Climate change affects everyone, all of humanity, but not everyone equally. The population in the equatorial belt, rural areas and island countries are more affected.

Climate change is a trigger for migration, where men are usually the first to leave their homes in smaller, rural towns, leaving women on the land to deal with the effects of droughts, hurricanes, and floods. This actually means that climate change is not gender neutral and that it is often women who bear the greater burden.

A report released at the June 2022 Bonn Climate Change Conference explains why women often experience the impacts of climate change differently than men and highlights the key role women play in responding to climate change.

“Climate impacts, especially extreme weather events, are affecting the roles of women and men around the world, especially in rural areas ,” said Fleur Newman, Head of the UN’s Gender Team on Climate Change.

Dependence on agriculture and lack of education make women more vulnerable to climate change.

Agriculture has traditionally been the most important employment sector for women in low- and lower-middle-income countries. However, during periods of drought and heavy rainfall, women, as farmers, work harder to provide income and resources for their families. This puts additional pressure on girls, who often have to drop out of school to help their mothers cope with the increased burden of supporting the family.

Lack of education makes women more dependent on their families and communities and less employable. Women are more likely to stay on the land to tend crops and livestock. Women have fewer opportunities to move away from the place where they were born. They are therefore more vulnerable when sudden climate disasters occur. When floods hit Pakistan in the fall of 2022, a third of the country was under water. Floods and other extreme weather conditions are only one of the effects of climate change. UNFPA estimated that 650,000 women who were in flood-affected areas in Pakistan needed access to maternal health services.

And that’s not all – these situations also increase the risk of epidemics, especially cholera, typhoid, dengue and malaria, and the risk of parasitic diseases such as scabies and head lice is increased, especially among children. And more women take care of children. Mothers are the ones most affected by these tragedies, often unable to provide adequate health care for their children.

If we think even more deeply about such crisis situations, we cannot help but look at the problem of feeding babies who, for some reason, are not on mother’s milk, but on formula. Namely, in order to make the formula, clean water is needed, which is often not available in situations of drought or flooding. And again, it is women who have to deal with this problem and its consequences – the death of children due to malnutrition or infection due to contaminated water.

Greater risk of gender-based violence

It is not only the care of children that women in these circumstances have as an existential concern. Climate change also leads to displacement, especially in situations of extreme weather conditions. And women in camps for displaced persons are vulnerable and often victims of gender-based violence , from various types of blackmail such as prostitution for food to rape and other forms of physical violence.

Health workers from flood-affected areas interviewed by researchers from Pakistan’s Aga Khan University reported an increase in gender-based violence and rape in these tented settings. The most common victims were women who came out of their tents to fetch water, firewood or meals, or to use the toilet at night.

According to the United Nations, 80 percent of people displaced by climate change are women.

One study on the example of South Africa showed that there is a correlation between the increase in temperature and the homicide rate. This is one of the effects of climate change that is little thought about. “The temperature-murder relationship may be of particular importance in the context of climate change, especially in the absence of short-term adaptation,” state the authors of this study. In addition, South Africa has one of the highest rates of femicide in the world, where hardly a day goes by without a woman being murdered. Of course, the reason for this is not only climate change, but a combination of socioeconomic and environmental factors.

According to a submission by the Geneva Center for Security Sector Management , gender-based violence is prevalent in areas of conflict that are also at greater risk of extreme weather events: particularly in Colombia, Mali and Yemen, women and girls are particularly at risk of this type of violence due to a combination of adverse climate impacts change, environmental degradation and conflict.

The reduction of yields, the difficulty of life in rural areas that are under the direct influence of climate change often lead to an increase in child marriages and the sale of girls, so that families can ensure their existence or the protection of someone more powerful. Child marriage, which is considered a form of gender-based violence, has been observed in various communities in different countries and regions, for example in Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Kenya as a way of securing funds or property.

Another common coping mechanism in such communities is taking girls out of school to help in the household. Such ways of dealing with the crisis caused by climate change negatively affect the long-term resilience and adaptive capacity of the community.

Effects related to climate change that are less thought about

There are also things that are not often thought about that have to do with carbon dioxide emissions and climate change. Namely, women spend more time at home, and where electricity is not available or is simply too expensive for the community, they are the ones who sleep more and consequently spend more time exposed to air pollution indoors. This includes exposure to soot particles, but also an increased risk of carbon monoxide poisoning due to incomplete fuel combustion, most often due to poorly designed combustion chambers.

