Our VoiceNews & Politics

How the Dangers of Climate Change Specifically Impact Women

Guest Blogger • Mar 15, 2012

Photo: Takver's Flickr page

by Nicole Loeffler-Gladstone

Thanks to Alyson Kenward writing at Climate Central, I have something reasonable and spot-on to talk about today.  Her March 8 article is a brief summary of some of the ways in which climate change specifically impacts women. 

Specifically, she mentions two important pieces of information.  The first is that women, due to gender roles, are usually responsible not only for themselves but also for children and the elderly.  In times of emergency, as well as in the day-to-day tasks of living, women are often responsible for providing food and water for their families, as well as ensuring the general well-being of others. This added burden means that women are less able to care for themselves, and therefore face greater risks and consequences due to climate change and/or climate related disasters. 

Kenward’s second point is that all impoverished people face a greater threat from climate change than do those who are more affluent, and women make up a significant percentage of impoverished people worldwide.  She writes:

“Millions of the poorest people live in regions that will be increasingly struck by rising sea level, extreme storms, droughts, and famines. Women make up a shocking 70 percent of people living in poverty around the world.”

The many linkages between women and climate change vulnerability need to be carefully examined not only because women are often at greater risk during acute and prolonged climate emergencies.  Women are also often blamed, directly and indirectly, for causing climate change and environmental degradation.  Immigration and population growth are increasingly cited as causal factors in environmental degradation.  This argument implies those women, and their choices to have children or move their families, carry the blame for a warming planet.

This argument is based on the assumption that more people equal more consumption, which is true.  However, it fails to take into account the way consumption patterns are distributed between the Global North and the Global South, or among different socio-economic strata within a single country. 

Women absolutely cannot be held responsible for climate change due to their individual choices to have or not have children.  To do so would scapegoat women in a crisis whose major offenders are more closely linked with processes of militarism and industrial consumerism and production. 

Discussing women and climate change can often become a blame-game.  Instead, and especially around International Women’s Day, it should be used as a starting point in the ongoing effort to educate people about the specific vulnerabilities of women and about roles that women around the world can play in preserving themselves, their communities, and their livelihoods.


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