On November 19, the World Bank published an alarming report about the effects of a 4 degree Celsius increase in temperature on every country in the world, but particularly those that are already poor and vulnerable. Jim Yong Kim, the Bank’s president, is hoping it will shock the world into action to prevent further global climate change. However, the report glosses over the gender differentiated impacts of climate change: women and girls are by far the hardest hit by environmental changes. Climate change most greatly impacts the most vulnerable, who are primarily women and girls. In addition, the nature of gender roles around the world means that women’s work is impacted by drought and inconsistent rainfall, flooding, and extreme weather events. Because they are marginalized, they also do not have a voice in the discussions about alleviating or addressing climate change.
Why are women and girls so much more vulnerable to climate change? Consider a common example of the impact of climate change on a task that usually falls to women and girls: collecting water. As the climate in an already semi-arid region heats, streams, rivers, and wells near a village or town dry up or become more scarce. As a result, women and girls must travel further to get water, increasing their risk of assault, taking more time that could go to studying, creating wealth, or participating in other empowering activities. There are also health consequences that will hit women and children the hardest, such as malnutrition from food shortage, heat-related mortality, and sanitation-related diseases. Natural disasters, increased in intensity by climate change, kill women at a higher rate then men, frequently because women do not have the communications resources to learn about an impending disaster, or the skills to survive such a disaster or its aftermath.
The primary reason women and girls are so hard-hit by climate change, however, is because they are already marginalized in much of the world. They are not a part of grassroots or top-level decision making processes about any issue, from farming techniques that might be environmentally friendly to community disaster response. This is caused by many gendered cultural and community barriers that inhibit gender equality in all areas.
Research on the gendered impact of climate change is spotty, although growing as awareness of the situation comes to light. DFID and Gender CC are both sponsors of research and education to raise awareness of the gendered consequences of climate change, and how women and girls are being left out of the conversation about prevention and solutions. It’s a shame that the World Bank couldn’t add the gender issues to their report.