As the detrimental effects of climate change spread far and wide, millions of women around the world have reported facing “the triple injustice of climate change, poverty and gender inequality” which calls for greater gender equality in climate change adaptation. In 2019, 33.4 million people were internally displaced – 70% resulting from climate-related disasters. In 2018, more than half of the world’s 41 million internally displaced people were women.
But even if we take a step away from these chilling statistics, there are additional factors that make women and girls more vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Women and girls are already paying the high price of global inaction, doing their best to survive and adapt to climate change because their lives and their families depend on it. This can be observed by rising levels of child marriage, surges in gender-based violence, the number of girls withdrawn from school and casualty rates during extreme weather events.
Most of the world's poor, and in fact the world's poorest individuals, are women and girls. Women are statistically more likely to live in poverty than men and have less access to education and vocational opportunities. Wherever women and girls face climate change without an adequate social safety and educational net, the situation is undeniably grim.
Drought is one of several extreme weather events intensified by climate change, unfurling within Africa, south Asia and southeast Asia, and even in the USA and Australia. But it's women and girls in the Global South who are paying the highest price for it. About 90% of the world's farms are small holdings (under five acres in size). These family-run farms, which are mostly in the Global South, feed a substantial proportion of the planet's population. Most of the world's smallholder farmers are women who lack legal rights to the land they farm. When severe droughts hit, these women may become unable to work the land that they rely on to feed their families and earn a living. According to a UN statistic, women produce 50-80% of the world's food but own less than 10% of the world’s land. Despite this, it is often girls who are either pulled out of school to help on the farm or married off, to alleviate that economic burden.
Another demonstration of climate change’s sexist aftermath lies in the fact that in many communities around the world, women and girls are tasked with acquiring clean water for household activities such as cooking, cleaning and bathing. During periods of prolonged drought, they are often expected to travel for several hours each day to collect water for their families. The farther they have to travel, the less time they can spend on education, vocation or other productive opportunities. Moreover, traveling long distances through areas affected by conflict and violence also increases their exposure to the risk of violence. A study in West Darfur revealed that 82% of rape cases treated in clinics occurred while women conducted daily tasks such as water and firewood collection.
Aside from this, women who survive extreme weather events also face unique challenges and dangers during displacement. When homes are destroyed by floods or coastal erosion and people are forced to migrate due to climate change, the risks that women and girls face while they are displaced are also disproportionate and unique. Amongst them is sexual violence, exploitation and abuse, and human trafficking. In a study conducted by the ICUN, it was determined that human trafficking increases by up to 30% during climatic disasters.
Despite the strong correlations between climate change and gender-based violence, not many individuals and organizations seem to be centering their attention on devising ways to protect women during this global crisis. During turbulent times like this, an imperative step that organizations working to find solutions to climate change can take is involving women in their decision-making processes—a key step to achieve important transformations, including adapting the agricultural systems where female small-scale farmers play a crucial role.
While championing both climate change and gender-equality in such grim times may lead to you feeling like your efforts are in vain, the solutions to both these global conundrums are heavily intertwined—and neither of them can be solved unless both of them can be solved. So continue to raise your voice because without women’s participation and freedom from violence, oppression and discrimination, any efforts to achieve various development goals will be fundamentally obstructed.
Credit main image: wateraid.org
Written by Manahil Naveed