15. Understanding Climate Change and Gender Inequality

by Project Censored

We need to understand climate change through the lens of gender equality, Georgie Johnson reported for Greenpeace’s Energydesk in March 2016. As Johnson’s report showed, climate change has different impacts on men and women, based on preexisting social and economic inequalities. Because most international efforts to address climate change do not include women, the resulting policies do not take into account the particular challenges that climate change poses for women and girls. This is ironic because, according to a 2014 European Union study, women are more likely than men to be concerned about climate change.

Johnson identified two key factors to understanding climate change and gender. First, women (and other marginalized groups) are affected by climate change disproportionately due to social and economic inequality. For example, women accounted for 61 percent of fatalities caused by Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar in 2008, 70–80 percent in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, and 91 percent in the 1991 cyclone in Bangladesh. As Johnson noted, gender inequality shaped the disproportionate rate at which women and girls died in these disasters. The reasons could be as simple as women not being taught to swim. In more unequal societies, where women do not tend to move in public spaces, adhering to social expectations to stay at home unless chaperoned by a male could lead women to ignore early warning signs to seek safer shelter.

For women who do survive, the aftermath of crises is also dangerous: Women are at greater risk of sexual assault and domestic abuse after natural disasters and in areas of conflict. For example, in the year after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, 80 percent of those left behind in the Ninth Ward were women, and incidents of gender-based violence (including sexual assault and domestic violence) in the state were almost four times higher than before the storm.

Second, and more affirmatively, women can nonetheless offer “incredibly powerful solutions to climate change,” because they comprise nearly three-quarters of the global poor. This makes them “uniquely placed” to share knowledge about climate impacts and to implement solutions. Around the world women are “working to mitigate and adapt to climate change, either through direct on-the-ground solutions or as researchers, organisers and campaigners.” For instance, Johnson described women farmers in El Salvador who have harnessed geothermal energy to replace wood and fossil fuels in their communities, reducing 1.8 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year.

“If we had gender parity in politics,” Johnson wrote, “climate change policy might have more teeth.”

Georgie Johnson, “Why Climate Change is a Gender Equality Issue,” Greenpeace Energydesk, March 8, 2016, https://energydesk.greenpeace.org/2016/03/08/why-climate-change-gender-equality/.

Student Researcher: Noemi Garcia (Citrus College)

Faculty Evaluator: Andy Lee Roth (Citrus College)