Climate Change Risk & Its Impact On Women
Climate change risk and its impacts are real. In the last two decades, India has seen the 0.7 degree Celsius rise in temperature on average. Paris agreement required all countries to reduce temperature rise by 1.5 degree Celsius to address global warming.
Women are impacted disproportionately by Climate change compared to men
Gender equality is a much discussed topic; however, the impact of climate change on gender and the widening inequality resulting from it, is a less discussed topic. Recent pandemic and climate disasters have made it necessary to consider gendered angle to climate change action.
In India, during rains, draughts, pandemic, women form larger proportion of population impacted with threatened natural resources
A report by UN release in recent Bonn climate change explains that women experience climate change differently than men and have a crucial role in responding to the climate change. Climate impacts, specifically extreme weather affect role of men and women, and more so in rural areas. Air quality is related to womens’ reproductive health. Poor air quality directly contributes to rates of miscarriage, still birth, and maternity issues.
In India, during rains, draughts, pandemic, women form larger proportion of population impacted with threatened natural resources. Women also form larger portion of workforce in natural resources sector e.g. farming, horticulture, poultry and livestock. Women contribute to 50-80 percentage of the agricultural workforce and world’s food production, hence impacts on women are disproportionately higher. However, only 16 out of 28 states in India mention gender in their climate action plans.
Gender Inequality has aggravated the climate change impact on women
Worldwide, and more specifically in developing countries, women suffer gender inequalities and have lesser access to land ownership, credit, mobility, control of environmental goods and services, participation in decision making, technology and training, making it difficult for them to confront impacts of climate change. During conflict, women face heightened domestic violence, sexual intimidation, human trafficking and rape.
Men are often migrating from villages to urban areas leaving women behind to fend for themselves and handle household. In India, socio-cultural norms and childcare responsibilities prevent women from migration in the event of disaster. This is often not combined with adequate legal authority or social security. Women’s share in worlds’ land ownership is less than 10 percentage.
Number of recent studies have pointed to women facing gender-based violence, including child marriages, during recent climate induced disasters. Women affected by such disasters and violence spend more time to do daily chores such as collecting water, creating energy for cooking and heating for the families. As a result, more women than men drop out from school further impacting economic security of women. In Indian female illiteracy rates are 35.4 percentage compared to 19.1 percentage for men.
Women’s health is impacted by climate change and disasters with incidence of still births, and spread of vector-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue, Zika virus. In addition, women are left behind in acquiring life-saving skills such as swimming, climbing. Women often are not allowed to evacuate their homes without consent of male member, often leading to loss of their own lives in case of disasters. This further aggravates cycle of vulnerability and resulting poverty.
Economic Impact of Climate Crisis on Women
Women are more vulnerable to social, economic and cultural impacts of climate change. 70 percentage of world’s 1.3 billion people under poverty line are women. 40 percentage of poorest households have women as head of the family. India with its 131 rank in “Gender Inequality Index” clearly has more gender inequality to deal with and the disproportionate impacts of climate on women.
A report on Impacts of COVID-19 by Dalberg Advisors in 2021 cited that one-tenth of the women surveyed ate less and had run out of food; women had lost 2/3rd of their meager incomes. 28 percentage of women worked and of those 43 percentage were yet to recover their work.
Women Continue to adapt
While women get impacted more, they are also seen as more resilient, resourceful and adaptive, due to their wisdom and skillful ways in handling and preserving resources water, food, etc. Women often are left to care for others (Aged family members, children) and not them selves.
A report by Action Aid India cited women were last to enter shelter and first to leave during cyclone Fani at Orissa in 2019.
Women with access to decision making can be agents of positive change. Women contribute to improving school attendance of next generation leading to higher food security.
Expectations from Climate Policy in India
Climate policy should create increasing opportunities for women and girls. In India, state level plans on climate action are varied. India in its G20 representation has included inclusive women-led development and climate agenda; however it does not address disproportionate impacts of climate change on women.
The policy initiatives need to recognize the gender specific impacts of climate change and include research, finance and execution of climate impact by gender. Proposed development and policy framework should include coordination across the sectors, well defined process of capturing data, setting targets and monitoring results by gender, and an inclusive stakeholder engagement.
Women should be part of policy making and planning at local and national level; Policy should ensure Planning and funding for women specific priorities. Finance decisions should integrate gender to ensure responsive finance and contribute to gender equity. Technology and funding providers should consider women specific circumstances, involve women early in life-cycle of technology deployment and work to ensure removing any barriers that cause inequality.
“Gender and Climate Change: Dimensions and examples of the gender-differentiated impacts of climate change, the role of women as agents of change and opportunities for women. Synthesis report by the secretariat” June 2022, “Bonn Climate Change Conference”, FCCC/SBI/2022/7
Dr. Renu Rajani is a Senior IT industry leader and apart from her work, has been involved in number of Diversity and Inclusion Environment Social and Governance (ESG) initiatives. Views expressed here are her own.