian programs tend to be heteronormative and can reinforce the patriarchal structure of society if they fail to consider sexual and gender diversity,” says Phorn-in. “In addressing structural change, we advocate and work for equality of all kinds.”

Dandara Rudsan, a black and trans activist based in the Brazilian Amazon

Dandara Rudsan, a black and trans activist based in the Brazilian Amazon.

Image: UN Women/Yvi Oliveira.

In the Brazilian Amazon, Dandara Rudsanblack and trans activist and environmental racism specialist at the Pará State Public Defender’s Office, knows firsthand that centering the experiences and challenges faced by different groups illuminates the connections between all fights for justice and liberation.

“In the Amazon, defending human rights means fighting every day for the survival of people and the rainforest, but there is no hierarchy between the agendas… Funding social movements in the Amazon, it is financing the survival of these communities, these peoples and the rainforest.”

The World Economic Forum has been measuring gender gaps since 2006 in the annual Global Gender Gap Report.

The Global Gender Gap Report tracks progress in closing gender gaps at the national level. To turn this information into concrete actions and national progress, we have developed the Closing the Gender Gap Accelerators model for public-private collaboration.

These accelerators were convened in ten countries from three regions. Accelerators are established in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic and Panama in partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank in Latin America and the Caribbean, Egypt and Jordan in the Middle East and North Africa, and Kazakhstan in Central Asia.

All National Accelerators, as well as Knowledge Partner countries demonstrating global leadership in closing gender gaps, are part of a larger ecosystem, the Global Learning Network, which facilitates the exchange of ideas and knowledge. experiences via the Forum platform.

In 2019, Egypt became the first country in the Middle East and Africa to launch an accelerator to close the gender gap. While more women than men are now enrolled in university, women make up just over a third of professional and technical workers in Egypt. Women who are in the labor force are also less likely to be paid the same as their male colleagues for equivalent work or to rise to managerial positions.

In these countries, CEOs and Ministers work together over a three-year period on policies that help to further reduce the economic gender gaps in their countries. This includes extended parental leave, subsidized child care and removing unconscious bias in recruitment, retention and promotion practices.

If you are a business in one of the Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator countries, you can join the local member base.

If you are a company or government in a country where we do not currently have a Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator, you can contact us to explore the possibilities of creating one.

Melvin B. Baillie