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  • Alyssa Kang

Climate Change Exacerbates Gender Inequality

Climate change affects the entire world but it's the most disadvantaged people that suffer the greatest. Environmental racism is just one example of this: lower income communities are affected at greater rates by climate change than compared to higher income communities. However, recent research has shown that it’s not only a race issue, but also a gender issue. Gender is just one of the factors of inequality in society and research has shown that climate issues only exacerbate these issues, leaving women more vulnerable than their male counterparts to the harsh consequences of climate induced disasters.

Why are Women Left More Vulnerable?

In climate disasters around the world, studies have shown that it is women and girls who are most affected. This is not because women are naturally more vulnerable but rather it is because of deep rooted socio-cultural structures and social gender norms. According to The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), women in 25 sub- Saharan African countries spend a combined total of 16 million hours fetching water everyday whereas men spend a combined total of 6 million hours. These harsh conditions women experience on a daily basis are only worsened by climate change as they are forced to take on more responsibility during climate disasters. In relation to food security, about ⅔ of the female labour force in developing countries and 90% in African countries take part in agricultural work. Climate change causes food sources to become unpredictable and limited, and in turn, causes women to lose income and harvest. In addition, food scarcity causes food prices to increase which means less access to food for poor families. Women’s health has been shown to decline more than males in times of food shortages. Ultimately, climate change creates a chain reaction of catastrophic and damaging effects specifically for women due to pre-existing gender inequality issues in society. Climate change induced environmental disasters increase food scarcity, poor hygiene and sanitation, poor living conditions, less fuel supplies, and lower school attendance. Many of these consequences affect women in harmful ways such as increased violence against women, maternal deaths, infections, hunger, malnutrition, child marriage, and poverty. Marina Andrivjevic, a research analyst at Climate Analytics, has found that the countries with the least gender-equal societies are most susceptible to the effects of climate change as the graphs below demonstrate.

The graph on the left shows that countries with greater gender inequality are more vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change. The graph on the right shows that countries with greater gender inequality experience lower levels of climate action.

Andrivjevic notes that tackling gender inequality issues contribute to reducing the negative impacts of climate change not only for women but for society as a whole. For example, promoting women empowerment and advancing gender equality can also increase results across a variety of domains such as food and economic security and health.

What is Being Done Now?

UN Women and the UN Environment have worked together to promote a global program supporting women’s entrepreneurship for sustainable energy. This program is estimated to provide 100,000 women with access to clean and renewable energy. Further, UN agencies have provided shelter, water, food, sanitation, emergency relief, and protection services for humanitarian crises in parts of Africa and Wesetern Asia as a result of droughts. For example, in Kenya, UN Women works with the government’s drought agency in order to address women’s needs. Global Greengrants Front supports women’s environmental action. This organization supports over 300 women-led projects per year and since 2014, has funded projects that address the unequal and gendered effects of environmental damage. Fortunately, organizations all around the world are working to help increase climate action by addressing gender inequality issues. For the younger generation, understanding the connection between gender inequality and climate change is the first step towards fixing the problem. Take a look at the sites below for more information on this topic.

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