We should not think that climate change and environmental destruction only affect women in the equatorial belt. Free interpretations of decarbonization and renewable energy sources, which in the Western Balkans are often reduced to the construction of mini-hydropower plants, as a source of energy that really does not emit carbon dioxide, but causes damage in other ways, especially had an effect on women. However, it was women, like the women of Kruščica , who were also the greatest fighters for saving rivers and opponents of environmental devastation.

Examples of gender-differentiated impacts of climate change are mostly context-specific, highlighting gendered experiences and behaviors governed by different social norms. In other words, the effect of climate change on women, but also on communities, cannot be summed up under one line, but attention should also be paid to the specific context. One should avoid considering women as a homogenous group, while at the same time recognizing that women as a group are excluded or limited in decision-making, in many contexts around the world.

However, there is evidence that women, as individuals, will often make more sustainable decisions than men under the same circumstances, whether in relation to their eating or transport habits or planning investments and budgets, inside and outside the home. A 2019 study found that women’s representation in parliament leads countries to adopt stricter climate change policies, which in turn results in lower carbon dioxide emissions.

So how can we help women who are threatened by the threat of climate change, especially women in low- and middle-income countries? It is not easy to answer this question and not be reduced to bureaucratic phrases like “raising awareness” and “empowering women”, which often remain just platitudes, without real intervention. Campaigns and online activism will not help these women much, because they are often the ones who do not have access to the Internet, and even less are on social networks. The women most affected by climate change sometimes do not have electricity in their households, not the Internet, and they do not have time to watch what is happening on newsfeeds. The issue of climate change must begin to be seen as an issue of class struggle, and even post-colonialism, when we are talking about indigenous communities, and this is how it should be approached. And the dream of class equality and social justice begins with education.

Investing in education, in better classroom equipment and giving scholarships and equipment to children, especially girls in regions particularly affected by the effects of climate change, could possibly prevent families from interrupting girls’ education. Free education and improved access to schools in rural areas, financial assistance that is sufficient for families to let girls go to school and to encourage them to go to school would probably have some effect. Special help is also needed for women who are studying and want to continue their Master’s studies and doctorates, because often talented students cannot afford this continuation of their education. Strengthening the student exchange system, the internationalization of higher education, contributes to the broadening of horizons and the true empowerment of not only women, but also the LGBTIQ population and, ultimately, men as well. In all the stories about education, men should never be forgotten either, because unemployment, climate change and a low level of education have a devastating effect on them as well.

Improving health care for women, better access to gynecological services and contraception, access to safe abortion can also enable many women to get a better education, not to leave school due to pregnancy and childbirth, to live healthier. Greater participation of women in places where decisions are made, in politics and not as puppets of men, is better for the climate and sustainable development.

Women engaged in agricultural production and crafts should be helped in the marketing of their products by creating fair-trade circles of production, processing and purchase of raw materials and products. At the same time, fair trade should really be understood as fairly paid work by women and work without the participation of children.
The use of technology in a smart way – for irrigation in arid areas, for water desalination and the creation of water that can be used to irrigate crops where possible, flood protection systems and stronger public health that is not on its knees but has full capacity to react when crises occur the situation are also things to invest in.

Mentioning campaigns on social networks, they can still affect someone – consumers in developed countries. Such campaigns should certainly target child labor and make consumers aware that a beautiful Persian carpet or some piece of clothing may have behind it the story of children who were kicked out of school desks. This is certainly related to the phenomenon of “fast fashion”, which in a small percentage is based on the underpaid work of women, from the areas most affected by climate change. Fast fashion is (too) often a form of environmental injustice , an industry that pollutes the environment and harms the health of those directly involved in production.

Climate change is the attack of the neoliberal order on the whole world and is the product of conservative lobbying for the consumption of fossil fuels, as a simple way of capital accumulation. Without facing this and without changes in the management of society, there is neither mitigation of the consequences of climate change nor improvement of the position of women.



Jelena Kalinić, MA in comparative literature and graduate biologist, science journalist and science communicator, has a WHO infodemic manager certificate and Health metrics Study design & Evidence based medicine training. Winner of the 2020 EurekaAlert (AAAS) Fellowship for Science Journalists. Short-runner, second place in the selection for European Science journalist of the year for 2022.