Over the past decade, detrimental effects caused by climate change have resulted in an ongoing crisis that has had profound effects on human health. Women, in particular, may be more vulnerable to the repercussions of climate change, due to gender norms and existing societal inequities. For example, women are often the primary users and managers of natural resources and are therefore impacted by the short and long-term effects of climate change on those resources. Women who are responsible for procuring water and food also face the onslaught of geopolitical barriers, which further increases their risk. Yet, seldom are women provided the opportunity involved in the leadership decisions that would result in more equitable policies.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), has stated that women living in low socioeconomic conditions face a risk multiplier for gender-based health disparities as a result of climate change. The risk of contracting infectious diseases, such as malaria, dengue, yellow fever, and sleeping sickness in low- and mid-income countries is compounded by environmental hazards which are caused directly or indirectly by climate change. Additionally, the lack of protective equipment for women engaged in high risk occupations, such as tea leaf pickers and other agricultural laborers makes women more vulnerable to the risks associated with fluctuating work conditions. Multiple levels of societal gender inequity permeate existing stereotypes, posing additional challenges. The risk is even greater in pregnant women who may experience malnutrition, if their additional dietary needs cannot be met. Flooding and droughts, which are consequences of climate change, increase the prevalence of water borne diseases such as dysentery, cholera, amoebiasis, and hepatitis.
Partnerships across sectors and between academic institutions, financial institutions, foundations, member states, nongovernmental organizations, think tanks and United Nations agencies are crucial in addressing the public health challenges caused by the climate crisis. It is imperative that we identify gender-sensitive strategies to respond to the environmental and humanitarian threats caused by climate change.
An example of a cost-effective solution is the Clean Cooking Alliance (CCA), which was founded in 2010. This initiative helped increase access to clean cooking devices for more than 400,000 million people around the world. Not only do their measures reduce climate emissions and save lives, but they also empower women as entrepreneurs and community leaders.
Another disease impacted by climate change is malaria. Unfortunately the fight against malaria has often been gender blind, in that the needs of women and girls have frequently not been addressed. Eliminating these gender inequities is crucial in mitigating the burden caused by malaria and highlights the importance of a gendered approach in promoting the wellbeing of women and girls.
Climate change also impacts other pandemics. According to the Lancet Commission Report, climate change, obesity, and undernutrition—together known as The Global Syndemic–must be tackled together. “A syndemic is a synergy of pandemics that co-occur in time and place, interact with each other, and share common underlying societal drivers.” This Global Syndemic affects people in every country worldwide. Therefore, comprehensive actions must be taken to address these growing issues.
UNFCCC has called for the inclusion of women leaders because women “are vital to building climate resilience in communities” and empowering them will lead to more effective solutions to the climate crisis. We believe that women can lead the way in finding innovative and sustainable strategies to address the climate crisis.