Women must stand at the forefront of all action to address the global climate crisis because they are simultaneously the most adversely impacted by climate change and environmental degradation, and yet are indispensable actors and leaders of just and effective solutions.
When we analyze root causes, it is clear that women experience climate change with disproportionate severity precisely because their basic rights continue to be denied in varying forms and intensities across the world. Enforced gender inequality reduces women’s physical and economic mobility, voice, and opportunity in many places, making them more vulnerable to mounting environmental stresses.
Studies show that women’s bodies are more susceptible to the dangerous effects of toxic pollution, and increasing evidence is demonstrating the many ways in which women, as carriers of life, are being impacted by, and passing along, severe environmental health issues to the next generations.
Indigenous women, women from low-income communities, and women from the Global South bear an even heavier burden from the impacts of climate change because of the historic and continuing impacts of colonialism, racism and inequality; and in many cases, because they are more reliant upon natural resources for their survival and/or live in areas that have poor infrastructure. Drought, flooding, and unpredictable and extreme weather patterns present life or death challenges for many women, who are most often the ones responsible for providing food, water and energy for their families. In many frontline communities, gendered and sexual violence against women is added on top of other dire impacts perpetuated by the extractive industries that bear down on their homelands.
However against all odds and against great challenges, women are demonstrating every day that they have unique and essential ideas and skills to offer at this turning point in history, as humanity faces a crisis of survival and must make crucial changes and decisions about how we are living with the Earth and each other.
Studies show us that worldwide, when women are empowered, there are immense benefits to entire communities and societies overall. Sustainable and local economies grow , populations stabilize, and children’s health and education improve – all of which are foundations for a sustainable path forward. In many countries, women get out the vote and vote more often, and lead on environmental and social legislation when elected to public office. It has additionally been shown that women are one of the most vital actors in peace-making.
Women farmers feed the world – and Indigenous women and women of the Global South hold vast knowledge and skill gleaned through their traditional role as healers, culture shapers, and caretakers of water and land. Women all across the world act as an immense force of social change in directing family’s values, lifestyle and consumption habits.
Women as a constituency are a strategic, powerful, and beautiful force that is often not recognized, supported or mobilized into action – despite clear evidence that women are key to making the societal, economical, political and ecological changes we so desperately need. These points of leverage need to be recognized and acted upon.
For long-lasting change, it is also essential that we recognize, understand, and transform the dominant social constructs that lie at the root of such gender inequality, as well as the destruction of the Earth. We need to look at systemic change and challenge old paradigms of patriarchy, colonization, imperialism and capitalism. Women see the connection, and are willing and able to unite across borders to challenge systems of oppression and build a healthy and livable future.
To learn more, DOWNLOAD the Women’s Climate Action Agenda here – and explore statistics below.
Unleashing the Power of Women in Climate Solutions
- Globally, women are responsible for half of the world’s food production. In most Global South countries, women produce between 40-80% of food, and are are central stewards of seeds and agricultural biodiversity. UN Food & Agricultural Organization. Women and Sustainable Food Security.
- Women’s involvement in decision-making has important implications for climate change – a recent study of 130 countries found that countries with higher female parliamentary representation are more prone to ratify international environmental treaties. Norgaard and York. Gender Equality and State Environmentalism: Gender and Society. 2005.
- Women in the United States are more likely than men to believe in climate change science. Scientific American. Women More Likely Than Men to Believe the Science on Global Warming. 2010.
- Women and girls are responsible for collecting water in almost two-thirds of households in developing countries and hold vital knowledge of local water systems and stewardship practices. The UN has repeatedly recognized that effective sustainable water resource management depends on engaging women at all levels of decision-making and implementation. It is now recognized that the exclusion of women from the planning of water supply and sanitation schemes is a major cause of their high rate of failure. UN Water. Gender, Water and Sanitation: A Policy Brief. 2006. + UN Water. Gender and Water. 2015
- Involving more women participants in management and decision making surrounding local forests is related to significantly greater improvements in forest conditions and conservation. UN Food & Agricultural Organization. Women in Forestry: Challenges and Opportunities. 2014. + Agarwal B. Does Women’s Proportional Strength Affect their Participation? Governing Local Forests in South Asia. World Development. 2010;38(1):98-112.
- When allowed to actively participate in disaster planning and response, women show a unique and vital knowledge base and set of skills for effective community rescue, support, rebuilding and conflict management. United Nations Development Programme. Gender and Disaster Risk Reduction. 2013.
- In Global North countries, women have been found to be more likely to recycle, buy organic food and eco-labeled products and place a higher value on energy-efficient transport. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Gender and Sustainable Development: Maximizing the Economic, Social and Environmental Role of Women. 2008.
- Women in North America now control over half of the wealth, are behind 80 percent of all consumer purchases, and start 70 percent of new businesses in the U.S.- power which could be leveraged into the transition to clean energy and local economies. Female Factor. Women in the Economy.
- Research in Europe attests that women express more concern about climate change than men, and are more willing to make sacrifices to reduce emissions. European Commission. Attitudes of European Citizens Towards the Environment. 2014.
- 80% of remaining global biodiversity is within the lands of global Indigenous peoples who have protected them over generations. Indigenous women are at the forefront of local and global efforts to protect and defend these territories of immense socio-ecological diversity – taking action on the frontline of grassroots movements and struggles, and within international climate negotiations and political processes. Due to their close relationship with the land, Indigenous women hold unique and invaluable Traditional Ecological Knowledge, as well as spiritual and philosophical understandings critical to healing and maintenance of the Earth’s climate and cycles. World Bank. The Role of Indigenous Peoples in Biodiversity Conservation. 2008. + National Observer. Indigenous Latin American Women Craft Climate Solutions in Marrakech. 2016. + Cultural Survival. Collaborative Science with Indigenous Knowledge For Climate Solutions. 2017. + Native Women’s Association of Canada. Aboriginal Women and Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge. 2010. + The Guardian. Indigenous Knowledge Systems Can Help Solve The Problems of Climate Change. 2017.
