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Why climate change affects women more than men

Women advocating for climate action
Women advocating for climate action.

In the Global North, we often link gender inequality to pay gap concerns, reproductive rights, and representation. However, women globally face challenges beyond these hallmark movements. Climate change, in particular, exacerbates current inequalities for women—creating unique challenges that men do not experience.

To fully understand the impact of climate change on women’s experiences, it’s essential to review several areas of inequality.

How climate change is gendered

More women in poverty

According to the United Nations (UN), 1 in every 10 women worldwide lives in extreme poverty. Geopolitical conflict, lack of education, early marriage, and similar factors all contribute to a widening poverty gap between men and women. However, the UN reports that twice as many women will go hungry by 2030. 

According to a recent report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), women-led households will suffer the most, losing 8% more of their income due to increased heat and 3% more due to floods.

Lack of education

UNICEF reports that 129 million girls are out of school worldwide. Gender disparity in education is a symptom of other challenges women and girls face — such as geopolitical conflict, poverty, early marriage, cultural norms that favor boys, and domestic violence. 

As climate change further threatens financial stability and security, the education gap will likely widen.

Early marriage and childbearing

More than 41,000 girls under age 18 are married daily across the globe. Marrying girls off early disrupts their education, puts their health at risk, and keeps them dependent on males. Without access to education or personal funds, these girls rarely escape poverty. 

In addition, a recent study discovered that extreme heat caused by climate change contributes to an increase in premature births. Another study reported that the risk of premature birth due to climate change has grown by 60%.

Premature births affect infant mortality rates and create additional health risks for women.

Systemic violence

Women facing the effects of climate change, including conflict fueled by shrinking access to resources, are also at risk for increased systemic and domestic violence. According to a Cambridge University study on extreme events and gender-based violence, climate-related events leave women more vulnerable to abuse. 

Due to the chaotic nature of natural disasters, women and girls may face abuse not only from partners or family members but also from relief workers, government officials, and other corrupt channels. The breakdown of law and order during such events makes it difficult for women to obtain justice. Reduced access to medical aid also leaves women and girls more vulnerable to infectious diseases and unwanted pregnancies. 

More likely to die

Studies of climate disasters have repeatedly shown that women are more likely to die than men. An in-depth analysis of deaths during the 2010 heatwave in Ahmedabad, India, found that 14.23% more women suffered excess deaths (373.50 vs 427). Similar results regarding heatwave deaths alone have been found in France, Korea, and nations in the Mediterranean, among others.

Furthermore, a compilation of 130 studies found that in 89 of those studies, women face greater health risks than men. Deaths are not necessarily linked to immediate weather events. Food insecurity, vulnerability to infections, mental illness, and poor reproductive health all contribute to women’s mortality. 

Disproportionate deaths in light of climate disasters are more common in the Global South, likely due to differing gender patterns and local resources. 

Women of the Global South Face the Brunt of Climate Change

While climate change threatens the security and safety of women worldwide, women in the Global South have a unique set of challenges. Poor infrastructure and income inequality put women in more precarious positions.

At the same time, many Global South economies depend on climate-affected industries, such as agriculture. Climate change's destruction of infrastructure, industry, food production, and other essential services contributes to widening income inequality. This, in turn, negatively affects women in these countries, who may already face barriers to education and employment. 

Pursuing Gender Equality in a Warming Climate

Committing to gender equality requires more than policies. Communities must work together to create local solutions to support women and girls in gaining access to safety, education, and fair employment despite climate challenges. 

At Wallet Max, gender equality is a central component of our mission. Learn how we are elevating women in business across the globe with our annual Impact Report.


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