Climate Change

The disproportionate impact of climate change on women: A closer look ahead of COP28  

The forthcoming COP28 summit presents a unique opportunity to address the gender disparities in climate impacts and to champion women’s empowerment as an integral facet of the global climate agenda

By Poonam Muttreja
Published: Saturday 28 October 2023
Sultan Al Jaber, COP28 President. Photo: @COP28_UAE / X, formerly Twitter

The upcoming 28th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP28) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, scheduled to convene in Dubai, stands as a pivotal opportunity to bring global climate challenges centrestage. Central to these deliberations is the need to develop a comprehensive understanding of the differential impacts of climate change on various demographic groups particularly the disproportionate impact of climate change on women from marginalised communities, who are more susceptible to health risks and other devastating aspects of climate change. Their vulnerability is exacerbated by pre-existing societal inequalities and poverty.

An analysis of 130 peer-reviewed studies highlighted that 68 per cent of these studies found women to be more affected by health impacts associated with climate change compared to men. For instance, women and girls are more likely to die in heatwaves in India, France and China, and in tropical cyclones in Bangladesh and the Philippines. According to a 2022 UN Women report, rising temperatures have been linked to a higher incidence of stillbirth, and the spread of vector-borne diseases like malaria, dengue fever, and Zika virus which are associated with adverse maternal and neonatal outcomes. They also face higher risks of poor mental health, partner violence, and food insecurity following extreme weather events​.

Displacement due to climate change further accentuates the vulnerability of women. It is estimated that 80 per cent of individuals displaced by climate change are women, exposing them to heightened risks of violence, including sexual violence.

Women worldwide, especially in low and lower-middle-income countries such as India, heavily depend on natural resources for their livelihoods. They bear a disproportionate responsibility for securing food, water, and fuel. Agriculture, a sector significantly affected by climate change, employs a large number of women who face increased workloads during periods of drought and erratic rainfall. This leaves less time for women to access training and education, develop skills or earn income. Regressive social norms and childcare responsibilities prevent women from migrating or seeking refuge in other places or working when a disaster hits. There are evident gender disparities between men and women in political and economic status, land ownership, housing conditions, exposure to violence, education and health. Climate change is an added stressor that aggravates women’s vulnerability.

Women as Agents of Change

Despite the challenges, women play a crucial role in climate change adaptation and mitigation. Their unique experiences can significantly contribute to building climate-resilient communities.

Studies have shown that when women are involved in decision-making at both local and national levels, better climate change adaptation and mitigation outcomes are achieved. A 2019 study revealed that increasing women’s representation in national parliaments led to the adoption of more stringent climate change policies and resulted in lower emissions. Similarly, at the local level, women’s participation in natural resource management has been associated with better resource governance and conservation outcomes. Therefore, addressing gender disparities is not just a matter of justice, but a crucial step towards achieving substantial and sustainable climate action.

The forthcoming COP28 summit presents a unique opportunity to address the gender disparities in climate impacts and to champion women’s empowerment as an integral facet of the global climate agenda. Through a concerted effort to acknowledge and act upon the different ways in which climate change affects men and women, especially those from marginalised communities, we have the potential to forge a more equitable and effective global response to the climate crisis, ensuring a future where justice and sustainability coexist harmoniously.

Poonam Muttreja is the executive director of the Population Foundation of India

Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth

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