The Disproportionate Impact of Climate Change on Women
- In a sample of 141 countries over the period 1981–2002, it was found that gender differences in deaths from natural disasters are directly linked to women’s economic and social rights. In inequitable societies, more women than men die from disaster. Neumayer and Plumper. The Gendered Nature of Natural Disasters: The Impact of Catastrophic Events on the Gender Gap in Life Expectancy, 1981–2002. 2007. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 97(3). 2007.
- Women and children are 14 times more likely than men to die during a disaster. Women accounted for 61 percent of fatalities caused by Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar in 2008, 70–80 percent in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, and 91 percent in the 1991 cyclone in Bangladesh. United Nations Development Programme. Gender and Disaster Risk Reduction. 2013.
- Women in Global South nations engage disproportionately in subsistence farming and fuel and water collection. As droughts, floods and other erratic weather events increase, there will be an increased burden on women holding responsibility for their families food water and energy needs. UNFPA. State of the World Population 2009: Facing a Changing World, Women, Population and Climate. 2009. + InterPress Service. Women Spend 40 Billion Hours Collecting Water. 2012.
- During and after disasters, levels of sexual and gendered violence often increase. After two tropical cyclones hit Tafe Province in Vanuatu in 2011, the Tanna Women’s Counselling Centre reported a 300% increase in new domestic violence cases. Human trafficking has been found to increase 20 to 30 percent during disasters. United Nations Women. Why Is Climate Change a Gender Issue?. 2014. + UNEP Women at the Frontline of Climate Change – Gender Risks and Hopes, 2011.
- When extractive industries begin operating in communities, women often face sharp increases in sexual violence, human trafficking and other gender-based abuses. Indigenous women and women of color face severely disproportionate targeting and abuse. Honor the Earth. Man Camps Fact Sheet. + EcoWatch. Women on the Frontlines Fighting Fracking in the Bakken Oil Shale Formations. 2016. + Women’s Earth Alliance. Violence on the Land, Violence on Our Bodies. 2016.
- After climate disasters, women experience disproportionate and specific health vulnerabilities including impaired psycho-social health, increased vulnerability to insect-borne and infectious disease and other health impacts. These not only affect women’s health directly, but also increase their “burden of care” when looking after ill and injured dependents and family members. World Bank. Making Women’s Voice Count Addressing Gender Issues in Disaster Risk Management in East Asia and the Pacific. 2012.
- Women and children are generally more susceptible to the harmful effects of environmental toxins and pollutants. UNDP Environment and Energy Group. Chemicals and Gender. 2011. + Live Science. How Environmental Toxins Harm Women’s Reproductive Health. 2013. + Global Health Action. Climate Change and the Potential Effects on Maternal and Pregnancy Outcomes: An Assessment of the Most Vulnerable. 2013. + Women in Europe for a Common Future. Women and Chemicals: The Impact of Hazardous Chemicals on Women. 2016.
- A World Bank survey in 141 countries showed that 103 countries continue to impose legal differences on the basis of gender that may hinder women’s economic opportunities. Inequities and constraints in the legal, political, economic and social sphere limit women’s mobility and increase vulnerability to climate impacts. United Nations Development Programme. Overview of Linkages Between Gender and Climate Change. 2015.
- As of 2012, the average percentage of women delegates to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was 36%. Out of this, the average number of women who participated as Heads of Delegations was 24.5%. Women’s Environment and Development Organization. New Statistics on Women’s Participation in the UNFCCC. 2012.
- A 2015 study covering 881 environmental sector ministries from 193 countries found only 12 per cent of the environmental ministers were women. United Nations Women. Women Leading Climate Action.
- Women continue to be underrepresented in national parliaments, occupying on average only 23.3 percent of seats. Inter-Parliamentary Union. 2017.
- Women face challenges and roadblocks in accessing all levels of policy and decision-making processes, rendering them less able to influence the policies, programmes and decisions that impact their lives and survival on a daily basis. United Nations Development Programme. Overview of Linkages Between Gender and Climate Change. 2015
- Worldwide, women farmers feed the world (accounting for 40-80 percent of all food production) but own less than 10% of land. Women also have less access than men to agricultural assets, inputs, supports and services. Evidence indicates that if these women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20 to 30 percent. IUCN, UNDP, GGCA. Training Manual on Gender and Climate Change. 2009. + United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization. The State of Food and Agriculture 2010-2011. 2010. + United Nations Women. Rural Women and the Millennium Development Goals.
- Much of women’s work in and outside of the home is not recognized, resulting in ‘time poverty’. ‘Time poverty’ may increase with climate change, as it will become more difficult and takes more time for women to secure water, food, and fuel for cooking and heating. Such increased burdens and expectations reduce women’s ability to engage in opportunities for income-generating activities or education. Food and Agricultural Organization. Gender Equality and Food Security – Women’s Empowerment as a Tool Against Hunger. 2013.
- Women in Global North countries have a much greater carbon footprint than women in the Global South. The wealthiest 20 percent of the world’s population consumes 86 percent of the world’s goods and services, and women in the Global North are deeply implicated in over-consumption, waste and associated climate impacts. WorldCentric. Social & Economic Injustice.
- Women account for only 20 – 25 per cent of the workforce in the modern renewable energy sector. Action is needed to support women in STEM careers to bring women’s innovation to this growing field. International Renewable Energy Agency. Renewable Energy and Jobs Annual Review 2016. 2016.