Climate Change and Women’s Rights: A Dual Battle for a Sustainable Future
Photography by Dibakar Roy, India

Climate Change and Women’s Rights: A Dual Battle for a Sustainable Future

As the environmental crisis disproportionately impacts women, their empowerment and collective involvement in climate solutions are crucial for a sustainable future.

‘There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives,’ is what the intersectional feminist Audre Lorde famously said in her 1982 speech about the Civil Rights Movement in America. In 2023, this logic can also be applied to our understanding of climate change, which officially is no longer viewed as a single issue but rather a ‘threat multiplier’, meaning it heightens existing inequalities within societies. One of these historical inequalities is women's rights: it's been documented time and time again that gender inequality and the climate crisis are interconnected.

First, the issue is economic. As many women worldwide are responsible for household and caregiving duties, when extreme weather events or natural disasters linked to climate change occur, they often bear the brunt of these responsibilities, limiting their access to education and work. Those in employment may find that extreme weather events such as heat will negatively affect their work performance as it takes longer for them to perform the same volume of paid or unpaid work. The economic disparity also affects women's ability to adapt to climate change worldwide; men have more access to vital resources such as land, money and technology.

Climate change is exacerbating women's health issues too, much more so than men's. An analysis of 130 peer-reviewed studies reveals that pregnant individuals face distinctive threats to reproductive and maternal health due to climate change, increasing health risks for pregnant women and foetuses and restricting access to reproductive and maternal health services. Women are also at a higher risk of climate-induced food insecurity and face increased susceptibility to injury or death from extreme weather events.

Sadly, violence and sexual violence against women and girls increase with extreme weather. A study has found that a rise in average temperatures was connected to a rise of more than 6.3% in incidents of physical and sexual domestic violence across India, Pakistan and Nepal. It's estimated that 80% of people displaced by climate change are women and, as climate refugees, they are at a more significant risk of sexual violence in emergency shelters, tents or camps, as well as the danger of human trafficking.

Women also face increased social pressures around times of natural disasters. A study has found that early and forced marriages of girls in developing countries in Africa and South Asia tend to increase during heatwaves, floods, droughts and cyclones. Why does this happen? The likely answer is that families under climate-related financial stress cannot support their daughters and instead seek to marry them off.

We Are The Solution, West Africa We Are The Solution, West Africa
Working woman in Tea garden on Valparai, India. Photography by Blaji Malliswamy Working woman in Tea garden on Valparai, India. Photography by Blaji Malliswamy

Evidently, tackling climate change means also standing up for the rights of women, especially for those in developing countries who are being impacted the hardest. It's also why climate action needs women at the forefront.

Women have unique insights into the needs and vulnerabilities of their communities, so their involvement in the decision-making process has a profound impact on finding effective climate solutions. They also play a critical role in sustainable resource management and, therefore, can apply this knowledge when devising adaptation strategies and resilience-building initiatives. Women-led climate action is not only empowering, it is essential to our survival as a species.

Today, many global projects focus on inspiring and empowering women to be the next generation of climate leaders. In West Africa, We Are the Solution is a women-led campaign teaching agroecology and increasing access to nutritious food. In the Mississippi Delta, Indigenous women are propagating native plants and revitalising ecological practices with WECAN International. In Indonesia, the Women's Earth Alliance Accelerator empowers local women to protect their communities from palm oil extraction, plastic pollution and sea level rise.

Other initiatives are mentoring women in leadership skills, such as C40 Cities’ Women4Climate mentorship programme and online course for developing leadership skills. ActionAid, an international charity that works with women and girls living in poverty, launched the She is the answer funding campaign last year, which raised £2.26m ($2.7m, €2.6m) to improve women's participation and leadership in tackling the climate crisis.

So what can your business do to be on the right side of history and help the women who are disproportionately affected by the climate crisis?

Companies have a crucial role to play in tackling climate change. You can start by assessing your business's impact on the environment and society with the ESG framework to ensure it performs well on sustainability and ethical issues. ESG looks at factors such as energy usage and efficiency, climate change strategy, waste reduction, fair pay, responsible supply chain partnerships, community engagement and risk management.

Above all, support and donate to women-led initiatives and non-profits, especially those based in the Global South. Instead of seeing women as victims of the climate crisis, we must take this opportunity to support their empowerment.

Diyora Shadijanova is the editor at ethical advertising agency ACT Climate Labs

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