Climate change is not gender-neutral.


Wildfires, floods, sea level rise, droughts, food insecurity, climate refugees and so much more. All of this is a direct consequence of global warming, but we can still make a difference. We first have to understand the world to be able to change it.

Photo: Jaipal Singh/EPA

Let’s talk about climate change first. There are two types of climate change.

The first one is natural climate cycles. These are the natural climate cycles that have existed over decades and that have caused dry years, hot and cold throughout our history on this planet. There is a second type of climate change called anthropogenic climate change, which means that human activity caused climate change and had an impact on our environment like deforestation, increasingly intensive agriculture or even humanity’s increasing use of fossil fuels.

Science is clear, over the next decades our climate will be dominated by the second type of climate change: the anthropogenic one. It means more and more heatwaves which will lead to forest fires as we experience all over the world in 2021 (California, Turkey, Greece, Russia, Algeria …etc). For the past 60 years, every decade has been hotter than the previous one, and 2020 has been the hottest year ever.

It also means that we can expect to experience longer more protracted droughts and more extreme weather like it has happened in Germany, in Belgium, in China in 2021. We can expect more and more climate refugees all over the world. It means that entire families have to leave their home-country because they are suffering from drought or flooding and it’s already happening right now. We already have climate refugees.

According to The UN Refugee Agency “Over the past decade, weather events have triggered an average of 21.5 million new displacements * each year – more than twice the displacement caused by conflict and violence.”

Climate refugee map: where is worst affected.

Source: IDMC

In a report released on Monday 13 of September, World Bank experts note the “urgency to act” as “livelihoods and human well-being are increasingly strained.” It estimates that 216 million people are at risk of becoming climate refugees by 2050. The estimated number could be higher since the World Bank does not count migrants from North America, rich countries in Europe or even the Middle East, where climate disasters are raging. 

It is important to remember, however, that women are not only vulnerable to climate change but they are also effective actors or agents 
of change in relation to both mitigation and adaptation.

According to the UN, about 80% of people displaced by climate change are women. Another research by the International Union for Conservation of Nature found climate change and environmental impacts are increasing violence against women and girls including domestic abuse, child marriage and sexual assault. Everything is interconnected. That’s why we need to understand that women’s rights and climate change are highly connected.  

“216 million people are at risk of becoming climate refugees by 2050.”

We need to be prepared for the climate change and we need to acknowledge that not everybody is affected in the same way by climate change. Privileged people and disadvantaged ones will not be affected the same way by the climate change. People around the world start to experience the heavy consequences of climate change right now. For example, in some villages in the south of Madagascar people are dying because of extreme drought.

When we start noticing the fact that social inequality exist, we can understand more that climate change has a gendered impact. It means that different groups of people will be affected differently. For example, in the case of many places around the world that are prone to floods and cyclones, women are more likely to die as a result of those disasters than men. The reason is because in some parts of the world, women and girls are not taught how to swim. Another example according to UNwater: “In many countries, the presence or absence of a safe and sufficient water supply and improved sanitation facilities has a disproportionate effect on the lives of women and girls for three main reasons. First, women and girls usually bear the responsibility for collecting water, which is often very time-consuming and arduous. Second, women and girls are more vulnerable to abuse and attack while walking to and using a toilet or open defecation site. And third, women have specific hygiene needs during menstruation, pregnancy and child rearing”. 

Also across the world we can see that societies impact and affect women on a different level. We have to take several factors into consideration such as gender, the economic situation, religion, culture and the geographic situation. 

Bar chart showing the proportion of men and women affected by climate change impacts, including: death and injury from extreme weather; food insecurity; infectious disease; mental illness; and poor reproductive and maternal health. Data source: Global Gender and Climate Alliance (2016). Additional analysis by Carbon Brief.

Women are disproportionately experiencing more poverty than man worldwide,  70% of the world’s poor are women.” Women are in the large majority responsible for household labor and caring for the children, 
the sick and the elderly. We also need to take into consideration that in general, women have less access to financial independence, and they are also less able to recover in terms of jobs, training and opportunities after climate disasters. 

“70% of the world’s poor are women.”

To conclude:  Climate change and gender inequalities are not as simple as we thought. It’s complex and we need to understand that everything is interconnected to be more aware of the climate crisis and how it affects women and girls worldwide.  Here is a list of reports, articles and documentaries to find out more about this topic. 

To Go Further : 

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