When we Fight Gender Inequality, We Tackle Climate Change Too

By Mukhtar Karim - 08 March 2022
When we Fight Gender Inequality, We Tackle Climate Change Too

By empowering women, we make communities more resilient to the direct impacts of climate change. Women disproportionately bear the brunt of climate change. However, they are also at the core of the solution. 

Climate change has become a formidable accomplice of gender inequality. Poorer nations, and in particular indigenous communities in isolated areas, are more likely to suffer from the effects of rising sea levels, heatwaves, forest fires, and floods. Yet it is women who will experience the harshest effects of these fallouts. However, whilst women may be at the center of the climate crisis, they must be at the center of the solution too. 

Climate change and gender inequality are not two separate problems. From first-hand experience, I know that when we empower women, we also empower communities to become more climate-resilient. Ultimately, it will be women who come to Mother Earth’s rescue. 

A mesh of cultural, economic, political, and social inequalities have placed women in the firing line of climate change. Girls are more likely to be taken out of school to help poor families cope with climate-related disasters. When food scarcity prevents parents from feeding their children, it is daughters who are most likely to be married off young. When the effects of climate change make land-based work impossible, it’s women who are most likely to be out of a job. In fact, nine in ten 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.  

A report commissioned by the Global Gender and Climate Alliance found that women are also most vulnerable to the health impacts of climate change. The report was based on an analysis of 130 peer-reviewed studies, two-thirds of which found that women were more affected by health impacts associated with climate change than men

The data revealed that women were more likely to suffer death or injury from extreme weather than men. It also showed that women are more likely to be affected by climate-related food insecurity and to suffer mental illness following extreme weather events. Women also face an increased 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. Fundamentally, climate change is a gender problem. 

However, with enough political will, we can turn this vicious cycle into a virtuous one. This is because a country’s vulnerability to the impacts of climate change depends on their ‘adaptive capacity’; how quickly and easily it can adapt and respond to climate change events. The greater a community's gender rights, the greater their adaptive ability. 

Research has shown that countries with a high level of gender inequality generally have a higher vulnerability to the negative impacts of climate change and that countries with lower levels of gender inequality are less vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change

This reciprocal relationship between gender equality and climate resilience comes as no surprise to me. My work at the Lady Fatemah Trust has taught me that empowered women make resilient communities. 

At the heart of our ‘Mothernomics’ program is the idea that by helping mothers to break the cycle of poverty and inequality, we take care of families and communities and as a result transform societies. By addressing gender inequalities and empowering women, we build more adaptable, resilient, sustainable communities that are better able to cope with the impact of climate change.

For example, if girls have better access to clean drinking water, food, education, and healthcare resources, they are able to attend school, get an education, break out of the cycle of poverty, and become part of their local economies. This creates more resilient communities that are better able to cope with climate change events. 

As women very often act as the stewards of natural resources for their environment, they can also benefit their communities by removing their disempowerment to participate in decision-making about climate-resilient, sustainable livelihoods. In addition, research shows that they are powerful agents for climate change and that when women participate in decision-making at national and community levels, they are key to effective climate change solutions

There is evidence of women spearheading the charge against climate change from across the globe. In Fiji, it is women’s groups that are improving the resilience of market vendors against cyclones, floods, and drought. In the Balkans, it is rural women who are influencing budgets and shaping climate progress. In the Caribbean, a frontier of climate change, gender perspectives are being placed front and center of the climate response. These snippets should serve as a blueprint for how to step forward in a century of global heating. 

This international women’s day, it’s time we realized that we don’t just need gender equality for the sake of humanity, but for the sake of survival too.


Mukhtar Karim is the CEO of the Lady Fatemah Trust, an international NGO. 

Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels

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