Gender and Climate Change: Are Women More Affected?
On the surface, gender and climate change don’t seem intrinsically linked. Extreme weather, forest fires or scarcity of resources ultimately impact anyone who is unlucky enough to experience them. But when you dig deeper and look at how societies respond to these problems, climate change and gender inequality are deeply connected.
Women are both more likely to be directly affected by climate change in ways that men are not, and they are more likely to take on the responsibility of trying to prevent it. This isn’t about polarising the issue and blaming. Of course, gender is only one factor in predicting someone’s vulnerability, but nonetheless an important factor for tackling the issue through an intersectional lens.
IMPACT OF CLIMATE CHANGE ON WOMEN
The impact of climate change on women is made evident by facts and figures. People across the world who are suffering the effects of climate change most are the 1.3 billion people living in poverty, and the UN estimates that 70% of those are women. Plus, UN figures indicate that a staggering 80% of people displaced by climate change are women (despite only making up half of the population).
SCARCITY OF RESOURCES
Flooding, drought and extreme temperatures threaten the resources that women and girls in developing countries are typically responsible for securing. When water, food or fuel become scarce, women are the ones who must walk further to find it. The number of hours this takes per day means they are kept out of education and exposed to more risks.
Not to mention when families are struggling for resources, they are sadly more likely to accept daughters into forced marriages. IUCN reports that instances of gender based violence and exploitation such as sexual assault, domestic violence and forced prostitution also increases in areas where resources get more finite.
ADVERSE HEALTH EFFECTS
If clean water becomes difficult to find, it impacts women’s menstrual health and makes them more likely to develop infections. Women are also more exposed to indoor pollutants from the use of firewood and other solid fuels used for cooking.
Men, however, are statistically more likely to be exposed to occupational pollution and carcinogens due to the jobs they undertake. This is important and of course, should not be forgotten when looking at the difference in risks.
Women are also 14 times more likely to die or be injured from a natural disaster than men are. Due to women being given the traditional role of caretaker, they often stay back to protect their children, whilst men are better equipped to escape.
For example, in the Bangladesh cyclone in 1991 five times as many women than men died, largely because the women there were never taught to swim. Many left their homes too late, because due to societal norms, they were waiting for a male relative to accompany them even when in mortal danger.
DO WOMEN CARE MORE ABOUT TACKLING CLIMATE CHANGE?
Whilst women in first world countries are often lucky enough to not yet face major impacts of climate change or scarce resources, they are still at a disadvantage. Women are often left to bear the burden of making sustainable choices in their households. They are statistically more likely than men to care about sustainability and make personal changes to tackle climate change.
WOMEN RESPONSIBLE FOR HOUSEHOLD CHOICES
It is disappointing but unsurprising to find that women still do 60% more unpaid household labour than men including cleaning, recycling and childcare. They are also more likely to take on the responsibility of making eco-friendly changes around the house. A 2018 UK study showed that women are more likely to try to live more sustainably than men. Men are less likely to recycle, turn the heating off when they are not at home, try to use less water, or compost their food waste.
WOMEN TARGETED MORE BY GREENWASHING
Women are the main decision-makers for consumer purchases in 85% of households. This means that in 85% of cases, it would be their responsibility to choose a green energy company, buy less meat, or switch to refillable cleaning products.
This, and the fact that most eco-friendly products are marketed towards women, means they often take on all the emotional labour of making sure their household is sufficiently “green”. With claims of “natural” beauty products and “recycled” clothes, it’s no surprise as greenwashing has become a standard marketing technique for companies to target women who want to make more conscious choices.
GREEN CHOICES LINKED TO FEMININITY
One reason men stay away from these eco-friendly choices is that they tend to think it’s a feminine task. A 2019 study found that men associate pro-environmental behaviours such as carrying a reusable shopping bag with emasculation. Perhaps because these behaviours are “sold” to women more often. A 2016 study also found that the concepts of “greenness” and femininity were cognitively linked.
This is particularly interesting. You’d imagine “saving the planet” is the type of stereotypical heroic act that a male superhero would be tasked with in the latest marvel film. But maybe men find it harder than women to see how their lifestyle changes would connect to wider positive change.
But, that does mean that women are also leading the way in founding new eco-friendly start-ups. Including our very own founder Mahira Kalim. Read more about her story to starting a business as a woman.
LEADING THE CLIMATE MOVEMENT
Women are also more likely to be the faces leading the environmentalist movement. We only need to look to Greta Thunberg or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to see that It has often been left to trailblazing women to speak up on climate change. Often using their empathy, refreshing honesty and ferocious spirit to successfully inspire others to take action.
Image by NRKbeta
When looking at gender and climate change, it’s not that climate change effects are a cause of gender inequality. It’s that it exacerbates the inequality that is already underpinning different societies. In times of disaster, disparities are magnified. It can be as trivial as who is expected to do the recycling or as critical as who is fairly equipped to survive a natural disaster. It is only by highlighting this that we can discuss solutions.
Women’s rights must not become conditional on the state of the planet. When climate change causes disaster and scarce resources, women must be protected instead of forgotten. And of course, appreciated for their environmentalist efforts.
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Words by Eleni Evangelinos.