Climate change affects everyone in one way or another. Natural disasters, extreme heat, new patterns of disease, increased risk of hunger, lack of access to clean drinking water — all these consequences humanity has already experienced, and it is scary to wait for the future. Yet even in an issue such as climate change, women and girls find themselves in a far more vulnerable position than men. In this post, I explored the complex relation between climate change and women.
According to a study conducted by the London School of Economics and Political Science, many women die in natural disasters simply because their families and communities did not teach them life skills such as swimming and climbing. It turns out that girls’ lack of training puts their lives at greater risk than men who were taught these skills by ‘default’.
Continuing with the theme of health and life, due to the fact that crops are often lost due to climate change, this worsens the quality of women’s nutrition and leads to anemia. According to the article ‘Climate change and women’s health: Impacts and policy directions’, anemia can lead to cognitive impairments including poor attention span, diminished working memory, and poor educational outcomes. Also, cardiovascular and lung diseases affect women more often than men, because they have a greater tendency to deposit particulate matter in the lung tissues. Considering that women are more likely to stay at home and use home stoves for cooking and eating, this also influences the number of lung problems.
In addition to general health issues, reproductive health is particularly at risk. In accordance with a report made by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, given the limited mobility in which people remain after natural disasters, women are left without any access to contraception, as it is considered to be non-essential. As a consequence, the number of unplanned pregnancies increases, and women, again due to lack of proper medical care, are forced to resort to procedures such as clandestine abortions or alternative unsafe methods of termination of pregnancy. Lack of access to clean water also affects their reproductive health.
Sexual and gender-based violence becomes a special topic in the context of the ecological crisis. According to the article ‘Role of Climate Change in Exacerbating Sexual and Gender-Based Violence against Women: A New Challenge for International Law’, in 1997 and 2010, women faced sexual and physical violence after earthquakes in Japan. In 2005, the percentage of sexual violence against women increased highly in the United States after Hurricane Katrina. Ugandan women faced domestic violence, child marriage, rape, female genital mutilation (FGM), and other harmful practices during droughts. Why is this happening?
Reasons for increased sexual violence in this case are that natural disasters can lead to stress, mental problems, and financial instability. All these moments “trigger” potential perpetrators and lead to disastrous consequences. Also, social structures such as the police are usually destroyed due to natural catastrophes, so the woman cannot go anywhere for help, which makes her even more vulnerable because she is isolated from the possibility of being rescued from sexual violence.
Also, given the fact that women are still the ‘keepers of the hearth’, they are responsible for providing households with water, food, and fuel. During a drought, women and girls have to spend more time finding water or fuel, going to more distant areas (which, by the way, also leads to an increase in sexual violence against women). As a result, girls may drop out of school as they need to perform these household chores. And in general, the search for water, food, and fuel can negatively affect the health of women, as this is laborious work that requires a lot of physical effort. Thus, it turns out that even irregular rains can have a tremendous impact on women in the context of an environmental crisis.
The important point is also that there is still an underrepresentation of women in governments who could somehow address these issues. It is much easier to offer some options for dealing with gender inequality when you have actually been in these conditions, when you understand what it is like to be a woman in a rural area or how scary it is to be completely helpless after a hurricane or an earthquake, without access to aid and medical supplies. Nowadays women make up less than 25% of all national parliamentarians around the world.
Thus, women, unfortunately, become victims of environmental changes in a much larger number of ways than men. These are traditions that have developed over the centuries, but now, given the cataclysms that people on Earth have yet to face, it is worth paying close attention to how such traditions can be changed and how the role of women in this problem can be evolved.