Climate Change

Extreme heat affects Indian women more than men, says new study

As we talk more about climate change, the question of climate justice and equity will take centre stage

By DTE Staff
Published: Friday 12 April 2024

Women are significantly more vulnerable to extreme temperature conditions compared to men in India, according to a new study. Since 2005, data has shown a concerning gradual rise in heat-related deaths among women in India, according to an analysis published in the Significance Magazine. The research team relied on 30 years of extreme-temperature-related mortality data to find answers as India lacks high-quality national data on temperature-related health and healthcare.

They extracted mortality and population data from the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) and India’s daily temperature data (mean, maximum and minimum) from 1990-2019 recorded by the India Meteorological Department (IMD). Their analysis showed that men showed a gradual decline in deaths with certain spikes linked to temperature, whereas, for women, it showed a gradual increase in deaths from 2005. The percentage relative change in mortality rates decreased by 23.11 per cent for men from 2000 to 2010, and 18.7 per cent from 2010 to 2019.

Whereas for women, the percentage change in mortality rate increased by 4.63 per cent from 2000 to 2010 and 9.84 per cent between 2010 and 2019.

So, the question has to be asked. Why is it so? This is still unknown. The study is a perfect example of the data equity gap. Compared to the Global North where the linkages of extreme heat and women’s health has been clearly established, the Global South has failed because of the lack of quality data.

The study mentions that the decrease in male temperature-related deaths could be possibly explained by advances in public healthcare infrastructure, socio-economic upliftment and increased access to cooling and heating in the country. But given that about 54 per cent of women in India stay indoors, one might think that they could be safer from extreme heat.

According to experts, women in the Global South are especially at risk due to rigid cultural norms and societal expectations, which limit their ability to respond and cope effectively to extreme temperature risks. Staying indoors adds a higher vulnerability factor due to poor built environment conditions like lack of ventilation and cooling agencies.

However, these are all calculated speculations as they linked women’s fatality rates with heat but couldn’t draw concrete conclusions due the data equity gap.

The lack of high quality national data also has impeded the team’s understanding of whether Indian women could be at a higher risk due to socio-economic challenges or physiological conditions.

As we talk more about climate change, the question of climate justice and equity will take centre stage. It is imperative to find how vulnerable women are to heat stress and thus devise methods to protect marginalised communities in a climate-risked world.

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