Emerging countries need women-led climate action

Women in these parts of the world are more vulnerable to climate change because of their dependence on natural resources and labour-intensive work

Published - September 05, 2023 12:08 am IST

‘Climate change impacts can particularly exacerbate poverty and socioeconomic vulnerabilities among women’

‘Climate change impacts can particularly exacerbate poverty and socioeconomic vulnerabilities among women’ | Photo Credit: RITU RAJ KONWAR

“Gender equality and environmental goals are mutually reinforcing and create a virtuous circle that will help accelerate the achievement of the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals]” (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2021)

The impact of climate change is one that has profound consequences for humans and has emerged as one of the biggest global challenges in recent decades. The effects of climate change vary according to location, socioeconomic status, and gender. An International Labour Organization study (2019) said that “…in 2030, 2.2 percent of total working hours worldwide will be lost to high temperatures, a productivity loss equivalent to 80 million full-time jobs”. The United Nations (2009) highlighted that across genders, women are considered to be highly vulnerable and disproportionately affected by climate change than men to the impact of climate change.

Felt more in low-income countries

In addition, women across the world face severe risks to their health, safety, and quality of life. However, women in developing and less developed countries (especially in low-income areas) are more vulnerable to climate change because of their dependence on natural resources and labour-intensive work for their livelihood. Women are more likely to live in poverty than men, which is just one of several social, economic, and cultural variables that makes them more susceptible to the effects of climate change. Women from low-income households are more at risk because they are more responsible for food, water, and other homely unpaid work.

Due to the climate crisis, more time and effort are needed to obtain basic necessities. Rural women often shoulder the burden of ensuring access to clean water, adequate cooking fuel, and nutritious food for their families. Women may be at increased risk for health and safety because they must travel long distances every day to collect water and fuel. This is why climate change has a disproportionate effect on rural women. Women in low-income countries (predominantly South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa) engage in climate-vulnerable occupations such as farming and other labour-intensive work. According to the ILO, over 60% of working women in southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa are still in agriculture, where they are often underpaid and overworked. Despite being the backbone of the food production system, women own only about 10% of the land used for farming. A McAllister (2023) study has highlighted how there could be 1.2 billion climate refugees by 2050.

Gender-specific issues

According to a UN study, most (80%) of those displaced by climate-related disasters are women and girls. Women, especially those from vulnerable communities, face particular difficulties during and after natural disasters. When women are uprooted, they are more susceptible to prejudice and exploitation. For instance, after the earthquake in Nepal in 2015, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) found women were more exposed to trafficking and exploitation. Separation from social networks, a higher risk of gender-based violence, and decreased access to employment, education, and essential health services, such as sexual and reproductive health care and psychosocial support, are just some gender-specific issues women face.

Women make up a disproportionately large portion of the agricultural workforce in emerging countries. Climate change impacts agricultural productivity negatively and significantly. Heat stress affects workers a lot in this sector, especially in South Asia and Africa. Changing precipitation patterns and more frequent extreme weather events are just the beginning of the problems. Their effects on crop production and food security fall disproportionately on these people, who already face significant challenges in obtaining resources, expertise, and technology. Women engaged in agriculture do not have access to quality inputs and possess low education and technical knowledge. Thus, women farmers and labourers are vulnerable and seriously impacted. Various studies also reflect how flooding has increased water scarcity and also violence against and the exploitation of women.

Invest in women’s education, training

Climate change impacts can particularly exacerbate poverty and socioeconomic vulnerabilities among women. Climate change is also linked to women’s inequality. According to estimates, 130 million people could be pushed into poverty by 2050 due to climate change risks, natural disasters, and food inflation, impacting women’s inequality. When it comes to adjusting to a changing climate, women have a lot to offer. Investments in women’s education, training, and access to resources are essential if we are to be resilient to the impact of climate change. Reduce the negative impacts of climate change on people’s living standards by teaching them how to practise sustainable agriculture, water management, and energy generation. For example, in India, the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) teaches women farmers how to respond to shifting climate patterns to support themselves better financially. Therefore, it is essential to support groups that educate the public, train people to adapt to climate change and invest in women’s education and training in environmentally-friendly farming methods.

Women’s participation in climate policy decision-making at all levels is crucial for effective climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies as well as getting decent employment. As women face greater risks in climate change, gender parity in decision-making bodies is essential. One such programme in South Asia is the Gender and Climate Change Development Programme, which aims to increase women’s influence in policymaking by providing them with a stronger voice. Globally, similar efforts are required for efficient climate change adaptation and mitigation. We can say that developing and emerging countries urgently need women-led climate action.

Ishawar Choudhary is pursuing PhD in Economics in the Department of Economics and Finance at BITS Pilani, Rajasthan. Balakrushna Padhi is Assistant Professor in the Department of Economics and Finance at BITS Pilani, Rajasthan campus. The views expressed are personal

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