Climate change and gender | ActionAid

Climate change and gender

In southern Bangladesh, one of the world’s most disaster-prone areas, climate change has increased the frequency of cyclones, tidal surges, coastal erosion and drought.

In southern Bangladesh, one of the world's most disaster-prone areas, climate change has increased the frequency of cyclones, tidal surges, coastal erosion and drought 

Photo: Turjoy Chowdhury/ActionAid


Are women and girls most affected by climate change?

Women and girls are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change because: 

  • They constitute the majority of the world’s poor, who are overall more affected. 
  • They are more likely to be dependent for their food and income on the land, and natural resources, which are being threatened.  
  • They are less likely to be in positions of power and/or decision-making roles. 
  • They are more likely to be responsible within their families for securing water, food and fuel for cooking and heating, which are all being threatened.1 It is often women and girls, for example, who are forced to walk great distances to find water when local sources dry up. 
  • In developing countries, they tend to be exposed to the negative impacts of disasters, including death and injury. These disasters are becoming more frequent and more severe due to climate change.
  • They face a heightened risk of gender-based violence during and following disasters, and when forced to leave their homes due to climate change, become more vulnerable to early marriage, adolescent pregnancy, rape and trafficking.7 

The role of gender inequality

Climate change affects women and girls most acutely because it exacerbates the existing outcomes of entrenched gender inequality

In many contexts, climate-related disasters like floods or drought lead to household livelihood insecurities which lead to girls being taken out of school. Girls may then help to manage the household affairs or are moved into domestic work, which exposes them to risk.

When parents struggle to feed their children, some feel they have no choice but to give their daughters away for early marriage, often resulting in early pregnancy. 

And when the worst effects of climate change make land-based work impossible, women are often less able than men to turn to alternative forms of work. Nine in 10 countries worldwide have laws impeding women’s economic opportunities, such as those which bar women from factory jobs, working at night, or getting a job without permission from their husband.2 

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Women as agents of change in the fight against climate change

Women and girls are most adversely affected by the effects of climate change - but they are also uniquely important to the solution.  

Research shows that, when women participate in decision-making at national and community levels, they are key to effective climate change solutions. 

Women often have a strong body of knowledge and expertise that can be used in climate change mitigation, disaster reduction and in creating strategies for a more sustainable future.4  

Their traditional, cultural roles within families mean they often act as stewards of natural and household resources. Every day, billions of women around the world make decisions that influence the environment, whether it’s as cooks for their families (choosing food and fuel), as farmers (influencing soil carbon emissions), or as consumers (making purchasing decisions).5  

These cultural roles position women well to contribute to new strategies for climate-resilient, sustainable livelihoods.  

Meanwhile, at the country level, research shows women are powerful agents of change in the fight against climate change: gender-equal representation has led to policy-making with better outcomes for the environment.6 Despite this, many national adaptation plans have mostly excluded women.  

What ActionAid is doing to support women and girls' climate resilience

ActionAid is working in the world’s poorest countries to support women to take on leadership roles, and ensure their voices are heard.  

As women and girls living in poverty are some of the most affected by the climate crisis, their voices must be central to the discourse surrounding it.

We know that, when women are empowered to participate in decision-making, entire communities benefit. That’s why we put women and girls at the heart of all we do.  

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Page updated 12 August 2020