Climate change and women’s rights: intertwined crises

Extreme weather events threaten women disproportionately

February 28and, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released a grim report on the state of the climate crisis. As noted in the IPCC report, experts around the world have agreed that the threat of climate change to human security is “unequivocal” and that action must be taken immediately. The report notes that there is a “fast closing window of opportunity” for action to be taken to ensure a livable future for humanity. The UN chief issued a warning that “delay means death”.

The report reveals that there are currently 3.3 to 3.6 billion people living in contexts highly vulnerable to the risks of climate change. By 2100, extreme weather events are likely to quadruple and up to 75% of the world’s population will be exposed to life-threatening heat and humidity. These statistics represent only a fraction of the chilling information revealed by the report. As the Earth’s temperature continues to rise, the world’s population will face increased levels of disease, poverty and food insecurity.

The IPCC has consistently found that the consequences of climate change are deeply gendered. While the deterioration of the state of the climate poses a serious threat to all of humanity, on a global scale, climate change affects women disproportionately. In fact, the United Nations estimates that 80% of those displaced by climate change are women. Time and again, data reveals that women account for the vast majority of deaths caused by natural disasters. In an unjust twist of fate, women bear the brunt of the climate crisis.

Climate change has an increased impact on those whose livelihoods depend on natural resources. Due to traditional gendered work roles, women’s livelihoods are much more likely to fall into this category. When people depend on natural resources, natural disasters can easily deprive them of their main source of income, pushing them into poverty. Compared to men, women are at a much higher risk of this happening.

Around the world, women generally face greater poverty and have less access to basic human rights than their male counterparts. Consequently, women are also often less able to adapt to climate change, both due to financial constraints and lack of property and land ownership rights.

Further, gender-based violence increases when nations face periods of economic and political instability; these periods will become more frequent as the health of the Earth continues to deteriorate. Thus, many believe that the climate crisis has the potential to fuel violence against women.

Although women are disproportionately disadvantaged by climate change, they are often systematically sidelined from political processes and therefore unable to implement climate-friendly policies. Research has shown a strong correlation between the representation of women in political leadership roles and the enactment of more environmentally conscious climate policies, as well as the reduction of emissions.

As climate change worsens, the intersection of climate change and women’s rights is gaining more and more attention. The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women will meet soon for its 66and Session to examine the empowerment of women around the world and propose solutions to remove barriers to gender equality. Representatives, Member States and selected NGOs will come together to discuss what has been identified as the most recent priority issue affecting the future of women’s rights: the climate crisis.

The impacts of climate change are far from gender neutral. To preserve and advance women’s rights globally, the climate crisis must be addressed immediately and urgently. Existing gender inequalities will be severely exacerbated by the new consequences of the climate crisis. At first glance, climate change and women’s rights seem unrelated. However, in reality, these two pressing issues are deeply intertwined. The future of women’s rights lies in whether the world will take action to alleviate the climate crisis before it is too late.

By Nora Weiss, Government Relations Intern

Further information

United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2022 Comprehensive Assessment Report

Virginia S. Braud