Extreme heat could claim lives of 204,000 women annually in India, Nigeria & US: Report

Women bear the disproportionate burden of heat's devastating;physical, social & financial effects, report emphasises
Representative photo: iStock
Representative photo: iStock

Extreme temperatures could claim the lives of nearly 204,000 women annually across India, Nigeria and the United States by 2050 in hot years, a new report has warned.

Women here have been bearing the disproportionate burden of heat’s devastating physical, social and financial effects, emphasised the Scorching divide: How extreme heat inflames gender inequalities in health and income report released by Arsht–Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center (Arsht-Rock).

The report examined and quantified heat’s profound and unequal impact on women’s unpaid domestic labour, paid employment and health in the three countries. It analysed the current as well as projected conditions for 2050.

“This landmark study finally arms employers, policymakers and advocates with the data to measure the far-reaching costs of extreme heat to women,” Director of Arsht-Rocksaid Kathy Baughman McLeod said in a statement. 

Heat creates a double burden for women. They are more physically susceptible to its effects than men and frequently shoulder additional paid and unpaid care responsibilities linked to heat-related illness, flagged the report. 

Furthermore, temperature extremes cost the three countries $120 billion annually in losses to women’s paid labour productivity. On average, women earn 20 per cent less than men. But the loss of income due to heat widens the existing disparity.

In Nigeria, women lose 27 minutes per day from their working hours under baseline climate conditions, rising to 31 minutes in an extreme heat year. In India, they lose 41 minutes per day, increasing to 47 minutes in an extreme heat year, the report estimated.

Heat has a significant impact on unpaid domestic labour, the burden of which falls disproportionately on women, the report said. Although it accounts for up to 70 per cent of working hours, it is often an “invisible” dimension of worker productivity and not factored into economic measures like Gross Domestic Product.

However, the inclusion of unpaid work in the analysis increases the estimate of the heat-related losses women experience by 260 per cent, in contrast to 76 per cent for men.

Over 70 per cent of productivity loss due to heat among males occurs in the workplace. In contrast, up to 75 per cent of women’s productivity losses across the three countries are in unpaid labour.

The world is very likely to suffer more intense heatwaves, as projected by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In such unusually hot years, these losses will aggravate and primarily affect the poorest and marginalised groups. Without action to reduce emissions or adapt to climate impacts, the average daily hours lost to heat are set to increase by 30 per cent by 2050, the report warned.

As the heat continues to rise, the time women spend on unpaid labour and women’s ‘time poverty’ — the chronic feeling of having too many things to do and not enough time to do them — will also increase. 

The excess heat-related burden of domestic, household and unpaid activities will leave little time for paid work and leisure, hindering women’s access to workplace. The unequal division of domestic and care labour must be addressed to close the global gender gap, suggested the document.

Without action to mitigate or adapt to climate change, time losses in paid work experienced by women are projected to increase by 18-44 per cent by 2050. These losses often impact the women least able to bear them.

Across the three countries, women in the poorest 40 per cent of households lose 40-55 per cent more paid working hours to heat than those in the wealthiest 40 per cent. This is in part because women in poorer households are more likely to work in manual labour or outdoors instead of in heat-modulated conditions. 

In Nigeria, heat-related labour productivity losses are a key reason that average wages have fallen below the minimum wage in the sectors that account for 75 per cent of female employment — affecting at least 22 million women. These sectors include agriculture and manufacturing, where losses from heat cause wages to fall below the threshold income.

The document also adds to the findings of a few previous studies that established the link between extreme heat events and higher mortality rates among females. The 2010 Ahmedabad heatwave led to the death of many women (compared to men), a study found.

“The women in this report live and work in conditions of extraordinary hot temperatures. Temperatures that are quickly becoming a global “new normal.” This is a wake-up call and our chance to create a more equitable future,” posted Eleni Myrivili, global chief heat officer to UN-Habitat and the Arsht Rock Resilience Centre.

Women bear the cost of climate-driven extreme heat. So the report recommended further analysis into the impacts of heat on women from marginalised communities. It suggested more research on the long-term, systemic impacts of heat in perpetuating inequality and inhibiting economic development. This may account for impacts on labour force participation, female education and poverty reduction, it said.

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