While issues caused by climate change can lead to crisis situations that cause severe weather conditions, drought and higher temperatures, not enough is being done to combat the impact the climate crisis has on women. According to a report by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and Queen Mary University of London, only 38 of the 119 countries that have created plans to address climate change embrace the provision of contraception, maternal, and neonatal health services, and only fifteen address gender based violence related issues. Without taking action to acknowledge the impact climate crisis has on women, the issue could completely reverse the progress of women.
The report urges countries worldwide to acknowledge and take action in response to the disproportionate impact on women and girls brought by the climate crisis. The study associates extreme climatic conditions such as increased temperatures with impaired maternal health and gestation complications like gestational diabetes. Exceedingly high temperatures have been linked to early labor and a high number of stillbirths.
“Climate change and severe weather patterns impact the most vulnerable of our societies first,” said Gina S. Warren, the co-director of the Environment, Energy & Natural Resources Center at the University of Houston Law Center. “The impact on women specifically can be seen in several ways including inhibiting women’s access to health services like pre- and post-natal care and reproductive care. Extreme weather conditions and resultant diseases and illnesses can strain pregnant women’s health in a way that increases mother and infant mortality and illness.”
“In developing countries, the burden of domestic work historically sits on the shoulders of the women and children. As resources grow slim due to changing climate patterns, women will spend more time gathering wood for cooking and clean water for drinking. Not only does this result in more physical stress on women’s health, but it also results in women and children spending more time meeting domestic needs and less time obtaining an education or pursuing career interests outside of the home, and potentially unraveling years of women’s rights progress,” Warren adds.
How Water Scarcity impacts Girls’ Health and Education in MENA
“Due to pre-set social roles and a lack of access to resources, women are hit more due to climate change,” Sneha Shahi, UNEP Plastic Tide Turner advocate shared her views on a Mumbai-based newspaper, Mid-Day. The shortage of clean water caused by water scarcity makes it difficult for adolescent girls to manage their periods and other hygienic needs, which has an impact on their reproductive and sexual health, overall well-being, and educational chances.
In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), 15% of schools lack access to basic sanitation facilities, whereas 31% of schools lack access to clean water and soap for handwashing. Without adequate water access, there is a higher risk of diseases affecting reproductive health during menstruation. Women and girls in MENA’s rural and desert communities do have creative climate mitigation methods based on local technology, know-how, and abilities connected to water supply management.
Drought and Heat Waves
Children from rural areas have a higher level of exposure to sandflies, herbicides, pesticides, and chemical fertilizers, which is harmful to their health. Research shows that when households experience food insecurity, women and girls are more susceptible to going hungry. Adolescent girls are particularly susceptible to malnutrition with higher risks of iron deficiency resulting in anemia.
Studies have established that women and girls are more vulnerable to getting physically ill from the heatwaves. This may increase the risk of teenage girls dropping out of school and further restricting young women from accessing the labor market.
Countries Taking Action
“We know climate change disproportionately affects women and is not gender neutral so there is a need to address those gaps and impacts,” stated Angela Baschieri, UNFPA expert on population and development in the UNFPA report.
The UNFPA study also highlights countries that are focusing on women-specific plans in response to the climate crisis. Seychelles, Benin, and Paraguay are some of the countries that exhibited the need to construct climate-resilient health infrastructures that enable women to access medical care and safe delivery services.
El Salvador, Sierra Leone, and Guinea are some of the countries said to have instituted measures or initiatives to deal with gender-based violence. Despite many cases of upset family-planning provisions caused by natural calamities, the study highlights the Dominica Republic as the only country that emphasizes the need to provide its citizens with contraceptives.
The report cites Vietnam as the only country that recognizes that child marriage happens more often during crises as families strive to ease their financial strain.
“Climate is setting us back on the fight for gender equality. Our point would be to make sure that climate policy recognizes the differential impact on women and takes it into account in the design of policy,” stated Baschieri.
Gina Warren proposes that ensuring women have a voice in local planning and decision making will lead to a reduction in the impact that the climate crisis has on women. “When women have a seat at the table, they express concerns that others may not have considered. They provide input on best ways to address those concerns and what is important for them and their children. Empowering women now to make policy decisions that will impact women and their children later will work to counteract, or at least minimize, the devastating effects of climate change,” Warren said.
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