Today is Earth Day, an annual event that celebrates our planet and encourages people to find a way to protect it. As climate change becomes increasingly an important issue, it’s also crucial to discuss how climate change disproportionately affects women.
The impacts of climate change around the world disproportionately impact women, from water accessibility to increased violence in the wake of natural disasters. The consequences of human damage to our planet are felt worst by women and girls, and can lead to health problems, victimization, and long-lasting economic and environmental problems for entire nations.
Those who live in areas most affected by climate change are most likely to feel negative effects if they are poor. Women already make up more of those living in poverty worldwide. And when climate change has an economic impact on a country, women are more likely to face inequalities in education, resources and healthcare access. In Malawi, an increase in temperatures and an increase in rain has lead the country to more drought and more flooding over the past 40 years. Hunger, disease, and poverty have become more common as a result, and women are losing access to income disproportionately and the jobs they do have become harder as they are less likely to have a voice in decision-making.
“We women have largely been affected in terms of fetching water,” said Esther Chanache, a woman who lives in Southern Malawi. “Previously the rivers would run all year round but now when the rains stop, the rivers dry up. We have to walk long distances.”
Studies also show an increase in domestic and sexual violence during extreme natural events and during the recovery process. There is a connection between a displaced families and anger, frustration and violence – which hurt women and children most. And a study by the London School of Economics, which looked at 141 countries in 20 years, found natural disasters kill women more often than they kill men – this has to due with women’s financial, physical, and social position. And when schoolchildren have to be pulled out of school to care for the injured or sick, it is more likely to be a girl.
After the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, for example, a battered women’s shelter in Santa Cruz, California, reported a 50 percent increase in restraining order requests.
The World Health Organization writes, “Women who were subjected to violence before a disaster are more likely to experience increased violence after the disaster, or they may become separated from family, friends and other potential support and protective systems. After a natural disaster, women are more likely to become victims of domestic and sexual violence and may avoid using shelters as a result of fear.”
On top of that, women are more likely to be affected by a loss of healthcare during natural disasters; maternal health and reproductive care suffer during disasters and this puts women at risk for STIs, unintended pregnancies and problems during childbirth. In the 1998 Bangladesh floods, girls were getting more urinary tract infections because they couldn’t properly and privately wash their menstrual rags and hang them to dry.
According to the World Meteorological Organization, the world is currently five times as disaster-prone as it was in the 1970s, due to increased risks that have come on as a result of climate change.
“Women have always been at the center of both economy and ecology,” Yifat Susskind wrote for The Progressive on Earth Day in 2012. “Both words come from the Greek term for household — the arena of women’s traditional roles as primary caretakers of families and communities. Even today, in nearly every society, women are mainly responsible for providing families with healthy food, clean water and — particularly in the Global South — sufficient fuel. These resources depend on the health of the environment, and that’s why women play such a vital role.”
Media Resources: SOS Children 1/6/2015; UN Women 9/20/2014; World Health Organization 2014; World Meteorological Organization 2014; United Nations 2010; Oxfam International 6/17/2009; IUCN 6/17/2009; Advocates for Youth
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